Hard work paying off at Velyere Farm

By Jessica Whyte
December 18 2021 - 2:00am
Velyere Farm livestock manager Portia Broadbent. The farm is 8094 hectares and just over 1000 head of purebred Angus cattle were joined this year.

YEARS of hard work invested in its cattle enterprise is finally paying off at Velyere Farm, Dandaragan.

The farm is owned by the Lee family from Malaysia, which has owned farmland throughout Western Australia for more than 50 years.

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Farm manager Peter Rathjen has been managing the property for the past four years, alongside livestock manager Portia Broadbent, who has been in charge of the cattle for nearly two years.

Mr Rathjen was originally from York, where his family had a farm and prior to working at Velyere Farm he was based in Geraldton, where he managed a cropping property.

Ms Broadbent has been in Australia for 10 years, having moved from New Zealand and worked on a feedlot at Hyden before moving to Dandaragan.

The farm is 8094 hectares (20,000 acres) in total and has joined more than 1000 head of purebred Angus cattle this year.

Of the land, 5000ha are dedicated to the cropping program, which includes wheat, barley, oats, lupins and canola.

All of the oats are used as feed for the cattle as well as some of the lupins.

In addition, they sow some pasture varieties, including vetch and various serradellas.

For the past two years, the main focus has been on building breeding numbers up to 1000 head.

Ms Broadbent said having reached the ideal herd size they could now focus more on breeding a consistent genetic line.

"We can put more time and effort into perfecting the line," Ms Broadbent said.

Angus has always been run on the farm and she said that they like the breed because they had a good temperament, produced good results and had good meat qualities.

Ms Broadbent also said they were suited to the climate and performed well in the area.

To increase their numbers they have been retaining all of the heifers and mating them but they will now be able to cull any cattle that don't meet the standards.

At Velyere Farm, Dandaragan, bulls are put in with the heifers in August, while the cows are joined in September.

Ms Broadbent said they were striving to breed a pure Angus herd, with cows that will drop a small calf with a quick growth rate.

"With the heifers, we have been using low birthweight bulls so that they have a smaller calf," she said.

The bulls are mostly sourced at the annual Gingin bull sale from the Tophams' Cookalabi Angus stud, Coomberdale and the Sudlow family's Kapari Angus stud, Northampton.

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The bulls are put in with the heifers in August, while the cows are joined in September.

They mate in September because it coincides with when the feed is most abundant.

"The dates are a little bit later compared to other producers, but that is when the feed is at its best here and it takes calving away from seeding time," she said.

The heifers are mated a month earlier because Ms Broadbent said she likes to be able to focus that month on checking them every day without having the cows dropping at the same time.

The general rule is that the bulls with lower birthweight figures are put over the heifers and then as the cows get older and bigger they are joined with the bulls with bigger birthweight figures.

"This system ensures we are getting the best outcome with our steers, while looking after the heifers," she said.

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All of the females are pregnancy scanned in February.

Keeping records has been a key part of improving their operation.

"It gives us the history of each animal and allows us to make better, more informed decisions to ultimately produce the best cattle," she said.

EID tags have been an essential part of helping to track and record the animals.

"It is something we didn't have in the beginning and they have been a very good tool," she said.

This year the cattle were weaned straight off of their mothers and sold through the Muchea Livestock Centre.

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The market they sell to varies depending on the season as they generally try to chase the best market prices.

Angus have always been run on the Velyere Farm and Portia Broadbent said that they like the breed because they have a good temperament, produce good results and have good meat qualities.

Mr Rathjen said the prices for cattle have probably been the strongest they have ever been with one of their lines selling earlier this year for a sale top of 611-616 cents a kilogram (liveweight).

The buoyant market has also meant they have been able to reinvest in the heifers and the cattle on the farm rather than putting it into fattening up the weaners.

"It allowed us to focus on the heifers instead of the steers," Ms Broadbent said.

As for seasonal conditions, this year there has been plenty of rainfall, which has meant they have had green feed for the cattle since March.

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"We have just been rotating them around onto different paddocks," she said.

After a couple of drier years, the strong 2021 season was unexpected and in preparation for another tough year, they purchased a mixer wagon, which they planned on using to supplement feed a grain ration.

"Luckily, I haven't had to use it this year, but have it for future years should they need it,'' she said.

The enterprise mainly relies on underground water pumped into troughs but there are also a few dams on the property.

One major future improvement they are looking to make to is pasture renovation.

Ms Broadbent said she was hoping to seed more perennials along with the annual species to maintain a more constant source of feed on the ground year-round and reduce the need for supplement feeding.

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"I am trialling various species to find the best ones for the different soil types on the property," she said.

Various multi-species pasture crops are sown into most of the paddocks that have been assigned to grazing the cattle, so that high volumes of feed are produced to enable running the cattle at high stocking rates.

In January they are also having new Clipex air-operated cattle yards installed to improve efficiency.

Ms Broadbent said they have come a long way and they are proud of the advances that have been made in developing the cattle herd.

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