THE very first Charolais calf born in Australia hit the grass 50 years ago this month at the Hyde family's King River property near Albany.
On January 7, 1970, bull calf Greenwarri Famechon, fondly known as Johnny, was born to a Poll Shorthorn cow and sired via artificial insemination by a British Charolais bull known as Sucre.
Johnny, named in honour of Australian featherweight boxer Johnny Famechon, weighing 58 pounds at birth, measuring 29 inches from the poll to the tail, represented the true birth of the Charolais breed in Australia.
Ken and Cheryl Hyde, who retired to Frenchman's Bay in Albany, remember the early days of the Charolais breed's growth in WA fondly.
"There was a bit of dispute with some Eastern States producers as to whether or not we had the first calf because there was one born over there three days after ours but eventually everyone agreed, it was official - we had the very first Charolais calf born in Australia," Ken said.
The process of producing that special calf started in 1968 with various layers of red tape to get through in order to import the necessary genetics into Australia, but eventually a group of producers were able to artificially inseminate cows in 1969 from which many generations of Charolais blood cattle in Australia can trace lineage back to.
"People were very interested in what we were doing, I remember when Johnny was born, we had a visitor book at the farm and I reckon along with media we had about 200 people come around to have a look at this calf we had," Ken said.
The Hyde family, who had already been working within the stud breeding and commercial beef games, were interested in the potential of the Charolais due to the recommendation of a family friend, Martin Lenthall, who knew of the breed because he'd been farming in the UK and whose enthusiasm led them, along with other local farmers, to give the breed a go.
"My father was very progressive in cross-breeding and producing premium beef," Ken said.
"So he was interested in the potential of the Charolais.
"In comparison to the other European breeds that came in to Australia, the Charolais conversion ratio was slightly better so they converted grass into meat efficiently which is really the whole objective.
"For example, we had been breeding Shorthorns at Green Range over Hereford cows and we were trying to market a 250-300kg calf at 10.5-12 months with that cross, but when we brought in the Charolais bulls, even the half-bred Charolais bulls, we were probably increasing the saleable weight of the meat to market in that same period of time by at least 10 per cent.
"So we were looking at 9-10mo to produce a 300kg baby beef, that was all thanks to that hybrid vigour and those Charolais traits."
Cheryl said there was a bit of talk and concern about the heavier weight calves creating calving problems, but said in reality there weren't many people who actually had calving issues.
"It actually didn't end up being a problem that people were maybe expecting," Cheryl said.
"But as a consequence, I think Australian Charolais breeders have worked on calving ease as a breeding objective."
Indeed these days the Charolais breed continues to go strong in Australia, widely known and respected for its fast-growing, well-muscled and big-framed type.
"Charolais in WA have continued to move forward in leaps and bounds," Ken said.
"They continue to win carcase competitions and female competitions around all of the agricultural shows - more than their fair share I think, which is fantastic.
"They're widely used as terminal sires which was always a popular cross for good reason."
Ken and Cheryl are unsurprisingly proud to have been part of the early development of the Charolais breed in Australia and the continuing prosperity of the breed in WA is a testament to the work that people like themselves put in to bringing a new breed to the beef game here in WA.
As to what happened to Johnny, the very first Charolais born in Australia - it was offered for sale at the Albany Charolais sale on March 17, 1971, after it had been used over a select group of females at Greenwarri and eight of its daughters were recorded as base females from which Greenwarri continued to breed registered Charolais until 1981.
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