TREVOR Schutz's pastoral journey has come almost full circle, since he and his wife Marie moved from South Australia to Esperance 30 years ago next month.
Initially they farmed near Eudunda and Mr Schutz said although it was just 130 kilometres north east of Adelaide, it was marginal country on the pastoral fringe.
They were involved in a family business growing crops, sheep, pigs and a few Murray Grey cattle.
It was tough going and when the business was further impacted by a clash of seasonal and industry factors, they opted for the path to change.
"Land there which was not overly productive got expensive so it was difficult to expand, then wool crashed and wheat went through the floor," Mr Schutz said.
"It was time to look further afield."
They decided to explore farming opportunities in WA, and purchased land in the Esperance area in 1993.
Thirty years later they are still there, in the patch they now call home.
Mr Schutz had worked in the region for a year when he first left school and thoroughly enjoyed his time shearing and working as a farm hand throughout the area.
And having got to know it a bit, he could see there were good opportunities that existed.
The average annual rainfall was impressive for the price and much better than what they could have found in Eudunda at the time.
The couple bought a property at Dalyup,
65km west of Esperance and have continued to expand their Banksia Park enterprise, now farming 5260 hectares of their own and leased land.
It is spread across five locations from Dalyup to Cascade and Salmon Gums with 130km between the two furthest points.
In what is a horses for courses operation, to maximise production from all land types, it incorporates grains, sheep and cattle in a 75 per cent cropping, 25pc livestock split run by Trevor and Marie, their son Jason and his wife Lyndall.
Grains are wheat, barley and canola, plus 100ha of oats with 2000 Merino ewes mated to Merinos (1500) and Suffolks (500) and the newest kids on the block, Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster cross cattle.
The cattle are bred on the 215,000ha Laverton Downs station in the northern Goldfields, 730km away on the northern boundary of the Laverton townsite, which was added to the Schutz's enterprise mix in 2015.
It has provided another valuable string to the diversification bow enabling better use of less productive land at their southern holding as well as income and workload spread.
Mr Schutz, who always had a bent for station life, said Laverton Downs was really "his baby" and the opportunity to purchase it (from fellow Esperance farmer Alan Marshman) came at an opportune time.
"It was getting increasingly difficult to expand where we were and the station was competitively priced," Mr Schutz said.
"It gave me a new challenge and it allowed Jason more freedom to take over the running of the farms."
Tasmanian Chris Haase, who previously managed dairies and a Jersey bull farm in his home State, was employed as a full-time manager, an important part of the equation.
With the station having not been fully mustered for several years and fostering a herd of mixed breeds and colours, the first mission was to capture and cull to straighten up the lines, to further develop infrastructure and ultimately increase the size and quality of the herd.
And so began a breeding project to clean, rejuvenate, revamp and grow.
"Red cattle have always been my preference but initially when we were trying to increase numbers we kept most females that were reasonable types that could produce a calf," Mr Schutz said.
"We also had to get more waters going (operational) to expand.
"When we started we had just two waters, now we're up to 31," he said.
A run of dry seasons in recent years (they measured 570mm rainfall in 2015, but just 110mm in 2021) provided the catalyst for even more stringent culling which has boosted the goal for red hides and better quality.
In 2015 they bought in a line of Munda Droughtmaster heifers which were mated to Droughtmasters which formed the nucleus for improving the genetics on the station.
In the past few years, in a quest for more weight, they have introduced Santa Gertrudis bulls bought from Biara and Wendalla studs at the annual Biara On-Property Bull Sale held in Northampton each April.
"It's a work in progress but we can see the general trend of improvement in the calves and are very happy with them," Mr Schutz said.
Mustering takes place straight after seeding, usually in July, half of which is currently done by yard trapping.
"We have set up trap yards on about 50 percent of our water points and where we don't have yards yet, we aerial muster " he said.
"The trap yards cost up to about $10,000 each to install depending on size and capacity, but we have been lucky to be able to mostly use materials we had on hand such as drill steel, cable and mesh."
And two of the sets of yards were installed as part of a 16-yard, government-funded trial for camel management.
Despite their cost, Mr Schutz said trap yards provided huge benefit.
"It certainty makes mustering easier, but the best thing is we can muster or handle cattle as required at any time whether over all or part of the station," he said.
"That could be for a range of things including grazing management."
At mustering, every animal receives a Multi-Min shot and a drench and calves are weaned and trucked south to Dalyup for either finishing or backgrounding on grass, with the best of the heifers retained for replacement breeders.
"We've got some light sandy country which we've sown to perennials, mostly veldt grass and serradella, which works really well down here," Mr Schutz said.
"They (the perennials) bob up on every little bit of rain and the cattle do very well on it.
"We pretty much shove them in the paddock and shut the gate.
"They'll do about 700g-800g per day."
The calves are then destined for local feedlotters or southern grass fatteners to finish or season dependent, sold through prime cattle sales at the Muchea Livestock Centre.
While management of the cattle is kept to a minimum and timed to dovetail with seeding, harvest and other farming events, Mr Schutz does feed some hay in the drier times at Laverton Downs.
Home grown oaten hay bales are dropped at the watering points every couple of weeks and they also feed loose lick mineral supplements, with phosphorous being one of the biggest deficiencies in the region.
"We are probably a bit unusual in feeding hay up there but it works well for us," Mr Schutz said.
New bulls are also introduced at muster or via the water points and Mr Schutz said ideally he would like to work on having 30 to 40 breeders at each as being a former sheep property, most of the water points are quite close to each other.
As part of infrastructure upgrades the Schutz's are also looking at incorporating remote tank, trough and gate monitoring systems.
The other "game changer for pastoralists and station country" they are pursuing is carbon farming.
Having sat back for a while to observe and assess they have now signed up and just been through the process of ground truthing.
"This has the potential to really change the way we run our cattle, how we manage grazing pressure and ultimately the profitability and value of our station," Mr Schutz said.
To this end, red cattle and Santa Gertrudis infusion will continue to be a key part of the mix.