THE coastal plains of Scott River in WA’s deep South West provide an ideal environment for Charolais-sired calves to flourish.
John and Barbara Dunnet, trading as Milyeanup Pastoral Company, have developed their Milyeanup property to a high standard and Charolais have been a key component in their enterprise for more than 16 years.
With mild seasons and an average annual rainfall of 1000mm, Milyeanup provides an ideal environment for the Dunnet’s Charolais-cross herd to express their growth to full advantage.
John and Barbara farm just over 2000 hectares including some coastal scrub, as their property fronts the Southern Ocean, 20 kilometres as the crow flies from Augusta.
Their enterprise includes 200ha of pivot irrigation, which is invaluable, providing year-round supply to their established beef brand, Black Point Grassfed Beef.
Black Point is a local surfing point near the property, which is less than two kilometres to the Southern Ocean.
Both John and Barbara are fourth-generation farmers and the past 35 years have seen them grow a huge range of crops including wheat, barley, hemp, potatoes, canola and they’ve also run sheep for wool and lambs.
But they have now focused their attention on producing the best quality grassfed beef.
They love working with their animals and strive for continuous improvement with the production systems, raising the animals so the meat is healthy, safe for humans and “incredibly tasty”.
They have implemented soil management programs that manage, replenish and improve the soil biology and fertility which leads to high quality pasture and a healthy environment.
John said his family relocated from South Australia’s west coast, walking their sheep across the Nullarbor Plain.
In 1906 his family moved to Nannup in the South West and they acquired a coastal run in 1908.
In summer, the dairy cows were dried off and walked 80km to the summer grazing available on the coastal plains – an annual practice until 45 years ago.
In 1968 John and his brother received by ballot a conditional purchase block at Scott River, requiring them to clear and fence 10 per cent of the block annually.
The Dunnets moved to Scott River in the early 1980s and have developed their property into a highly productive unit.
They first introduced Charolais sires in 1990.
The neighbours, however, were sceptical but the introduction has been highly successful and in fact, ironically, many of the neighbours are now using Charolais themselves.
The breeding herd runs at 500 cows which initially was the favoured F1 dairy-cross, but more recently John and Barbara are transitioning to a more beef-based breeder.
The Charolais was initially introduced to provide more growth and muscle in the dairy-cross females and these bulls mate the majority of the breeding herd.
Some breeders are joined to Angus or Murray Grey sires to produce replacement females.
In addition to the on-property bred cattle, some 700 trade cattle are purchased and finished to supply their brand.
In the early 1990s a centre pivot was installed to grow seed potatoes for Simplot.
When the contracts for the potatoes finished, the country was returned to pasture and now provides the family with year-round grazing for their Black Point Grassfed Beef brand.
There are now five pivots covering an area of about 200 hectares which is cell-grazed on rotation.
Barbara said it was a very efficient process.
“Irrigation in the Scott River region is five times more efficient than the warmer Gingin area north of Perth due to the milder climate,” Barbara said.
Although the region has an extended growing season with its milder seasons, the pivots are essential to turning off quality grassfed trade cattle at a carcase weight of 280kg.
Black Point Grassfed Beef is available at the Capel Butchery and also is used in Nannup Pies, a business which has been invited to exhibit at the next IGA Perth Royal Show.
The brand has also been available at some outlets in Perth.
John and Barbara are now using an external marketing company to increase the outlets for their premium brand and feedback on their product has been outstanding.
They are passionate about providing a clean green product and use no hormones and try to limit the use of sprays and chemicals.
To this end, they have used trace elements such as cobalt, selenium and copper to increase production, incorporated with a biologically-based system to look after the soil.
Sprays such as liquid dolomite are used with lime to correct soil pH balance and when you drive through the property and see beautiful pastures supporting obviously healthy contented cattle, reinforcing the old adage of healthy pastures equals healthy animals.
Pastures are clover and rye-based with lots of kikuyu common in coastal locations.
Perennial pastures are established under the pivots and chicory is being trialled.
The Dunnets, working with Hi-Tech Ag Solutions, have tissue-tested pastures and the chicory has excelled for trace mineral content due to its deep rooting ability.
Fertiliser and humates are applied through the pivot irrigation.
Humates, which are composed of various forms of carbon, are naturally-occurring material that is very rich in humified organic matter and humic substances.
Humates are now recognised as the single-most productive input in sustainable agriculture.
The Dunnets have mapped their soil types and manage these to achieve the best outcomes - according to Barbara, there are 42 different soil types in the area.
The property has been fenced into 45 paddocks under the pivots with 19 paddocks allocated to dryland grazing.
A central laneway with an all-weather gravelled main laneway assists in the management of the property.
Drainage work has been done with purpose-built spoon contour drains allowing better pasture utilisation.
Charolais sires have come from Kooyong Charolais and some which had participated in old Knutsford grassfed trials.
John and Barbara prefer a compact type of sire to achieve earlier finishing and use EBVs when available to make sire selections for the herd.
The beef herd is focused on an autumn calving and weaned calves can be either sold direct or utilised in the Black Point brand.
Sires are multi-joined with two to three sires per mob.
Cattle are only drenched if required and cull cattle are sold through local processing plants in the South West.
Trade cattle are purchased from the Great Southern and are turned off when they are 18-24 months at about 280kg dressed weight.
Barbara and John have found over the years that cattle from different regions, with mineral deficiencies, have had varying temperaments, supporting their desire to balance their soil and pasture with the best available mineral accessibility.
John said cattle did well in the region due to the milder climate and clean disease-free area.
With the feedback from their grassfed brand, they said the Charolais sires have been the most consistent over their type of cattle and produce great calves.
“When you own a property with the diversity of Milyeanup, its pleasing to see Charolais can deliver time and time again,” he said.
“The growth and muscle expression of the Milyeanup calves has been exceptional and this has followed through to the trade cattle on the farm.”
Although many breeds are grass-fed, the Charolais influenced cattle had the capability to utilise the exceptional pastures to pack a punch with their development.
The Milyeanup property is a credit to John and Barbara’s development and management strategy and their use of Charolais has been highly successful.