Grass finishing works the Wright way

Grass finishing works the Wright way


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Dardanup producer Ross Wright.

Dardanup producer Ross Wright.

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Like many southern producers Dardanup based Ross Wright's introduction to cattle was through his family's dairy at Brunswick.

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Like many southern producers Dardanup based Ross Wright's introduction to cattle was through his family's dairy at Brunswick.

Started by his father Vern, he joined the business in 1968 after completing his schooling at Scotch College and was ambitious, or cheeky, enough to write to the dairy board asking for his own quota.

It wasn't forthcoming and instead he worked at building numbers in the family enterprise to about 80 Friesians milked twice daily.

They bought Friesian heifers in annually and mated them to Hereford bulls selling heifer progeny as day olds and growing steers out on grass to be sold as three year olds through Brunswick sales.

In the 80s, when his wife Kathy started her Karos Holstein Friesian stud they began breeding their own replacement dairy heifers but still the steer and surplus heifer calves were sold through auction sales.

"The cattle crisis in the 70s made me reassess things and I began selling direct to EG Green & Sons in 1975," Ross said.

Ross dealt with Colin Green and cattle buyers of the day Murray Klumpp and Stuart Pinner.

Part of the attraction was he could deliver his cattle in the evening, go up the next morning to see them killed and walk away with the cheque that same day.

"I never had a contract and I never felt badly done by with the price I received," Ross said.

"I would guess the weight of every animal as it came through the race at the works and got pretty good at it usually getting to within five kilos," he said.

"I knew the ear tag of every steer, its buy-in weight and price so could assess individual profitability."

Initially the Wrights were selling Friesian steers and surplus heifers from their dairy, all finished on grass in the flush of the season with no hay supplementation.

Some of Ross Wrights grass finished steers destined for Harvey Beef.

Some of Ross Wrights grass finished steers destined for Harvey Beef.

"When people cut hay is when the grass is at its optimum," Ross said.

The all grass, no hay policy is the same simple system in place today, except having stopped dairying in June 2001, a year after the industry was deregulated, they now buy in all cattle.

In the heyday they got up to 450 head buying in big, one earmark lines where possible of domestic trade cattle including several lots of weaners from Esperance.

Now heading for retirement they aim for about 200 head a year and have made a conscious decision to only target the heavier export type cattle, either Friesian, beef or F1s, aiming for a beast that will dress at about 350 to 400 kilograms after about 90 days on improved pastures or about 100kg weight gain.

"We buy in on the break of the season anywhere from April to July either privately or through the yards," Ross said.

"Greens (and now Harvey Beef) have been very good to us but we have been loyal to them too.

"If they want a load of cattle brought up to the abattoir to show some overseas visitors I'm happy to help or if they're a bit short of kill on a particular day I'll run a few up for them."

Testimony to the relationship, Ross was invited to open the processing facility's new set of steel and concrete cattle yards, standing alongside CEO Jack Wragg in 1997 and to be the producer face of a television campaign EG Green & Sons ran promoting a competition to go in the draw to win an overseas holiday with every load of cattle delivered.

"I got a fair old ribbing around town for that one," he said.

Ross remembers when the company went into liquidation, there was a very negative feel around the district and a lot of finished cattle were trucked to the Eastern States for slaughter.

"Prices fell away but once liquidators were appointed (with the intention of trading through), I knew we would get paid so I went back buying and was able to buy in at the reduced prices," he said.

"This probably wouldn't have happened (the collapse) in Colin or Mal Green's day as they kept such a tight rein on the business."

"For instance, when my sister Julie worked there in the late 70s the admin staff had to calculate every Friday night how much meat had been produced in the week and account for every kilo of it, where every bit went to and how much it weighed.

"They were expected to stay back for as late as it took to complete and then someone drove the details to Mal's house in Perth for him to look at over the weekend."

Ross sees a bright future for the WA beef industry and says the emergence of Andrew Forrest in the sector has put a positive spin on things judging by the talk around the saleyards.

But continuity of supply will be the challenge.

"It's no good having markets if you can't fill them," he said.

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