Red Angus breed grows on market gardener

30 Jan, 2012 02:00 AM
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Waroona farmer Fred Harris with one of his Red Angus bulls.
Waroona farmer Fred Harris with one of his Red Angus bulls.

SWAPPING cauliflowers for cattle was a lucrative move for Waroona farmer Fred Harris.

Fred, originally a market gardener from Maddington, chose to swap the fruit for a different kind of farming when he bought 647 hectares in Waroona.

"It started to get too built up and the people that owned this place initially wanted to buy our place in Maddington, so in 1977 my brothers and I moved here," he said.

"I eventually bought my brothers out.

"Then in 2002 we sold half the property to make it easier to manage and now run 120 breeders on 300ha."

Fred said he had enjoyed the change to cattle farming although it had been a steep learning curve.

"I had a friend in Mardella who had a dairy operation and when I could I would go and give him a hand," he said.

"So I learnt a little bit that way but I have also read a lot of books and it has just been a matter of trial and error."

Originally the property had 250 head of cattle, but Fred said they were sold when his brothers moved on.

"At that time I couldn't afford to buy in any more cattle so we went into sheep, they were basically giving them away then," he said.

"Since then I have been gradually getting out of sheep and building the cattle herd up and 10 years ago we were having trouble finding decent shearers so we got out of sheep."

Over the 29 years that Fred has been farming in Waroona he has tried a number of different breeds moving from the initial herd of Herefords, to Simmentals, to South Devons and most recently to Red Angus.

"I bought my first Red Angus bull in 1992 from Langvale in Esperance," he said.

"Back then I think that was the only place in WA that had them."

Fred said he had always admired the Red Angus breed when looking through his books and magazines and thought, being red, they would complement his South Devon breeders well.

"It has worked out well for us, both the South Devons and Red Angus breeds are very quiet and we never had any problems with calving putting Red Angus bulls over the South Devon females," he said.

Through replacement breeding the herd is now made up of 75 per cent Red Angus and 25pc South Devon, with the South Devon slowly being bred out.

Fred and his wife Carol received a top of $1280 for their steers and more than $1000 for their heifers last year, agreeing they were some of the best prices they had ever seen.

"In 2010 we only averaged $800-$900 dollars and a few years back I remember getting a top of $700 at a sale, which was a really good price at the time," Fred said.

"The prices have picked up but they have needed to, the cost of everything else is going up as well."

The Harris's start their calving in March and April and carry the calves on the property for just over a year to be sold the following November.

The steers are sent directly to the processors, either Western Meat Packers, Dardanup Butchering Company or Harvey Beef.

"We keep 20 of the better heifers for the breeding herd and the rest go wherever we can get a better price, either privately or to the abattoirs," Fred said.

"I never have any problems selling them, sometimes the buyers even ring our agent and ask if I have any cattle to sell."

Fred and Carol achieved a 96pc calving rate last year which Fred puts down to the introduction of the Red Angus genetics.

"We have been getting very good calving rates with Red Angus bulls," he said.

"We get a few twins out of them which brings the calving numbers up so they have proved to be a very fertile breed."

Carol agreed with her husband adding the Red Angus also possessed strong maternal characteristics.

"We haven't had much trouble during calving with them and if they do ever lose a calf they seem to be quick in accepting another one," she said.

"They are very good mothers."

A few months before mating Fred brings all the cows into the yards to ensure they are in good condition and divides them into mobs of 30.

Each mob is then joined with one bull on June 1.

"The cattle are easier to handle in the smaller mobs when it comes time to mark and needle them," he said.

Bull selection is an important part of Fred's program and before each of the sales he will go through the stud's catalogue and select each of the bulls whose EBV figures stand out.

From there Fred will also look at the bull's physical conformation.

"Sometimes by the time the sale comes around I have looked at the bull two or three times over and if I want a bull for a particular reason, for example to put over my heifers, I will pay more attention to the birthweight and milk production figures," he said.

"EBVs are a wonderful tool but you also have to take into account the bull's physical make-up and check out his temperament."

Fred keeps four bulls on his Waroona property and normally buys one every year from either the Willandra, Jutland Park or Bandeeka studs.

Fred added that he had never had any trouble with the temperament of his Red Angus.

"A while back we ran a black Angus bull over black females and I have found, although there isn't much difference in growth rate or size between the breeds, the reds are much quieter which makes them easier to handle," he said.

Fred and Carol grow all their own hay for the cattle operation and like most farmers in the South West suffered some quality damage due to the rain but still managed to cut more than enough rolls for the year.

"In 2010 we had to cut our breeders back to 100 because of the feed shortage, but we have plenty of feed this year because of all the rain," Fred said.

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