WITH more than 50 years of experience in the cattle industry, Cape Naturaliste farmer John d'Espeissis said Murray Greys have proven to be the ideal breed for their operation.
Mr d'Espeissis runs Naturaliste Grazing Co alongside farm manager Paul Colledge, who has been working on the farm for 21 years.
In 1950, Mr d'Espeissis' father purchased the property, which was originally a dairy farm, with the cream being sold to a butter factory in Busselton and the skim milk was fed to the pigs or calves.
After one to two years of doing this, Mr d'Espeissis' father decided the dairy industry wasn't as lucrative as he had hoped and started producing beef cattle instead.
He started with Shorthorn cattle, but some were station cattle and were difficult to manage.
During the 1970s, Mr d'Espeissis returned to the farm to work full-time, while his father retired.
Mr d'Espeissis said he was chasing hybrid vigour in his cattle and had introduced various different breeds over the years to achieve it.
He purchased some Herefords and then Poll Herefords to get away from the horns, before trialling Simmentals, Murray Greys and Charolais.
In recent years Mr d'Espeissis and Mr Colledge returned to breeding Murray Greys as they said the breed performed the best.
The Murray Grey bulls are sourced from the Buller family's Monterey stud, Karridale, which Mr d'Espeissis has used on and off over the past 20 years.
Mr d'Espeissis first bought a bull from the stud in 2000 and continued through until 2012, before he changed to European breeds.
Then three years ago in 2019, he began buying from the Monterey stud again.
Mr d'Espeissis and Mr Colledge said the cattle had magnificent temperaments and they were extremely easy to work with.
Mr d'Espeissis said the main benefit of the breed was its ability to withstand the environmental conditions of the area.
"The country here finishes very quickly and the Murray Greys seem to handle it better than the European breeds," Mr d'Espeissis said.
Another positive feature of the Murray Grey breed was that they calve easily, with smaller calves that grow quickly.
"The calves seem to suit the country well," Mr Colledge said.
They run 100-110 breeders, but with some pasture improvement believe they will be able to increase their numbers.
"We have started working with a new agronomist to grow more feed," Mr Colledge said.
Joining is in May for calving in February.
When selling cattle, they aim to offer their Murray Greys in the annual Nutrien Ag Solutions Boyanup store cattle sale held on the first Friday of December.
In last year's sale, they saw an average per head price across all descriptions of $2092, which they said was outstanding.
Last year they retained 32 heifers as replacements having culled their older cows.
To further increase their numbers they are considering purchasing some extra in-calf heifers.
They also run about 1000 Merinos.
The Merinos are Misty Hills stud, Kojonup, bloodline.
Two-thirds of the ewes are mated to Poll Dorset prime lamb sires, with the remaining mated to Merinos for replacement ewes.
The aim of the sheep enterprise was to sell into the superfine wool market with their hoggets cutting 15-micron wool and ewes cutting 17-micron wool.
Mr d'Espeissis said the superfine wool Merinos were better suited to the wet conditions.
He said the wool market had been quite volatile, fluctuating over the years, but of late meat prices have been strong.
The naturally regenerating pastures were topped with Southwest pasture mix at 15 kilograms a hectare.
A couple of different types of hay, including meadow hay and haylage, were also grown onfarm to provide some variety for the cattle.
The average rainfall for the area is 850 millimetres, but last year they received 1135mm which Mr Colledge said was the most he had seen in 21 years of working on the farm.
Last year the rain started in March and continued through to September.
Mr d'Espeissis said they usually experienced a few false breaks due to their coastal location, but this year the rain kept coming.
Towards the end of the year, it could get dry quickly and Mr Colledge said all of their hay was cut by mid-October unlike other southern areas of the State, where they wait to cut hay in November.
In addition to cattle and sheep, the farm also has a vineyard.
The grapes are usually harvested in March and Mr d'Espeissis said a lot of work went into growing the grapes as they were highly susceptible to adverse weather.
Another aspect of the family business is Eagle Bay Brewing Co, which was founded in 2010 and is owned and operated by Mr d'Espeissis' children Nick, Astrid and Adrian.
The grapes from the vineyard are made into wine under the label Eagle Bay Vineyard, which is sold at Eagle Bay Brewing Co.
The brewery is mutually beneficial, as the farm provides grapes for the wine, while the spent barley from the brewery is fed to the cattle, which Mr Colledge said the cows loved.
With the two livestock enterprises and the vineyard, it can mean that they were spread thinly at times for labour.
"There are not many people looking to work on a farm so it can be difficult at times, but we enjoy running all aspects of the farm,'' Mr Colledge said.
"It is also nice to be able to say that everything is grown on the farm and is done within the family."
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