KEEPING things simple and being able to enjoy farming and pursue some off-farm interests is the philosophy behind the way the Blyth family runs its Manypeaks farming operation.
A true family farming enterprise, Jeff and Rebecca Blyth and their daughter Bianca and her partner Rob Potter run 550 Angus breeders and say the Angus breed also allows them to farm without too much complication.
Jeff and Rebecca’s son Callum has recently joined the enterprise after working for Fletchers for three years and their niece Caitlin Vandelaar also helps out during school holidays.
The Blyths started farming in Manypeaks in 1972 when Jeff’s parent Mick and Marie moved from Byford, where he was running dairy cows.
There were some Angus cattle that came with the property and a mix of some other breeds and Mick also bought some Friesian cows from the dairy with him.
“The herd was pretty much 50 per cent Angus and 50pc of everything else,” Jeff said.
“Slowly we increased the Angus numbers and by the mid-1990s, we were a straight Angus herd.”
Through the 1980s and 90s the herd was based mostly on Mordallup blood, but in recent years they have switched to buying bulls from the Coonamble Angus stud at Bremer Bay and the Koojan Hills Angus stud, Manypeaks.
“It is a local stud and we really like the bulls they produce,” Rebecca said.
“They are paddock-reared on grass and they fit in well with the way we do things here.”
Some years ago the Blyths made the decision not to make any hay and the cows must feed on what pasture is available.
If the season is really tough they will buy in hay, but they are looking at running a herd that can convert weight off grass efficiently all year round.
“We really want to produce a low-cost input animal,” Jeff said.
“They have to be efficient because we try to avoid supplementary feeding if we can.”
The family has been pregnancy testing all cows and heifers for the past 15 years and this has enabled them to build a fertile, high production herd.
“When we decided not to make hay anymore we had to drop our cow numbers to ensure we weren’t stocking the country too high,” Rebecca said.
“Pregnancy testing has been invaluable because the cow herd is actually producing just as many calves now with lower numbers compared to when we weren’t preg testing.
“We have also tightened up our calving window.
“At one point we were calving for nearly five months.
“We calve in March and the bulls go out for nine weeks.
“Once we have pregnancy tested we take the cows that are going to calve later and sell them off as cows in calf and by doing this we have been able to reduce our calving period to six weeks.”
Another way of simplifying the operation was to introduce electronic tags on all cattle, which has enabled the Blyths to keep very accurate records of each cow on the property.
“We use a Tru-Test 5000 unit, which enables us to weigh and capture data of all cattle, so we can really see which cows are performing well and which aren’t,” Rebecca said.
“This enables us to cull the poorer performing cattle and it has really helped lift the performance of the herd overall.”
Another initiative introduced last year was the use of a calf catcher at marking time.
The Blyths saw the calf catcher in operation at the Irongate Wagyu stud and immediately put in an order for one.
For many years they have been marking all calves on the ground, in the paddock and say the calf catcher has made the whole process so much easier.
“We do everything to them on the ground – put in the electronic ear tags, earmark them, and mark the steers,” Jeff said.
“Having the calf catcher has made that job so much quicker and safer.
“We have hooked it up to a CanAm side-by-side and it works brilliantly – we should have done it years ago.
“There is less stress on the cattle because you don’t have to bring them into the yards and what was once a two-person job can now be done by one person.”
In terms of their breeding aims, Jeff and Rebecca said they were looking to produce a moderate-framed cow that converted well.
When choosing bulls, Jeff looks at the bull and Rebecca looks at the figures and if they are both happy, that bull will get a big tick.
“The bull has to appeal visually first and then we use the figures,” Rebecca said.
“We are really looking for bulls that are well rounded and not too extreme.
“In terms of figures we look at eye muscle area and intramuscular fat in particular.
“We like a moderate birthweight and not a low birthweight.
“Although we do have to pull the odd calf, we find that a moderate birthweight produces calves that grow out well and get to good weaning weights quickly.”
Temperament and conformation are also key areas the family focuses on.
Anything that isn’t right temperament-wise is straight out the gate and the same for anything that is structurally weak.
“We are very particular about the feet on our cattle,” Rebecca said.
“Bad conformation usually comes out in the feet and we are farming very sandy country so if the feet aren’t right it shows up pretty quickly.”
The majority of the heifer calves are kept for replacements, while steer calves are sold at the Landmark Mt Barker Angus Weaner Sale.
“Since that sale started we have pretty much supported it every year,” Rebecca said.
“The sale is a great initiative by the Landmark team and it has been excellent for us and our calves usually sell for a premium over what the market prices are doing at the time.
“We have repeat clients that come back and buy our calves each year and usually they go to people to grow out to sell them as heavy grassies or it is feedlottters that buy them.”
Prior to supporting the Landmark sale, the Blyths were selling steers with the assistance of Landmark Mt Barker agent Harry Carroll, on-farm and for a number of years in the 1990s they sold to the Vasse Research Station, which used the calves for trials.
The next two years will see an expansion of the herd with the recent purchase of another property.
This property has bluegums on it now, but they will be harvested next year and the land will be converted to pasture.
“We will look to increase the breeder numbers to 700 head and that will all come from what we breed on the place now,” Rebecca said.
The increase in cattle prices has also allowed the Blyths to invest in their pasture mix.
Running a predominantly kikuyu-based pasture now, they have employed local pasture renovation specialist Kent Rochester to do some work to get more ryegrass into the mix.
“Not cutting our own hay means we need to have our pastures producing to their optimum and we are fortunate cattle prices have enabled us to spend some money on really working on our pasture system,” Rebecca said.
One thing the Blyths agree on is that they don’t want to be tied to the farm 24-7.
“We want things set up so we can get off the farm and do things that we want to and I think running an operation without too much complication and keeping things simple enables us to do this,” Jeff said.