Robert and Vicki Newbigging are mobile butchers, transforming hundreds of beef and lamb carcasses into a smorgasbord of cuts and roasts for primary producers each year.
Story By Amanda Burdon
A 569-kilogram dressed bullock, flocks of sheep, pigs, goats, deer, buffalo, even ostriches – Robert Newbigging has slaughtered them all during his 11 years as a mobile farm butcher. He’ll not easily forget the hefty bullock – an Australian shorthorn-American longhorn cross that had spent 200 days in a feedlot and took an entire day to cut down – but the three ostriches were another story.
“I’d never butchered an ostrich before, but I told the ostrich farmer that I was prepared to have a go,” says Rob, whose father Bert was also a butcher on the North West Slopes and Plains of New South Wales. “It was tricky stuff, separating out all the muscles and tendons on such a muscular animal,” he says. “I followed a video as I went.”
But then Manilla-based Rob and his wife Vicki have often found themselves in challenging situations since taking their butchering on the road. “The New England winters can get pretty cold, and we’ve twice been snowed in,” Rob says. “But thank God it was winter time when we cut up six beasts for a nudist camp near Narrabri.”
Each year the couple transform some 280 beef and close to 300 lamb carcasses into a smorgasbord of cuts and roasts for primary producers throughout the Walcha Shire. “We butcher for everyone from the battlers on solar power to the big property owners, who might give their station hands a body of beef or a lamb as part of their annual payment,” he says.
Some customers slaughter their own animals, hang them in their coolroom and await Rob and Vicki’s arrival. Others prefer Rob to load his .22 magnum or .222 rifle, then skin and butcher the animal. “When I first started, the beast would be killed today, hung tomorrow and cut up the next day,” Rob says. “But now almost half the properties I visit have coolrooms. The meat can be hung and I return days or weeks later to cut it up. The longer you hang the meat, the more tender it becomes.”
The couple’s 10-metre gooseneck trailer is well-equipped for their roving lifestyle. It contains 7.3m of living quarters (complete with two leather recliners, a queen-size bed, heating and air-conditioning, a television and gas stove) and a 2.7m air-conditioned, fly-proof butchery to rival any stationary meat shop, complete with a mincer, band saw, cutting-up bench, sausage and Cryovac machines, and pickle pump.
Their well-practised work routine is testimony to their 30 years of happy marriage. Rob attends to the kill and most of the heavier cutting, while Vicki performs the trimming. “We have a lot of fun on the job; I’m usually talking and telling jokes,” Rob says. “I can be cutting up and the customer can tell us exactly what they want; we pride ourselves on our personalised service.” The pair advertised only once, when they first began, and it grew swiftly through word-of-mouth among producers who often had to truck their animals many kilometres to regional abattoirs.
This story excerpt is from Issue #68
Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2010