FROM serving beef at banquets and functions to now being instrumental in its genetic production, Landmark Breeding (LB) manager Brad Demarti’s agricultural journey could hardly be described as conventional.
But the same qualities that made him a standout in the hospitality industry - attention to detail, professionalism and emphasis on customer service are now part of the weaponry he calls on in his new world of artificial breeding, bull testing and sales of genetic material of beef and dairy cattle.
Born and raised in Bunbury, he could have followed in his father’s footsteps to work in the tyre game, but instead chose to study hospitality and tourism at Bunbury TAFE.
The diverse nature of the course equipped him to work as a chef and a manager, eventuating in a role as banquet manager for five years at the then newly-built Lord Forrest Hotel, Bunbury.
It’s where he was first exposed to the world of cattle genetics and bovine artificial breeding practices, but not to genetics and the art of breeding perse.
“While at the Lord Forrest I was in charge of running the two-day Dairy Discovery conferences,” Brad said.
“I used to read all the brochures and catalogues and study the figures on the animals and thought it was fascinating.”
It fuelled an interest in breeding that had already been sparked when he was just six years old.
“I was given a budgie, a female, for my sixth birthday and several months later a male bird turned up in our back yard and never left.”
For Brad it signalled the start of a bird breeding hobby, which peaked at about 200 birds in his teens and 20s and led to national success.
“They were my first breeding pair and things just escalated from there,” he said.
“I filled up the whole of mum and dad’s back yard with cages full of budgerigars through to cockatoos.
“They were a bit shocked at first but now I think they love them more than I do.”
These days the cockies are gone and the budgies, still housed at his parent’s place at their insistence, are the main focus.
Brad is now a State recognised judge of the species and has himself bred three national champion birds, not bad for the boy from Bunbury but not good enough he says to claim the Australian record which stands at seven champions.
On day one we had to introduce ourselves to the group and say what we did. It was farmer, farmer, farmer, banquet manager, farmer – I’m sure they had a chuckle.
He has seen birds sell for up to $9000 in Australia and on a world scale knows one breeder turning over about $250,000 a year from his budgies, so he sees the analogy to some of the world-class cattle and semen sires he is now dealing with.
Clearly it’s this interest that had him pushing boundaries and grinding out a path to his current role as manager of Landmark Breeding.
“I got to know (Landmark state livestock manager) Leon Giglia (then manager of the HISWA Farmwest artificial breeding and herd recording centre) at those dairy conferences at Lord Forrest and one day asked if he had any jobs going.
“I think it surprised him a bit,” Brad said.
“There was nothing at the time and after emphasising the value of experience in the field, which clearly I did not have, he still told me to send my resume in.
“Not long after I saw a three-day AI course advertised in the local paper and booked myself in.
“It was run by Jacquie Hall and there I was alongside people (farmers) like Richard Hull, David McFerran and Cam Steele.
“On day one we had to introduce ourselves to the group and say what we did.
“It was farmer, farmer, farmer, banquet manager, farmer – I’m sure they had a chuckle.”
Leon Giglia recalls turning up to welcome the participants as he did for every course HISWA ran.
“To my surprise there was Brad and I asked him what he was doing there.
“Well you told me to get some experience was his reply.
“I thought wow this guy is genuinely keen.”
Brad passed the course with flying colours but it would be another six months until “the persistent little bugger” (his words) landed a job at HISWA, after seeing the truck driver’s job advertised.
In retrospect it was the best thing because it introduced him to the industry, the clientele and the rural landscape in a passive way.
“I watched and learned and soaked up as much information as I could in that time,” Brad said.
“Being in and out of properties across the State in the truck and helping Leon (Giglia) show his dairy cows were two things that really helped give me a perspective and a bit of a grounding.”
After five years in the truck he relished the opportunity to join the operative team working alongside former Dardanup dairy farmer of 25 years, Steve Mountford and of course Leon.
Together they carved an industry niche and built a strong reputation, so good in fact it made for a poachable commodity as observed by former Landmark state livestock manager Eric Broad.
For a company such as Landmark which was so heavily invested in the stud and commercial cattle industry, he saw the value of dovetailing a genetics business into the mix and so one of the livestock industry’s major coups occurred with all three moving to Landmark in a package deal in 2010.
With Leon later promoted to the role of state livestock manager, the team today comprises Brad as breeding services manager, Steve as dairy services manager and breeding services technical officer Sarah Rose, who has family farming interests at Roelands.
Their expertise and services are open to all, not just Landmark clients, taking them around the State to beef and dairy herds as far afield as Northampton, Hyden and Esperance.
Artificial breeding, mating and management advice, bull fertility testing, semen and embryo collection and storage, and operating as resellers of genetic material are all part of the daily routine.
Then there are the three day AI schools they co-ordinate and run and one of the newest arms to the business, ear notch BVDV pestivirus testing which is done by Sarah in their on-site laboratory at the Landmark Bunbury office.
Semen morphology testing is another tool in the kit, not done in house, but with samples sent to an Eastern States veterinarian who specialises in the field.
Bull testing is Brad’s domain and testimony to the importance he places on it he has completed several courses to hone his skills including a semen andrology course at Sydney University, a morphology course through Charles Sturt University, Wagga, Wagga, New South Wales, and regular refresher programs.
He currently tests into the thousands of bulls a year and Steve, as the AI specialist, is responsible for inseminating even more beef and dairy females each year.
In the dairy world, LB’s work also includes running computerised programs on individual cows checked against possible sires to determine the best match for AI and the use of sexed semen in the quest for only heifer calves.
Brad said he got a kick out of following the progress of their work, particularly when they play a multiple hand along the reproductive and marketing chain.
“We may have sold some semen or embryos, done the mating program, tested the resulting progeny especially bulls prior to sale, see them attract huge interest and sell for top money and then in turn collect semen from them for sale locally, nationally and maybe even overseas,” he said.
Leon, who remains actively involved in the breeding business, often muses about the quirky path his understudy took and wishes he could find an endless supply of Brad Demartis.
“WA cattle producers and our company Landmark are so fortunate to have someone so committed and so professional in this industry,” he said.
“You do not find that level of passion every day of the week.
“Brad has grown and developed and continually upskilled himself with the courses he has studied which is a testament to him.
“Our Landmark livestock and breeding services businesses are really complementing each other and that’s because of the staff we have working so well together,” Leon said.
Footnote – As I leave the Landmark Breeding laboratory I can’t help but ask; So can you do AI on a budgie?
“Well actually yes, but only with fresh semen so it’s a bit tricky,” Brad laughs.