RUNNING a mixed farming enterprise that offers diversity suits Redmond farmers Richard and Irene Bunn.
The pair is continuing the family tradition of running beef cattle with a 380 head Angus herd, but in the past 20 years they have also established other arms to the business that includes a vineyard and bluegums.
The family’s association with the Great Southern started in 1969 when Richard’s parents Derek and Margaret moved with their five children to the Redmond area from the United Kingdom.
Coming from a dairying background, the Bunns continued to run cattle in WA, but instead of running a breeding herd they set up a cattle trading operation.
Richard worked within the operation and continues to work with Derek and Margaret, who at 90 and 82 years of age respectively, are still very much involved in the enterprise.
“Trading cattle really enabled mum and dad to get a toehold in the industry and to grow their enterprise,” Richard said.
In the early 2000s, the Bunns moved from trading cattle to running a breeding herd with better females that were bought in through the trading side being kept to establish a nucleus herd that was mated to Angus bulls.
“We went with Angus because there was a good genetic base to choose from,” Richard said.
“It proved a good move in hindsight because the Angus breed is obviously in high demand now.
“We find the breed to be very hardy and you can get a good stocking rate from them and in general the temperament is very good.”
The Bunn herd was based mostly on Mordallup blood in the early years and more recently they have purchased Angus bulls from the Tullibardine Angus stud, which is just down the road from them.
In the mid-1990s, Richard and Irene were looking to diversify their operation and decided to plant a small area of the property to a vineyard to produce Shiraz and Cabernet.
The view was to supply grapes to local wineries, but after some years of doing this they decided to start their own wine label.
With the help of well-known local wine expert David McNamara, they produced their first commercial product for sale in 2005, which came from their 2003 vintage.
“Having an association with someone like David, who is a cornerstone of the wine industry down here, was invaluable,” Richard said.
“He has a deep knowledge of wine making and that is hard to find, so to have him come on board was a real boost for what we were doing.
“David was instrumental in pushing us to build our own winery and since we did that we haven’t looked back.”
The first commercial release of Bunn Wines Shiraz and Cabernet was extremely well received and the Bunns had inquiries coming to them direct, wondering where more wine could be sourced.
It gave them the confidence to ramp up the wine side of the operation.
Now they produce 2000 cases a year and sell wine through Dan Murphy’s, as well as direct to restaurants and independent liquor outlets across Australia.
Much of their wine is sold online through mail order with inquiries coming direct to Irene.
In another move to diversify, last year the Bunns planted their first vines of Riesling and are looking forward to harvesting those grapes to produce their first white variety.
The move into bluegums came in 2007 when, due to the increased focus on producing wine, the Bunns decided to lease some of their land to a tree company.
“We were just getting the wine business going and a lot of our focus was on that, so we decided to simplify things a little while at the same time looking for some income from the bluegums,” Richard said.
“Of course the tree market fell over not long after and we suddenly ended up being the owners of a bluegum plantation.
“The trees are still there and are close to harvest, so thankfully that market has turned around somewhat and we might be able to get something in return for the trees when they are harvested.
“In the meantime we run heifers in the bluegums to keep the grass down, so it fits in well with the cattle operation.”
With the wine side of the business quite settled now and a cattle market that is seeing historically high prices, the Bunns are looking at refining the Angus herd further.
“We kept 100 heifers last year and will keep 40 this year, so we have quite a young herd at the moment,” Richard said.
“We have made some very good gains over the past five to 10 years and we are in a position now where we can cull harder and keep better replacements to really move the herd forward.
“The aim is to push breeder numbers to about 400 head but I still want a simplified operation.
“We are not going to go gangbusters and expand too much.
“Cattle prices are good now, but you never know how long these things are going to last and if you expand too much you may get caught out at some point down the line.”
In terms of marketing their cattle, the Bunns like to keep their options open.
They sell through the saleyards or direct on farm.
Recently they sold steers in the Landmark Mt Barker Special Angus Weaner sale where one of their lines topped at 342c/kg and averaged 344kg straight off their mothers.
“We like to have various options when we sell, it gives you some flexibility to try and gain the best price possible,” Richard said.
Richard said he was keen to take things steady and keep tweaking different parts of the operation to improve.
“We have a few different income streams now with wine, beef and bluegums and I want to keep things manageable without too many headaches,” he said.
One of the areas they are moving to change is the calving period.
“We are looking at a shorter joining period and this is part of making the operation more manageable,” Richard said.
“Instead of calving for three months I would like to bring it back to six weeks.
“We currently calve in March-April-May, but I would like to get that to April and May.
“March is quite a busy month for the vineyard, so it would definitely help the workload to bring that calving period back.”
On the management front, Richard said a key factor in selecting breeding bulls was calving ease.
“Heads and shoulders, as well as length of body that favour easy calving, are priorities in choosing bulls,” Richard said.
“The females need to have good amounts of milk without having udder problems and good temperament is a big consideration for us.
“Fertility is probably the number one indicator of profitability, so the cow must get into calf and have a good instinct for raising a calf. If they don’t raise a calf they are straight out the gate.
“Basically if the cows are playing on the same team as us, we are all happy.”