EPASCO Farms is a well-known and respected name throughout the Esperance region and the wider farming community and Angus cattle have been synonymous with it since its establishment.
Since 1980, Epasco Farms has been owned by the Springorum family from Germany, who have continued to put their faith in Angus cattle to consistently produce lines of quality cattle over many years.
Under the guidance of Rod Taylor, Epasco Farms manager for 37 years, a 100 per cent Angus herd was developed, as the Angus breed is well suited to the sometimes-challenging environment of varying rainfall and environmental conditions of the Esperance region.
Following Rod's retirement, Nick Ruddenklau, has filled the role of Epasco Farms manager.
He is an advocate for the Angus breed and is keen to build on the proven results it has achieved during the history of Epasco Farms.
The breed is well-suited to our environment," Nick said.
"I am really impressed with their resilience.
"Last season was tough, but what they managed to do following that was impressive.
"Their feed conversion was good and they have the ability to put condition on after a tough season."
Nick said they also really like the marketability of Angus cattle.
"They (the Angus Society), have done such a good job with the Angus brand," he said.
"They have done an impressive job with marketing.
"Everyone wants Angus."
Epasco Farms runs 1200 breeders in a self-replacing herd, with a focus on developing the quality of the herd to suit the local environment.
Nick said previously feet had been a problem on the Condingup sand plains, but Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) were starting to put some good data out with regard to feet.
"I am a believer in EBVs and using these to improve our herd," Nick said.
"The Angus EBVs are starting to get on top of that."
Epasco Farms breeds its own bulls, built on foundation bulls from the Blackrock Angus stud, Vasse.
"The feedlots seem to really like the Blackrock Angus, so we like to use their bulls," Nick said.
The operation runs its bulls at about a 1:40 ratio to the cows, which it has the luxury of doing from breeding its own (bulls).
This year, Nick has also trialled a round of artificial insemination (AI) on a group of nucleus cows.
"We did this for a few different reasons," he said.
"It is an economical way to pick up new genetics pretty cheaply.
"We can put some new genetics into the cattle that would otherwise be out of reach financially.
"It also is a help if we get an injured bull or other factors come into play.
"The AI is a useful back up."
Calving at Epasco Farms is scheduled to occur from the month of March and Nick said the timing suited the season at Esperance and meant they didn't have to carry the weaners for too long.
"We don't have to feed them too far through the summer," he said.
"It works well with the feed, especially if the season is bad and it also suits our timing for stores."
The operation turns off all of its calves as stores and Nick said the demand for Angus was strong from lotfeeders, especially for good quality, premium stores.
Epasco Farms covers 14,500 hectares and is a mixed farming enterprise comprising of 50pc Merino sheep, 25pc Angus cattle and 25pc cropping.
The farm is managed and farmed conservatively, with a long-term view, ensuring the future of the farm for the Springorum family.
The Angus herd forms a valuable part of the mixed-farming enterprise, assisting to spread the risk by generating a reliable source of income.
The cropping program is a rotation of canola, wheat and barley.
Part of the cropping program is designed to complement the cattle and sheep production with pasture crops being grown that are used for stock fodder such as hay and sileage.
"We produce all our own hay and sileage," Nick said
"This is our first year of sileage, from which we have had good results with feeding our lambs and calves.
"We also produce our own grain for feeding sheep and barley straw for cattle for maintenance."
Nick is quick to acknowledge the challenges of farming in the isolation of the Esperance region.
"Esperance can be a real equaliser," he said.
"Some of our challenges include distance to market, which we have overcome by building a good relationship with the local feedlots and sending most of the calves to them.
"Distance to processing facilities can also be a disadvantage."
Other challenges include the logistics of getting freight and supplies to the farm and the additional costs involved.
However Nick is positive about the region, saying it is a really great place to farm.
"Esperance has a really progressive farming community," he said.
"Farmers are willing to try new things and new technologies.
"The people are positive, the grower groups are supportive and new techniques and new technology is taken up.
"The farmers are a great support.
"They are open and honest, some people get all protective, but down here you don't find that, you go to a field day and people will stand up and tell you what is going on, no one is pretentious.
"Even socially, the connections that you make are very good.
"Plus it can't be too bad when you can finish work and be on Wharton Beach in 15 minutes to wash the dust off."
In addressing some of the challenges of a mixed-farming enterprise, Nick acknowledges the assistance provided by the Elders wool and livestock agents.
Elders has had an ongoing relationship with Epasco Farms since 1982 and has been an integral part of the farm's long-term success, successfully marketing both its livestock and wool.
The relationship between Elders and Epasco Farms is based on local content, with the local Elders livestock and wool representatives servicing Epasco Farms.
"It was a tough season last year, and Michael Forward (Elders livestock), was pretty good with assisting with those tough situations, giving advice and support," Nick said.
Good welfare practises are at the forefront of the cattle production at Epasco Farms.
Epasco Farms cattle overseer Amelia Quaife is passionate about cattle welfare and the positive effect that good practises have on the health of the cattle.
She is an advocate for implementing low-stress cattle handling principles.
"Low stress cattle handling makes such a difference to the cattle and how we conduct our day-to-day jobs," Amelia said.
"The cattle remain calm and can handle different stressful situations, they keep maintaining their weight and are much easier to handle.
"They are good on your infrastructure and don't destroy fences, yards or utes.
"It is also really important for the health and safety of the workers, especially less experienced people, to help ensure their safety, as the cattle are calmer and easier to handle."
Amelia started her role in March, 2019.
"I really like working with the cattle on Epasco, the management, development and welfare of the cattle, makes it a great place to work," she said.
"I did come to Esperance for the great beaches, but I just love the balance of work and lifestyle here.
"Everyone is easy to get along with and Nick is a good mentor."
In looking towards the future of the cattle production at Epasco Farms, one of the challenges that Nick envisages is the changing social environment and public perception around animal welfare and farming.
"Going forward, we need to do more as farmers to highlight the good stuff that we do and the good animal welfare practices we implement," Nick said.
"At the end of the day, we can't crop all of our land - livestock farming will still have to play a role.
"It is something here at Epasco that we will always try to follow the newest technologies and techniques for animal welfare.
"We need to be accountable, I feel that advancements in farming techniques and vet medicine and livestock accreditation programs will play a bigger role in our cattle production.
"As an industry we need to be better at portraying what we are good at.
"Farmers are their own worst enemy at portraying the good stories, so it would be good to see more of the good positive stories out there.
"It is certainly on our radar.
"We will be looking at how we operate our livestock farming, our accountability and how we can improve on our already high standards of animal welfare."