The heifers for this year's 15th annual Farm Weekly win 10 Angus heifers competition will be coming from the southern paddocks of Tomasi Grazing, Karridale and as their Karridale Keepers title suggests, they will be a special addition to any beef breeding enterprise.
Valued at $22,000 inc GST, the unmated, purebred Angus heifers will be selected from the entire 2021 drop of heifer calves born on the pristine Tomasi holding.
Working closely with managers Kevin and Tracy Owen, Tomasi Grazing owner Frank Tomasi AM FAICD began breeding Angus cattle 16 years ago and his passion for farming, attention to detail and insistence on quality is reflected in the calibre of the Angus herd they have built together.
With 1214 hectares (3000 acres) across seven properties all within 20 kilometres of each other at Karridale, that herd now comprises almost 500 purebred Angus females, which as of this year, are all home bred.
"Initially we were just buying in and turning over steers but changed to a breeding herd in 2005," said Mr Owen.
"We started with 20 females from Peter Johnston at Boyup Brook, 120 mated females from Paul Torrisi, Boyanup and about 30 females from Tony Mostert, Scott River Trading, Scott River.
"Most of these females were predominantly Mordallup blood.
"They were powerful cows and we only sold the last of them off a couple of years ago.
"Given how good they were for us we have tended to stick with Mordallup for our bull purchases but have also introduced some other bloodlines in recent times," Mr Owen said.
This has included bulls from Booroomooka, Tamworth, and Millah Murrah, Duramana, both in New South Wales and WA-based studs, Coonamble, Bremer Bay, Carenda, Katanning and Black Market, Boyanup.
Some of the bulls have been bought in partnership with fellow commercial producers Matt and Fliss Della Gola, Tone Bridge, who share similar specific breeding goals.
"We don't do any artificial breeding here, only all natural matings," Mr Owen said.
"But we do have semen put away in the can from all of our top bulls.
"It's our form of insurance and we know we can use it in the future when and if we choose to."
Bulls are put in with females in June and July for a March-April calving and only for a strict eight week period.
"We like to put pressure on fertility and it also makes for easier management when you have a tight calving spread," Mr Owen said.
"We don't carry passengers, you either get in calf here or you get out.
"The only ones that do get a bit of leeway are first calver heifers or females that have had twins.
"If they've produced two calves in one year, they've got a bit of credit in the bank in our minds."
Mr Owen said while they culled reasonably heavily mostly on age and calf quality, they did not necessarily "tip a cow out" for some minor defect, structural or otherwise, if she continued to produce a good calf.
"But we put a separate tag in her ear and don't retain any of the progeny in our replacement heifer drafts," he said.
One thing they are hard on is feet, an imperative given their soft soils and high rainfall belt, where the average annual tally is about 800mm but this year has so far seen more than 1200mm of rainfall recorded.
"Ideally we like to keep the herd aged about seven years or younger but it's a lot about the performance of the calf they produce," Mr Owen said.
Cows are kept in their age groups and are not line or type mated which makes bull selection even more important and has set the path towards a more moderate framed, functional and efficient animal.
"We like a deep volume cow with the right backend structure, a big muzzle and big ears," Mr Owen said.
Calves are generally weaned around Christmas or new year time, but this year due to the good season and the chance to coincide with cooler weather, they opted to go almost a month earlier.
All calves are needled with 5 in 1 at marking and also backlined with Cydectin and Easy-Dose lice and fly treatment at weaning.
And all cattle are given Beachport Minerals.
About 40 per cent of heifer calves are retained as replacement breeders each year with the remainder sold through annual breeder sales or privately.
This year's 10 Karridale Keepers competition heifers will be independently selected from the entire 2021 heifer calf drop, guaranteeing a premium quality line.
Steer calves have previously been sold at annual weaner sales or contract lotfed, but in more recent times they have been grown out to about 600 to 650kg liveweight and sold by direct contract to the supermarket trade.
They have also started keeping about five to 10 head as young bulls each year to see how they grow out and some have made the grade to be good enough to keep as future sires.
Sale cattle are finished on clover and rye pastures and in reverse to most Wheatbelt cattle operations which store fodder for summer feeding, 1300 rolls of wrapped haylage, 1400 rolls of meadow hay and 300 rolls of oaten hay are cut annually to provide roughage in the winter months.
Mr Owen said they had always loved Angus and when they moved to a breeding operation black cattle were the natural choice.
"It must be the Kiwi in us, we love the All Blacks," he laughed.
"A good animal is a good animal no matter what the breed but we didn't want a jelly bean (coloured) herd.
"Angus provide us with consistency, plenty of genetic selection and they are very easy cattle to market," Mr Owen said.
"And I love them for their temperament and that they are so easy to work with," Ms Owen added.
"That's important to me because although I have found my calling now being on the farm, I grew up in the city so had not handled cattle before."
Mr Owen had worked on a dairy farm in his homeland of New Zealand, before becoming a motor vehicle mechanic, skills he brought with him when they moved to Perth and which ultimately led to a FIFO job on a WA minesite.
"I worked an eight week away, two weeks home roster for eight months but knew it was time to give it away when my daughter, who was just one at the time, screamed and ran away when I walked through the front door of our home on one of my return visits.
"I had become a stranger to her."
The couple heard about a job going in a dairy at Witchcliffe and made the move south "because it felt and looked more like New Zealand" and was a chance for Mr Owen to return to his agricultural roots.
After several years at the dairy, they cut their teeth at nearby beef cattle properties and the rest they say is history with a chance meeting with Frank Tomasi leading to their dream job helping him establish and now manage his beef cattle enterprise from their home base on his Glen-View farm, Karridale.
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