After experiencing farming in both Western Australia and New South Wales, the Duncan family can testify that West is best when it comes to growing quality Murray Grey cattle in a reliable climate at their Great Southern-based property.
Farming across more than 1200 hectares of prime cattle country, spread over six properties in the Redmond shire has set Les Duncan and his family up for ultimate success in the cattle game.
Going back generations, the Duncans started out with a Hereford herd in the Hunter Valley region in NSW, with years of generational farming experience under their belts, which has only added to the current generation's passion towards breeding their own stock.
Since leaving the mining industry more than five years ago, and travelling Australia with his wife Liz and two children Maddi and Harry, Mr Duncan's decision to settle in Redmond with his parents, John and Janet, in 2018 - after they took over from John's uncle Ted in 2010 - was an easy one.
Now at the home farm, Merinvale - which has been in the family since 1966 - the three generations of Duncans pride themselves on their sturdy herd of 600 Murray Greys, which is based on the herd of Murray Greys that were introduced to the farm in the mid 1970s.
According to the family, with Murray Greys being the mainstay of the operation, they see these as the most fitting breed to suit their climate and perform best on their low-lying country.
"In the time my family have had Murray Greys, they have noticed they are very hardy and do well down here, as well as being resilient throughout the summer period," Mr Duncan said.
"Temperament is a big thing for us and we find they are really good in terms of docility and being good mothers."
A 40-head sire battery is what helps drive the breeding program at Merinvale, which is made up of 34 homebred and bought Murray Grey and six Gelbvieh bulls.
"We purchase our Murray Grey bulls from Tullibardine Murray Grey and Angus stud, Albany, Melaleuca Murray Grey stud, Manypeaks, Southend Murray Grey stud, Katanning, and our Gelbvieh bulls from the Summit stud at Narrikup," Mr Duncan said.
"We keep 16 of our own homebred bulls as back ups in case we have a breakdown."
When selecting bulls, both visual appraisal and Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) are taken into consideration.
Using the help of their stock agent, Elders Albany livestock manager Wayne Mitchell and Tullibardine stud principal Alastair Murray, the Duncan family selects heavily on low birthweight, carcase traits and good growth each year.
"Visually, we look for smaller heads, muscle across the hindquarters, good conformation and good feet," Mr Duncan said.
"The help from our agent is valued, as well as Alastair because he purchases some of our steers, so he knows what we are breeding for too."
The introduction of Gelbvieh bulls has been more prominent in recent years, adding hybrid vigour to the herd which has increased weight gain figures.
"We use the Gelbvieh bulls over our older cows, usually anything from a third calver or older," Mr Duncan said.
"The aim is to try to breed bigger-framed cattle, which we have noticed a big difference in since using the Gelbviehs.
"When we weighed our first drop of steer calves, there was a 15 kilogram difference, so it's good to run some Gelbvieh-Murray Grey calves and still have purebred Murray Grey calves too.
"Going forward, we plan to trial the Gelvieh bulls over our second calvers.
"To ensure the heifers are well looked after during their first mating, they are joined four weeks prior to the main breeding herd.
"We join our maiden heifers in May, and they will get four bulls over a six-week period to make sure they have a tight calving period.
Four weeks after the bulls go out with the heifers, another set of bulls are put out with the main breeding herd, which are allocated based on age groups, for eight weeks.
"We have a younger bull team, with our oldest bull about six years old," Mr Duncan said.
"We put an older bull with two young bulls each year to reduce the chance of fighting.
"We also allocate these bulls to a certain breeding group so that there is no chance of inbreeding.
"A well-planned joining system has resulted in positive conception rates throughout the herd.
"Our most recent scanning session with Jess Schilling from Bovitech Veterinary Services saw just over 550 of our 600-head herd in calf."
Following the scanning process, heifers that are marked dry will be sent to a local feedlot or saleyard immediately.
"When it comes to any dry cows, depending on how many there are or their condition, we will hold on to them and fatten them up," Mr Duncan said.
"If there are only a few, we will keep them and put weight on them to sell at a later date.
"The heifers begin to calve in early February, followed by the main breeding herd, which starts calving in March.
