Cattle farmers span five generations

Cattle farmers span five generations

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Darren Manning with his daughter Kelly and some of their Angus cattle.

Darren Manning with his daughter Kelly and some of their Angus cattle.

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Keeping farming in the family is fourth-generation cattle producer Darren and Jen Manning who have now extended that to five generations with daughter Kelly joining them.

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KEEPING farming in the family is fourth-generation cattle producer Darren and Jen Manning who have now extended that to five generations with daughter Kelly joining them.

The Manning's 128 hectare family farm at Mardella has been in the family since the 1930s.

Having recently purchased a second 202ha property at Birchmont, they now own a total of 330ha.

"The Mardella farm is the one that has been passed down through the family over the years, the Birchmont property we only bought probably three years ago," Darren said.

After attending high school he went on to work for various rural distributors but still found time to help out his grandfather on the farm.

Darren's interest and passion for farming brought him back to the farm after 25 years in the workforce.

Growing up around cattle meant Kelly developed an interest in the industry early on, attending the Western Australian College of Agriculture (WACOA), Harvey, before going on to gain more experience working on different cattle farms.

Her passion for cattle meant she was eager to return to the farm where she now works full-time with her dad.

The Mannings have 330 head of breeding cattle split between the two locations, with 230 at their Birchmont property and 100 on the home farm.

The home farm cattle are Murray Grey cows, while the cows on the Birchmont property are Angus, with both herds joined with either Angus or Blonde d'Aquitaine bulls.

The Mannings made the switch to the Angus breed to meet an increase in market demand for the breed.

"We've swapped to Angus in the past two years due to changes in the market," Kelly said.

She has taken control of the breeding objective side of the enterprise and believes strict herd management is important.

"That's Kelly's domain, she wants to be more strict on our cows to get more of a milky line, so in years where there is less grass, the cows can still carry a reasonable calf," Darren said.

"The aim is to turn off the first line at 300-340 kilograms and if they're sappy enough they will go straight to the butcher, unlike this year where they were a bit leggy so they'll go to a feedlot."

When it comes to sourcing their bulls, the Mannings use a couple of bulls from the Black Rock stud at Dardanup and get the rest from Sheron Farms.

Kelly also has an artificial insemination (AI) program for one particular group of heifers.

"We've done about 60 heifers AI, so they get mated in May," she said.

From June to July the bulls are joined to the females, with calving occurring from March to May, and weaning beginning in November.

"We wean at eight to nine months, so they're probably 300-330kg and then they go to a feedlot market," Kelly said.

When it comes to calving, the Mannings do regular checks to ensure there are minimal calf fatalities.

"We don't lose many, we lose maybe five, between the two places and that's out of 250-270 cows," Kelly said.

Darren believed the cows calved well because of the Angus bulls.

"It's all about picking the right bulls and Kell does a pretty good job of that,"" he said.

Pregnancy testing has been a helpful tool for the Mannings, particularly when it comes to culling.

"We pregnancy test in November so we have a pretty good idea of our culls and we make the decision from early November, but we don't have too many other than the culls that are due to age or bad temperament," Kelly said.

With a background in the dairy industry, she keeps an eye out for important but often forgotten about physical traits when culling.

"Kell also culls on physical traits such as udder structure and feet," Darren said.

With the purchase of the Birchmont land, the Mannings also bought the cattle that were on the property, which has meant they had to cull accordingly.

"We bought cows with this farm and they're all getting old, so I have just been swapping them out," Kelly said.

The majority of their cattle are sold to local markets with the help of S & C Livestock agents.

"We use S & C Livestock to help find us different avenues to sell to, we try and sell straight off mum if they're sappy enough," Darren said.

"All our market information generally comes from S & C Livestock, so if they say our cattle will suit a particular market we'll either send them direct to abattoirs or butchers or they'll go through to Muchea, though we don't sell a huge amount through Muchea.

"We usually sell to a niche (market) so if someone says I'm looking for a particular line, they'll see us and if it's what they're after they'll put an order through."

As well as selling to feedlots and local markets, the Mannings have also exported some of their cattle to China.

"We turned off 40 heifers to China this year and that worked pretty well for us," he said.

By exporting some of their heifers, the Mannings have found an additional benefit when it comes to providing their cows with feed.

"Their mothers go onto a dry paddock and we don't need to feed them as much as a cow carrying a beef calf, so that's been handy especially being a drier year," Darren said.

They have also exported some bulls in the past, but that is dependent on price.

With an enterprise dependant on rain for feed, meeting breeding and production targets can be difficult.

Darren said it all depended on the season and this year they missed out on early grazing due to the lack of rain.

"We like to get three grazings in before we lock up the paddock for hay, but we only got in two and a lack of grass means the cows produce less milk, which means smaller beef and less muscle," he said.

"Down here (Birchmont) it's not too bad, but at home, our rainfall has been ordinary, I haven't done the calculation to see how much we're behind, but we are certainly behind."

Despite the season's late break, the Manning's hay season finished off surprisingly well.

"We've ended up cutting areas of the paddock which are normally waterlogged, so that's been a plus because we have gained a bit more hay," Darren said.

All their cattle are 100 per cent grassfed, sowing the paddocks on both properties with 20-25kg of rye and clover, which is used for grazing before being baled for hay.

Dry conditions across the country have made it difficult and expensive to source hay, so to improve their feed situation, Darren has purchased a fodder unit, allowing him to provide cattle with greed feed all year.

"We have some Murray Grey-Friesian cross cows which are struggling to have repeat calves being only on grass," he said.

"The cows just pour everything into their calf and their calves are magnificent, but there are some cases where they'll miss a year, as a result of putting all their energy into their calf.

"If we can lift their nutrient level through a fodder unit and have green feed all year-round, that might help them to repeat calf and we can also finish our tail end calves on it."

Kelly's love of cattle has only grown over the years and has meant she has been actively involved in all aspects of the industry.

A few years ago she won the Dairy Cattle Paraders award at the Perth Royal Show, allowing her to compete in the National competition in Sydney, which she also won.

In addition to their commercial cattle Kelly has established a stud of her own, which she enters in competitions.

"I have a stud of Blonde d'Aquitaines that I try and get to the Perth Royal Show, which I do most years but there's usually only one other stud showing the breed, so it's hard to compare."

Kelly is continuing to develop her Blondeman stud.

"I bought Brahman heifers to try and get Blondemans because I wanted to have a Blondeman stud, which is a Brahman cross Blonde d'Aquitaine," Kelly said.

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