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Outback life easier with modern tactics

From CNN's Phil O'Sullivan

Technology makes life easier at Anna Creek Station
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(CNN) -- Australia's outback is a tough place to make a living -- vast deserts with little water mean man and beast struggle to survive, let alone flourish.

But huge cattle stations have supported beef production for more than a century, and the introduction of new technology is helping make things a little easier.

Anna Creek Station, in South Australia, is the flagship property of one of the country's biggest landowners, S. Kidman & Co.

Covering 24,000 square km (or about 6 million acres) of land, the station is the size of Belgium. With 16,000 cattle roaming, it is Australia's biggest cattle station and the world's biggest farm, six times larger than the biggest ranch in the United States.

Randall Crozier has worked in the Australian outback since he was 13.

He is a longtime employee of Kidman, and is currently the manager of Anna Creek Station.

Rearing cattle has some age-old traditions but Crozier told CNN this did not mean it was immune to change, especially when it came to technology.

"You'd battle to hear the weather forecast on a crackly old radio that couldn't get any reception. Nowadays you can push a button and go all round the world and get every weather forecast within a matter of a few seconds, and in color," he said.

The station has no electricity -- a diesel-driven generator powers five computers, which have broadband Internet connections that bounce off overhead satellites.

That technology helps with communications, office work and the weather.

"Broadband goes straight to the satellite and it's as quick as you'd ever want to blink. Two blinks and it's there," Crozier said.

An accurate weather forecast is essential in this country, where temperatures can hit 55 degrees Celsius in the hot season, and the barren landscape can go 18 months without a single drop of rain.

Cattle weigh about 400 kg each so without water they lose weight, which means the station loses money.

"Within a matter of about 24 hours in the 50-degree heat, we get out here, they can go back to 200 kg," Crozier said.

The station uses solar power and an ultra-high frequency -- or UHF -- radio connection to operate its water pumps remotely with just the push of a button.

"Normally I'd send a vehicle down there once every two days to check that water in the really hot weather. That's 320 km, plus a man's wages, the vehicle wear and tear. I mean, the expense is enormous so imagine what this is saving," said Crozier.

On huge properties like Anna Creek Station, the biggest cost after labor is fuel; anything that brings a saving on fuel costs is always looked at very closely.

But as well as saving money, new technology must survive the tough weather and be easy-to-use for those operating it.

"We've just got to keep right up there, and if you're not up there with it, well, you're not with it at all," said Crozier.

"Modern technology, it's going to cost you money, but those who aren't using it, it's costing them a lot more."

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