WITH a beef-producing history that includes breeding and feeding, Phil Tomlinson is pretty well placed to assess cattle breeds and performance.
From the family farm at Balingup, Phil moved to Bremer Bay to farm in 1976 and took a herd of dairy cows and first-cross cows with him, as well as a stud herd of Herefords from the family’s Balingdale Poll Hereford stud, which was established by Phil’s father in the 1960s.
The stud was one of WA’s leading producers of Poll Hereford bulls and during its time was awarded many ribbons at shows throughout the State including Beef Week and the West Coast Classic.
After arriving in Bremer, Phil found the country there was too hard for the dairy-type cattle, so he made the move to running Herefords and Angus.
The Bremer property is also where the family made its first foray into lotfeeding, when in 1981 a few factors combined to prompt Phil to start grain feeding cattle.
“It wasn’t a great season and the calves were quite storey,” Phil said.
“At the same time the cattle market wasn’t that strong and we had a wet harvest and so considering all those factors, we decided to start feedlotting.
“There weren’t many feedlots in WA at that time so it was a bit of a learning curve.
“I fed our own calves to start with and then started to buy a few in and it grew and grew from there.”
The Tomlinsons farmed for many years at Bremer Bay, but in the early 2000s life took another turn when they purchased a property at Munglingup that was at one stage, part of Bedford Harbour station.
The property, known as Lake Shaster, comprised of more than 9000 hectares and this land area meant the Tomlisons were able to expand their cattle herd and the lotfeeding operation.
“We started with 1800 cattle there, we took the 500 head Hereford and Angus herd we were running at Bremer with us and also bought some cattle in to get numbers up,” Phil said.
“We eventually got to 2000 breeders and constructed a feedlot that had a 1500-head capacity and ran 11.5 months of the year.”
It was feeding cattle at Lake Shaster that Phil first saw the potential of the Charolais breed.
“I used to like feeding Charolais cattle,” he said.
“There was a company in Esperance that used to breed them and I always tried to buy their calves as they performed well in the feedlot.”
While impressed by the performance of the Charolais calves on feed, it would be a while before Phil would start running a purebred Charolais herd.
That move came after the family sold Lake Shaster and decided to move again, with Phil and Shirley settling on a smaller block at Napier.
“I brought the Angus herd with me when we moved to Napier,” Phil said.
“I also bought some first- cross cows to run on the place and trialled a few European breeds over the first-cross and the Angus.”
It was in 2013 when Phil decided to give the Charolais breed a go, initially to mate Charolais bulls to the first-cross cows.
One bull in particular took his eye when he inspected the Token Charolais stud herd in 2013 and he went on and purchased that bull at the Landmark Great Southern Blue Ribbon bull sale.
“I started out mating him to first-cross cows,” Phil said.
“I then bought 10 pure Charolais cows from the Denmoore Charolais stud dispersal and the performance of the calves made me decide to go pure Charolais.
“Their calves were equal weight to what the first-cross cows were producing and they were lower maintenance, so I decided to go all Charolais.”
As a way of increasing the quality of the herd quickly Phil, with the help of Landmark southern livestock manager Bob Pumphrey, scoured the State for quality Charolais cows.
“We had the pick of the Milton’s herd at Dardanup and bought some from Dr John Rosenthal’s herd at Bridgetown,” he said.
“We also had the opportunity to buy some stud cows from the Lawson family’s Charolais herd and together these purchases have enabled us to get a quality line of cows together quickly.”
This year Phil will calve down 120 Charolais breeders and while this will only be his third year running a pure herd, he is impressed with what has been produced.
“We sold some calves at a recent trade sale in Mt Barker and they averaged 419 kilograms straight off their mothers,” Phil said.
“At 290c/kg they made pretty good money.”
This was the tops of the calves and Phil said he would probably hold onto the rest of the draft a little longer because there was good potential in exporting them to Russia.
“They are looking for 500-550kg calves and it seems like a good opportunity so that is where I will probably send them,” he said.
The calves will be fed a combination of Kojonup Feeds pellets and silage to get them to weights, with Phil admitting that it is hard to let go of feeding cattle to add value to them.
Even though he hasn’t been running pure Charolais cows for long, Phil has already made an impact in the breed buying the top price bull for the past two years at the WA Charolais Bull Sale in Brunswick.
When buying bulls, Phil said he looked for even muscle cover and a good muscle pattern.
He also takes into account their milk figures, with the reasoning that if a bull has good milk figures that should be passed onto the females it breeds.
When asked what he likes about running Charolais cattle, Phil simply said they were doing the job.
“You don’t have to over feed them and they are very hardy,” he said.
“They produce a good calf, have good carcases and they yield well – they are not wasteful.
“They also seem to convert feed well and are good for crossbreeding.
“You can put a Charolais bull over a lot of breeds and if I was farming in Esperance now I would put Charolais bulls over Angus females.”