ADAPTING to market trends and focusing on building a strong genetic base has kept the Campbell family of Yornup at the forefront of today's beef industry.
As a second-generation farmer, Michael Campbell together with his wife Jan, farm 530 hectares on their home property, Donnelly Lodge.
Michael's parents Ross and Peg purchased the original 120ha farm in 1959 which had an apple orchard and a small dairy herd.
The orchard was removed in the late 1960s due to the market and no irrigation supply, which encouraged Ross and Peg to increase their dairy herd to 70 Friesian, Jersey and Guernsey females, chasing the butter fat content.
While running the dairy operation, Ross worked for the Department of Agriculture and was one of the earliest farmers in WA to introduce artificial insemination (AI) to the herd, resulting in an early leap in the genetic base of the Campbell's females.
Acquiring more lease land in the early 1970s instigated the gradual switch to first-cross females and when milk regulation quotas were introduced in 1978, the family decided to step away.
"Having retired from the Department of Agriculture, dad didn't want to spend more money on feeding his milkers, nor did he have the irrigation facilities to do so, therefore the decision to switch to a beef herd was made," Michael said.
Growing up and being involved in the farming practise saw Michael work as an Elders stock agent and for 25 years he covered parts of the pastoral zones, the eastern Wheatbelt and the lower South West region.
He returned to the farm in 2001 and together with Jan and their three young sons, purchased neighbouring properties and increased the beef herd to 250 breeders, while adding sheep to the equation.
Today they predominantly run Murray Grey, Angus and a few Simmental cross cows which have been bred from the original first-cross dairy females, as well as 3000 Merino ewes which are mated to Greeline composite rams.
Michael's father's passion for genetics has slowly rubbed off on him and for the past eight years he has been sourcing AI beef sires to enhance the genetic diversity of the cattle herd.
The past two autumns have been very tight and the Campbells have had to hand feed everything for a period of time.
"Due to the seasons, AI was not an option and the bulls we had purchased at various sales were heavily used," Michael said.
When the season permits, the Campbells mate most of their heifers to AI Angus sires and use genetics such as Monterey Murray Grey and Angus, Southend Murray Grey and source Simmentals privately from Manjimup producer Bob Pessotto for their mature females.
All the heifers are grown out and mated, with a portion of the PTIC females kept as replacements, while the surplus is often privately sold.
"This year we will sell approximately 60 head to local and loyal clients," Michael said.
"We have a client who predominantly purchases our mated Simmental cross females, as he knows how well they perform, while the others find homes easily enough."
This year the Campbells carried over a handful of last season's youngest Murray Grey cross heifers which will be available in the Landmark Boyanup Mated Beef Female Sale on Thursday, January 9, 2020.
The 2009 and 2010 seasons were bad for the Campbells with minimal rain received and little feed on the ground.
"Running all breeders gave us no flexibility inside our business therefore we decided to carry dry stock through which gave us the opportunity to decrease our stocking rate in May but keep our DSE at a similar number through the good seasons," Michael said.
During the process they decided to spread their risks and purchased another 930ha in the nearby Trigwell area.
"This allowed us to relocate our sheep to the new property and free up some land for the cattle on our home and neighbouring blocks," Michael said.
Due to market requirements of slaughtered vealers, the Campbells made a conscious decision to push their calving back from March to April and supply the lotfed market.
"Cattle producers get paid on weight and quality however our cattle had the quality but not the weight, so we diverted to the feeder market," Michael said.
The Campbells will be weaning all their heifers in early December while their steer weaners are kept on their mothers until the end of the month to suit market demands.
For the past two years the family has sold their seven to eight-month-old steers at the end of January to Ucarty Holdings, Dowerin, at varied weights and at market value.
"One of the most discouraging parts of now not selling our calves direct to a processor is the lack of carcase data feedback we get on the performance of our cattle," Michael said.
It is for this reason the Campbells entered their stock in the Harvey Beef Gate 2 Plate Challenge for the past two years and have achieved great results.
This year, out of 66 teams their cattle was fourth overall in the competition which assesses beef producers' cattle performance through grainfed, MSA graded and the domestic supply chain in WA.
"We were very pleased with the result we achieved and are already looking forward to next year's challenge," Michael said.
"The genetic diversity through the types of beef breeds is very interesting and although it would be nice to win, like the majority of farmers we are just keen to see how consistent our cattle perform."
Not giving up any of his breeding secrets, Michael said two of the beasts within his fourth-place team had a higher percentage of hybrid vigour in them and performed better than the entry that didn't.
Over the years the Campbells have incorporated Murray Grey, Angus and Simmental genetics to aid in adapting to market trends and improving growth rates through the use of hybrid vigour.
The longevity and ease of calving in their females is an added bonus, with some of the elite cows still roaming the paddocks at 14 years-of-age.
Michael said the longevity, performance and overall genetic standards of beef female herds in WA is very strong.
"Sourcing genetics that will improve my own herd is getting difficult as the standards in the industry is already so high," he said.
"If I was to review one aspect of the State's beef breeding program it would be looking at how we can test bulls for their longevity, fertility and service capacity in a commercial herd.
"On the marketing side, I feel we should be promoting milkfed vealers as a premium meat-eating experience through the spring and early summer months."
While there is always improvement to be made in any industry, the Campbells passion for their beef enterprise is firm.
They not only have support from Michael's parents but their three sons who are all working in the agricultural industry.
"Jack helps manage the sheep farm, Liam is employed at Rabobank, Angus is studying agribusiness at Curtin University and they all bring fresh ideas to the family enterprise," Michael said.