THE Staples family has made its mark on its patch of paradise in the hills overlooking Harvey, growing its farming enterprise to support generations of the family by expanding its landholding and beef business.
Ian, together with his wife Rondha, live in his childhood home.
Ian’s great uncle originally owned and farmed part of neighbouring farm ‘Sunnyvale’ and he sponsored Ian’s father out to Australia in 1928 from England, with his father settling at the home farm ‘Rocky Glen’.
Ian and Rondha started farming on their own when they were 28, though Ian jokes about not actually becoming a full-time farmer until he was 67, having always had off-farm work.
They originally ran a breeding herd of Shorthorn cows, but as the land they were running was freshly bulldozed country and the calves weren’t performing, Ian’s employer at the dairy farm they were living and working away on, suggested a move to dairy steers.
They sold the beef herd and kicked off with 70 head of steers.
A return to living back on the farm in 1980 was the start of a large-scale land clearing project. Now, after their children have joined forces with them to buy adjoining land, the total land holding for the Staples family in the area sits at about 850 hectares.
“We’ve all gone in together to secure the various blocks which now make up our farm and that’s how we’ve also been able to up the numbers of cattle,” they said.
Cattle have always been part of the plan, with Ian and Rondha joined by their son Glenn in the running of what is now largely an Angus-Friesian first cross female herd.
The cattle enterprise has evolved and expanded to 900 head total, including steers, cows and calves.
The family has continued trading steers since the initial 70, as well as selling their own calves.
“So that’s good because sometimes the steers do better than the calves or the other way round so it’s good to have both options,” Glenn said.
But the business wouldn’t run as it does, if it weren’t for the willingness of family members to go in together on more land to support the growing herd.
“United you stand, divided you fall is my main motto,” Ian said.
Ian, Rondha and Glenn bought the first additional block since land clearing stopped in 2001.
“At that point it was really clear that going in together made a lot of sense,” Glenn said.
“It would have been really hard for mum and dad on their own and it would have been the same for me, but by going in together it was actually relatively easy, so it’s just gone from there.”
Despite the farm consisting of several different blocks it is run as a single unit, as is the herd.
In the past, replacement females for the Angus-Friesian first cross breeding herd have been bought in when needed because the family likes the doability of the Angus-Friesian mothers in their high-rainfall environment.
“We join the F1s to Simmental bulls from Willandra stud at Williams and that cross produces some really beautiful calves,” Ian said.
“Just recently we did also buy an Angus bull as well to trial, but we are quite partial to the Simmental bulls.
“Their genetics have come a long way over the years and in particular they are beautiful and quiet now, as well as having that strength and structure.”
That said, the plan going forward will likely involve more Angus breeding than it has in the past.
On the property there are currently 100 first cross Angus-Friesian heifers which are set to be joined to Angus bulls at the next mating, with the idea being to create a future line of second cross heifers which will have the potential to be future breeders.
“We drafted off and weaned our first line of second cross heifers recently,” Glenn said.
“Those will be joined to an Angus bull this year for ease of calving.”
The plan isn’t to move away from those early crosses though, with the calves from the second cross set to be sold.
“We’re not planning to go to a third cross at this stage,” Glenn said.
“But after the second crosses have had their first calf, we’ll then be putting them in with a Simmental bull.
“Deep down we’re quite proud of our Simmental cross calves.”
The milk value in the first cross cattle is the main reason for buying them in rather than running their own main self-replacing herd.
“The extra milk combined with the growth that comes with Simmental blood produces a beautiful calf for sure,” Ian said.
“But on the other hand, that extra milk comes with problems like mastitis and as a result of that we’ve lent towards the second cross idea going forward.”
Buying in breeders has an impact on the length of the calving period as well.
“The drop starts in March but we leave the bulls out for months because a late calf is better than no calf,” Glenn said.
“We have to look at it differently to someone who has pure Angus.
“After a six-week mating period an Angus breeder will likely cull a cow that’s not in calf, but because we’ve bought in these first crosses, we give them extra time to get pregnant - we don’t want to be culling a perfectly good cow just because she didn’t get pregnant early.”
The calves are about 10 months old when they leave home but any that aren’t ready to go stay on and are grown out.
“Generally though we’re happy with how the calves go each year,” Glenn said.
“Some are able to go straight to Woolworths from the farm and the rest make good money at the saleyards, so we’re happy with that.”
Since the farm has grown, the stocking rate equation has become more fine tuned and the Staples family will be keeping an eye on that going forward.
“Now we’ve got a bigger farm, we don’t want to be over stocked because when you’ve only got 70 head and you need to buy in feed because you’ve had a tough season it’s not that much of a cost,” Glenn said.
“But with the numbers we’re running now, that would be a very big cost to be stuck with so we’ve got to watch the numbers and make sure the property can support the stock.”
With a very tough start to the season last year, the family was lucky to have enough feed on hand to not have to buy feed, but in other years they have had to spend plenty of money with a smaller property, so they’ve learnt their lesson.
“In the good old days it used to always rain,” Ian said.
“But we just try to make sure we only have enough cattle to use the amount of feed we can grow and everything works well.”