Santas all the way at Sylvania station

26 Mar, 2003 10:00 PM

IT has been in their blood since the early 1970s and nothing looks like changing, when you sit down and talk to Sylvania station owners Ben and Helen Newland, about Santa Gertrudis cattle.

The Newland family first became involved with the in the early 1970s when they purchased their first bulls from Orleans Farm at Esperance.

Before that time Ben's father Colin had been running Shorthorn cattle but since the Esperance encounter they have stuck with the "versatile" bos Indicus breed.

In 1971 the family moved to Sylvania station, which is just 70kms south-east of Newman, in the Pilbara, and this is when they made a serious move into Santa Gertrudis cattle.

"I took over the station from my father in 1979 and have stuck with the Santa ever since in preference to other bos Indicus and bos Taurus breeds such as Shorthorn and Hereford," Ben said.

"They are a very hardy and versatile breed of cattle which suit both the pastoral regions with a nine inch rainfall and the south of the state at Harvey which is much wetter."

The marketability and temperament of the Santa cattle are two of the major factors why the Newland family continues to run the breed.

Over the years Ben and Helen have continued to slowly build up their breeding herd, from about 700 head to about 1100 head today, which they are gradually converting to straight Santa Gertrudis.

"We have bought in Brahman bulls in the past, but I haven't bought one for five years," Ben said.

They introduced the Brahmans into the breeders on the station which had a higher percentage of Shorthorn, to their more progeny more acceptable for the live export trade.

"And today anything with Brahman in it is culled automatically as we strive for a pure Santa Gertrudis herd."

In the early 1990s the Newlands were along way along the path of achieving their goal of running a pure Santa herd, but a drought in 1990 forced them to sell the majority of their breeding herd, forcing them right back to stage one.

As a result there is still some Shorthorn blood amongst the herd, as they restocked the station in 1991 with Shorthorn cattle from Moola Bulla station, Fitzroy Crossing.

Gradually however, this is being bred out and with a strict culling regime at Sylvania, the cross-bred will soon be no longer visible.

In line with market requirements Ben has also begun selecting heavily for polled animals, as this trait becomes more and more desirable

"I haven't bought a horned animal for the last four to five years and I will not buy another one," Ben said.

"The live export market does not want them and in a few years dehorning animals will become illegal."

When selecting bulls Ben pays a great deal of attention to the animal's conformation and temperament.

"If the animal has not got good feet, it can't walk and it is no good to us," Ben said.

And when it comes to temperament, if it snorts at you it is out straight away.

"Santa Gertrudis are usually pretty good when it comes to temperament, you get the odd one which may snort at you, but on the whole they are pretty good, and this is a major draw card," Ben said.

Evidence of the strict culling regime is starting to come to light at Sylvania.

"The herd is starting to look very even, with the majority cherry red in colour and with no horns," Helen (WA's first female WAFarmers Pastoral president) said. "And this is a credit to Ben, because of all the work he does."

Breeding Santa Gertrudis also suits the market into which the Newlands sell their cattle.

Most of the time they sell their steers at about two years of age onto the boats for live export, however occasionally they have the odd bullock which is missed at mustering that they sell through the saleyards.

However, in the last year they have also sold "mickey" bulls onto the boats with great success.

When it comes to selling surplus and cull females Ben prefers to sell them straight off the station, and usually many go to the other pastoral areas, with a few going into the wheatbelt areas of the state.

Last year the Newlands sold their best line of 18 month old heifers for $500 off the station.

Along with running the 500,000 acres encompassed by Sylvania, Ben and Helen also have 320 acres in Harvey, of which 70 acres is irrigated and they are looking to lease another 150 acres.

At present they are running around 100 steers from the station on a newly set-up feedlot, with the intention of finishing them for the live-export market and a number of young surplus heifers which they were unable to sell, because they were in calf.

Once they have fully developed the property in terms of both pastures and infrastructure, Ben and Helen are aiming to bring the majority of their weaners, especially their steers down to the south-west property and finish them, before selling them onto the boats.

By doing this Ben and Helen, believe it will result in a better return for the steers and will allow them to run more breeders on the station.

"We hope to bring the weaners down here each year, after mustering in October and sell some off in April and then the rest off in October," Ben said.

"By keeping them the full 12 months it allows them to grow and fill out."

When the Newlands first brought the Harvey property there was a number of British and European females on it, which they crossed to Santa Gertrudis bulls, with great success.

"We crossed them with Angus, Simmental and Murray Grey," Helen said.

"They were all very good crosses, but the Santa-Simmental appeared to be the best.

"Crossing them with these traditional bos Taurus breeds produced a very versatile calf, which could be easily sold in the south-west area."

The Newlands sold their steers from this operation direct to the abattoirs and the females to local cattle producers who took a liking to them.

"By crossing Santa Gertrudis with the British and European breeds, it opens markets into which the animals can be sold, which is just another positive for the breed," Helen said.



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