WITH both cattle and sheep markets strong in recent years, a herd of Poll Herefords and a flock of Merinos are paying dividends for the McLean family at Coomberdale.
Mixed enterprise farmers Kevin and Geoff McLean work the 5000 hectare family farm and have seen the benefits of running 3500 to 4000 Merino ewes alongside 200 Poll Hereford breeders in recent years.
Up until the 1980s, prior to the McLeans building their cattle herd, they ran 9500 Merino ewes and 700 wethers.
"We used to run a lot more sheep and we didn't have as many cattle as we do now," Kevin said.
Kevin and Geoff's parents, Neil and Janice, first started on the farm in 1954, before gradually expanding and purchasing a further two blocks of land in 1975 and 1983.
Kevin, who has been on the property all his life, and Geoff work the farm in a partnership with Kevin's partner, Christine Brown.
Also helping out on the farm over the school holidays is Kevin and Christine's youngest son, Tim.
Due to the soil type across the properties, the McLeans made the decision to only farm livestock.
"We have a lot of sandplain country so we decided years ago that we would stick to livestock and only do minimal amounts of cropping," Kevin said.
"The only crops we grow are hay and oats for the sheep and cattle.
"The pasture is mostly blue lupins and sub clover, but it depends on the year."
The Poll Hereford breed has been in the family since Kevin's dad began farming.
"Dad's been running the Poll Hereford breed here as long as I can remember," Kevin said.
"They're just the right breed for us, they have a quiet temperament, you can just get in there and walk around.
"When people come to look at them we can just drive around the paddock and get out and walk in among them and they just stand there and look at you."
The McLeans join their heifers in May-June, with the older cows being joined in July-August.
This makes for a calving in February-March for the heifers and April-May for the older cows.
Calves are then weaned in December before being marketed.
When selling their cattle the McLeans have repeat buyers, who have been purchasing their cattle for three to four consecutive years.
Kevin said usually they went through an agent and the calves were privately listed.
"It's coming up to the third maybe the fourth year these people have bought them, so they must be pretty good for them to keep coming back," Kevin said.
This season when the family sold its calves they weighed 226kg liveweight, but in a good year they can weigh up to 300kg.
When culling their herd the McLeans are decisive ensuring they keep only the best cows.
They pregnancy test every year and the empty ones, along with the old cows that are no longer productive are sold.
Kevin said last year they had 90 heifers to choose replacements from but they only kept 17 head.
"Usually we keep about 30 but we thought we'd cut back this year as there is not as much feed around due to the tight season."
When selecting their replacement heifers they look for good body conformation and then good eye pigmentation.
Like most farmers, this season the McLeans were left waiting for rain that didn't eventuate.
Kevin said it had been a trying season.
"It was good in July-August but we were left waiting for the next shower of rain," Kevin said.
"We've been feeding hay to the cattle all the way through.
"I thought I'll feed them up until July because we may as well keep feeding them so we can sell off their calves.
"We fed them all the hay that we grew but we ran out pretty quickly, so we had to buy some in."
The McLeans buy most of their bulls from two studs.
The majority of their Poll Hereford bulls have come from the Woods family's Terraneil Poll Hereford stud, Beverley and the Cowcher family's Quaindering stud, Williams.
While Poll Herefords are the main breed on the property, the McLeans have also done some experimenting with a few different breeds.
Traditionally they have mated their heifers to Angus sires but in the past two years they have used a Red Angus bull over their heifers.
Kevin said they also used a Charolais bull over older cows and the females that they don't want to breed replacements from.
They started using a Charolais bull in the herd when a bull broke down during mating season and the McLeans saw an opportunity to try something new.
"I thought here's my chance to try something different with a Charolais bull," Kevin said.
"Previously Chris had had several Charolais cows that we mated to a Poll Hereford bull and the progeny of this cross was good so when the opportunity arose, I purchased a Charolais bull.
"Our breeder heifers are Herefords mostly, with the crossbred weaners meeting the feedlot market demand each year."
The McLeans run their sheep enterprise in conjunction with their cattle enterprise so that the two enterprises complement each other.
Lambing occurs in June-July with weaning in December after harvest so the sheep can go onto the crop stubble.
The McLeans sell their wether lambs after their second shearing in August to local buyers, while any cast for age (CFA) and dry ewes are sold through the Muchea Livestock Centre.
The main shearing occurs in March, with lamb shearing in November, producing about 160 bales of wool per year which are sold through auction.
In terms of performance, both livestock enterprises track pretty evenly, with both doing relatively well.
"Both enterprises perform about the same, sheep prices are particularly good at the moment, but overall they're both good," Kevin said.