The young parents running the second largest station in Oz
IN THE past four years Sarah Hughes has become the joint manager of Australia's second largest cattle property, won a Nuffield scholarship to study organic wagyu beef and learnt to fly a plane.
If that wasn't enough to keep her busy, just six weeks ago she became a first-time mum to her son Harry.
The fifth generation grazier has a huge passion for the cattle industry and is looking forward to another busy year ahead.
Sarah and her husband Fred took over the reins of Lake Nash Station, situated on the Barkly Tablelands about 117kms south of Camooweal, in 2013.
The property is owned by the Georgina Pastoral Company, and on good years can run more than 70,000 head of cattle.
"We took over management in the middle of a roaring drought," she said.
"That year we trucked off 50,000 head of cattle into a depressed market."
Sarah admitted that during the couple's first year as managers, she felt as though she was seeing the 1.7 million hectare property at its "absolute worst".
But now she says she has seen it at its very best.
"We have just been so fortunate in the last couple of years. This year has been tremendous season, there are lots of fat cattle," she said.
"I guess having the experience of the shocking drought in 2013 has made the past couple of years so much sweeter.
"It obviously takes the pressure off just a little bit."
As the environmental pressure has eased, and the property has moved into a recovery and restocking phase, Sarah gave herself a bigger workload by applying for and winning a prestigious Nuffield Scholarship.
The agricultural grant will allow her to study the overseas opportunities for organic wagyu beef, a niche market she thinks has un-tapped potential.
Lake Nash gained its organic certification last year, and is currently running about 8500 head of wagyus.
"Both the organic and wagyu markets are showing stellar growth," she said.
"My husband's family (owners of Georgina Pastoral Company) were early to get on board with wagyus. They were bringing bulls over to Australia in the 90s.
"This western country out here is ideally suited to organics."
Sarah believes there will be sewn-up market amongst Asia's rising middle class for the top-quality product, but she wants to investigate the best pathways to get the meat to consumers.
"We know how to produce this wonderful product, but if we don't have the pathways and capabilities to market it to its full value we (could miss out)," she said.
"There are premiums there.
"Australia has such strong export partners, we just have to learn how to align our production systems to what the customers want.
"Currently there is probably more money in the grain-fed wagyu but we believe there will be a lot more focus on grass-fed, as it will be seen to be a healthier option - so hopefully the organic wagyu will go gangbusters."
While food fads are going in and out of fashion all the time, Sarah believes organic wagyu will be around for the long haul.
"I think we can all attest to the flavour characteristics of wagyu beef. If you have ever had a high-quality wagyu steak you will know it has an unforgettable flavour," she said.
"But this is not only the flavour, consumers can also feel good about the fact that they are eating this beautiful delicious meat that's raised a long way from any heavy industry or pollution, free from antibiotics, hormones and chemicals."
Sarah said their wagyus had adapted well to life on the Barkly.
"They are a very hardy animal, you wouldn't think they would do so well out here, but they are a bit like a mountain goat," she said.
Sarah described the black cattle as being easy to work with but said they were "prolific fence crawlers".
"And obviously we need to look at things along the line of infrastructure, because they cannot walk as far as brahmans," she said.
"So we have split a couple paddocks in half. Things like that - it's a work in progress."
With her scholarship grant Sarah plans to travel to some of Australia's biggest export markets, New Zealand, Japan and the US.
Although titled the 2016 winner of the Nuffield Scholarship, Sarah has happily delayed the majority of her study tour to spend more time with baby Harry.
"He is a beautiful little fellow and it's all going well," she said.
"I will be planning to participate in the contemporary scholars and global focus conference in early 2017.
"This year we will just do more of our personal study. I am hoping that Harry and Fred will be able to join me for some of the six to eight week stint where I travel and study."
Although Sarah has won the scholarship, Fred will be heavily involved in research process.
Teamwork between the couple has been the key to their business success thus far.
A few years ago Fred was working as the assistant manager on his family's Nebo property, Tierawoomba Station, and Sarah was working in Rockhampton with Beef Australia.
The couple's relationship was long distance for quite a while before they made they plunge and moved to the Territory.
They worked on Lake Nash for a year before taking over management.
"It has just been the best thing," she said.
"We are loving life on Lake Nash. We have just learnt so much and are learning more every day."
Even though Harry is not quite two-months old, Sarah is already back at work.
Despite the isolation, Sarah said she feels lucky to be living on a cattle station and being a young mum.
"I have scaled back my work load," she said.
"I am still learning how to be a mum. I have set up my office on our kitchen table. About once a day I will head to the station office and catch up with Fred.
"I am lucky I can do it this way… I don't have to get dressed up and go into an office somewhere."
Working on Lake Nash also gave Sarah the opportunity to achieve one of her biggest goals: she learnt to fly.
"I just love it," she said.
"I haven't flown since I had Harry so I am dying to get back up there."
Sarah learnt to fly in Lake Nash's Cessna 206 aircraft during an intensive 21-day course.
"It was wonderful that I got to learn that way because I was learning about our conditions and winds on Lake Nash, which is the area where I will do most of my flying," she said.
"Living in the remote NT it's been very practical in terms of being able to go into to town and collect supplies and stores during the wet season."
On occasions, Sarah has flown alongside a chopper during big musters and uses the aircraft to inspect the property's vast countryside.
"Driving around Lake Nash, it could take you days. So it's an efficient way to see what's going on," she said.
LIFE ON LAKE NASH
Including the outstation, Argadargada, there are about 35 hard-working staff members at Lake Nash.
Sarah said forming friendships with their staff and watching them develop and improve their skills was very rewarding.
"The team do work very, very hard, but they have lots of fun as well," she said.
"We have our own bar and social club and have just put in a pool in."
Although there are new faces each year, there is always a strong sense of community on the property.
"We notice that when the crew goes away to campdrafts or local race meetings, there is a lot of comradery and they are all looking out for each other," she said.