"Any pregnant cattle that have bad feet or are getting too old, will get sent to another one of our farms to make sure they don't get rejoined to a bull the following season.
"Eventually they will drop their calves, and when they dry up we will fatten them and sell both the calves and cows.
"We do this so we are not breeding older cattle with bad traits back into our main herd.
"As soon as the calves are weaned, we will mark the calves separately so we know they are to be sold.
"The marking and animal husbandry processes are carried out once the majority of the calves have dropped.
"We drench our stock four times a year, starting with our calves at marking which helps us get our calves used to the yarding process."
The calves will also receive a Vitamin B12 and Multimin vaccine.
Recently, to improve their animal health program, the Duncan family signed up for a worming trial through their local vet, Ms Schilling.
"We did two lots of worming samples to see if we were eligible to take part in the trial, but they came back negative both times, " Mr Duncan said.
"Although we couldn't take part in the trial, it was great that our cattle had no worms.
"We make an effort to change our drenching brands every two years so they don't build up an immunity to any of them."
In October, the calves are weaned for seven to 10 days in the Duncans cattle yards, which are specifically set up to wean 150 calves.
During their week-long weaning process, the calves are fed hay and silage by the Duncan family to get them used to eating roughage and being in the yards.
"After they leave the yards, we will send the heifer calves to another farm so they are away from their mums, and our steers go onto our flat, low-lying country to feed before they are sent off for sale," Mr Duncan said.
"Our steers are usually sold just after weaning in late October, early November, when they weigh about 320 kilograms, depending on what the feedlots are looking for.
"Throughout those two months we will usually run them through the yards and pick the heaviest ones off until they are all sold," Mr Duncan said.
In an ordinary year, the heifers are put through a selection process in mid-January and roughly 120 to 150 are kept.
But this year, due to a weak hay and silage season, all calves were retained.
On top of the season, with prices in mind, a lot of the heifers were retained as future breeders from the recent calving season.
"Normally, we would have sold three quarters of our herd this year, being our cull heifers and all our steers," Mr Duncan said.
"We were able to hold onto all our calves this year because we had plenty of feed on our flats to keep them here."
To ensure no feed goes to waste this year, the Duncans strip grazed their paddocks.
"It is a good way to make the feed last longer, otherwise the cows waste it, so this way they cleaned up the whole paddock," Mr Duncan said.
"Our breeding objective at Merinvale is to produce low birthweight, quick growth, calving ease, bigger frames and good temperament."
The property is set up for rotational grazing due to the Duncan family reducing the size of their paddocks so that the cattle can rotationally graze all-year-round.
"Our paddocks are now 10 to 15 hectares each, which can accommodate mobs of 110 head and less," Mr Duncan said.
"Depending on feed availability and herd sizes, we will rotate them between the same three paddocks every two weeks, on average.
"Within these paddocks, cattle feed on pastures that, although are currently being renovated, are usually seeded with an oat, barley, ryegrass mix.
"This mix works best for us, the cattle will graze the oats off early and then the ryegrass comes through for making hay.
"We also planted a 12ha Roundup Ready canola crop last year to clean up a paddock, which breaks the paddock up.
"It grew really well, especially with the mix of barley and ryecorn we put in with the canola too."
On top of the trial canola crop, Mr Duncan said they also seed a summer crop made up of Banker forage sorghum, ryecorn, Cocksfoot and Phalaris.
"When the flats dry out we start seeding it," he said.
Along with the help of the summer crop, the cattle are supplementary fed with hay, silage, molasses and summer lick blocks during the warmer months and winter lick blocks during the wet season.
"We sowed just over 120ha for hay and silage last season," Mr Duncan said.
"We feed out hay when there's green feed, so the cows have dry feed if they need it during the winter."
Merinvale is also part of the Torbay Catchment Group, which aims to improve revegetation and landcare on not only their property, but other properties on the South Coast.
"The group provides grants to put towards the fencing gear for the trees, and with that we have planted 1500 trees in the past year," Mr Duncan said.
"We did a trial to see what type of tree grows the best, and it turns out to be the Jarrah trees, so we will grow them from now on.
"It's a great program because it prevents the cattle from destroying the saplings when they are small and gives them a chance to grow and get more revegetation back onto the farm."