How Cattlesales Brought a Storied Industry Into the Modern Era

Elisha Parker (R) Annabelle Span (L)

The stakes were high when two Queensland women decided to bring one of Australia’s most iconic industries into the digital age.

What’s the startup?

There have been online sites for real estate, cars, jobs and accommodation for years but cattlesales.com.au is the first website to advertise cattle. It’s a game-changer for livestock agents and cattle producers in some of the most isolated parts of Australia, who produce and sell a widely dispersed but valuable commodity. There are an estimated 26 million head of cattle across the country and Meat & Livestock Australia calculates the red-meat and livestock industry turned over $72.5 billion in 2018-19. The market was at a record high in 2021.

Where did the idea come from?

Co-founders Elisha Parker and Annabelle Spann were living on cattle properties 1000 kilometres apart in Queensland when they came up with the solution to the problem they’d grown up seeing. Before Cattlesales, marketing cattle was via ads in The Land, phone, fax, email and social media. They looked to other industries that offer direct, searchable sales and adopted the technology to link livestock agents and buyers.

Biggest challenge?

The website was custom-built by a team in Brisbane as no off-the-shelf ecommerce sites offered what they needed. “Neither of us have a tech background and the tech team didn’t know anything about cattle so it took a bit of patience,” says Spann. On a real estate site, you can search with filters for bedrooms and other features. “With cattle, there are so many variants of the specific characteristics buyers are looking for. We could have built it off an existing template but we learnt that we’d be settling.” Both women have full-time jobs – Parker is a lawyer working remotely for a Brisbane firm and Spann runs a 122,000-hectare cattle property with her partner – and their children were babies during the initial build. “Some weeks it became the norm to be up at 2am soothing babies back to sleep, buying web domains and liaising with our web team,” says Spann.

Biggest breakthrough?

“Our mission is to revolutionise the way the cattle industry connects but we had to change the way people in a very traditional industry do what they have always done,” says Spann. They began by working with “open-minded agents”. Shortly after they launched, “there was a listing for a mob of weaner steers that received over 2000 views in 48 hours”, says Parker. “Those were some serious numbers and ... it proved our theory that buyers had no central location to search for sale cattle and would use it if we provided them with one.”

What’s next?

They’ve ploughed the money from awards from NBN and Westpac into improving their site and launched a major tech upgrade with the addition of bull sales. It’s more lucrative grazing land: Rockhampton Brahman Week (held in early October) is dubbed the largest Brahman bull sale in the world – in 2021 the sales totalled $11.75 million for 811 bulls.

Need to know

Founders: Annabelle Spann, 37, (below, left) and Elisha Parker, 37
First "customer": 2016
Headquarters: Wallaville in regional Queensland (Parker) and 100 kilometres outside Normanton in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Far North Queensland (Spann)
Investors: Self-funded and the co-founders hope to keep it grassroots
Staff: 2
Customers: About 1200 agents all over Australia, including independents and majors, such as Elders, Ray White Rural, TopX and GDL.

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