THE future looks bright for beef cattle at the James’ family farm at Hyden, where three generations work closely together to run their mixed farming enterprise.
Ben James, 19, has been home for two years, full time, learning the ropes and mapping out his future, alongside his parents, Stephen and Gen, and grandparents, Frank and Kath.
The farm consists of 11,000 hectares of arable land, of which 6300ha is cropped with the remainder utilised for livestock.
Their 60:40 cropping to livestock ratio, sees the livestock broken into two thirds sheep and one third beef, consisting of 5000 breeding ewes, with half Merinos and half first-cross Prime SAMMs, 240 breeding cows and 40 mated heifers.
“We have 200 Murray Grey cows and 40 Shorthorns,” Ben said.
“There is one Shorthorn bull for the Shorthorn herd and we work on a ratio of one Murray Grey bull to 20 cows.”
They buy two Murray Grey bulls every year to replace the ones that were going out and these were sourced from local Hyden breeder Lindsay Bagshaw, Young Guns stud.
Patriarch Frank James started lotfeeding his cattle back in 1973 and switched to Murray Grey cattle in 1992 and the rest, as they say, is history.
According to Ben it was the temperament of the Murray Greys that originally made the breed so appealing and still is 26 years on.
“Temperament is a very important trait for us, especially when we are choosing replacement cows,” he said.
Ben admitted his personal preference was the Murray Grey breed for many reasons, but temperament was something they had focussed on in their herd for a long time and this had proven to be beneficial for their breeding program and overall enterprise.
“It has been very handy having the local stud to buy from, as the cattle are already adapted to the conditions on our farm,” he said.
“But Lindsay also has a lot of good quiet cattle coming through and using them has calmed the whole herd.”
The James family had a Young Guns bull that they aptly named Guru.
It was noticeably quiet – almost tame – so they decided to use his genetics in an on-farm trial of their own.
“He was so quiet he was happy to come up to us, just very calm,” Ben said.
“I would say that 25 per cent of our mated heifers are by Guru, we chose them for their temperament.
“They are good looking cattle and will walk up to you out of a mob.
“The ease of handling when working with them in the yards is really obvious, you can almost put your hand out and give them a rub as you walk past.”
An accident saw Guru injured and the James’ liked the genetics he produced so much they took the unprecedented step of retaining three of his young bull calves, to see how they go and possibly retain one or two to keep his temperament running through their herd.
Another reason Ben said they liked the Murray Grey cattle was their good mothering, while the Shorthorns were good milkers.
As previously mentioned buying from a local stud gave them the added benefit of being confident the bulls they purchase are acclimatised to the Wheatbelt conditions on their farm, but they chose their bulls based on their specific requirements.
“It depends on whether we are buying one for our replacement heifers or one to breed feedlot steers as to what traits we look for,” Ben said.
“Choosing a low birthweight bull to put over replacement heifers has been working really well for us.
“We also always look for good strong feet, no matter what.”
Knowing what works for them, the James’ are strict with their no calf, no second chance and cull any cows that don’t produce.
However, they have a long calving, starting about the beginning of March and finishing at the start of June.
“We do leave the bulls in a little longer because a late calf is better than no calf,” Ben said.
They wean steers at the start of January at about the nine month mark and these are put straight out onto stubbles, with the aim of getting them as heavy as possible.
As well as the stubbles, they also sow about 400ha of clover or biserulla for their livestock operation to graze.
They target the 440-500 kilogram weight range at the 12 to 14-month mark, through the feedlot.
Ben said operating this way they were able to get them out of the feedlot a lot sooner and both breeds were put through the feedlot and forward contracted.
“Ninety per cent of our feedlot cattle go to Woolworths,” he said.
“We have sold to Woolworths for the past 15 years and prior to that granddad sold to a local abattoir.
“We have not had any problems with penalties through Woolies and they have been really happy with our cattle.”
Until recently the James family had done all the lotfeeding themselves, but this year they have partnered up with their neighbour, Trevor Hinck.
“Trevor has a feedlot and it was a really smart decision,” Ben said.
“The cattle get a full ration through his feedshed in our feedlot, we are able to take down their weights and track them, it has worked really well.”
He said it had allowed them to focus more on other parts of their operation, like seeding and calving.
The management task of marking is completed in June/July and any of their older bulls or cull cows were sold through the saleyards.
Having things running so well at present has been the result of years of adjustments and the future looks bright for the James family.
Ben said he definitely had a real preference for the cattle and livestock side of their farm business and would love to expand this facet of their enterprise in the future.