Beefed up hectares

Beef farming doesn't get much better than this. Rolling hills, lush pasture and towering karri trees are an idyllic backdrop for grazing cows.

"Our children, in particular the middle two, are mad-keen farmers and say they never want to leave," Walpole producer Angie Cooper said. "We don't go anywhere on school holidays because they want to help us, in particular our young bloke, Tommie. He's obsessed with cows; has posters all over his room, studies breeds and wants to collect them all. He has his own small herd that's calving now, so it's hard to get him off to school at the moment."

It's a generational thing. She married the boy next door - in these parts, the adjoining paddock - and they do everything from scratch. Husband Brad transports the animals for processing to keep track of their welfare every step of the way and the couple are working on a business plan to build up farmgate sales under their label, Cooper's Beef, to supplement their mainstay milk-fed vealers.

"We farm organically, which means no herbicides, no synthetic chemicals, no drenches or pour-ons," Mrs Cooper said. "We are lucky enough to have this land and want to improve it. It's not a big farm -120ha - and all our animals are valued right through to the end.

"It's a pity we can't butcher them ourselves but we're having a part of the old dairy shed converted into a retail outlet and hope to employ a butcher so he can cut up the carcases for us. The plan is to cut out the middleman over the next five to 10 years."

Forester Mark Bending has made the change over the past 15 years, buying properties to concentrate on beef farming because it's less intense than running sheep. With 1500ha and 300 breeding cows, he sells 340-350 head a year and a lot of it ends up in Coles. It's a Simmental-Angus cross for good eating and the combination works well in ensuring animals don't get too fat.

"Generally, just about everyone here would run a small herd for commercial production," he said. "My wife's from Manjimup, so it made sense. We've got a huge pasture potential, which suits grass fattening but we've just put in 1500 avocados because they grow so well in these parts.

"I would say 80 per cent of meat in this region would be milk-fed vealers but it's not a process I was interested in. We hold ours until they're 18 months to two years old and try to get them as close as we can to 550kg for the domestic market."

Margins are tight. Industry veteran John Della Gola, who started farming in 1970 at 14, runs 7000 head on 6000ha, and said he was getting $4.40/kilo for his cattle in 2000 compared with $3.40/kg now.

"In 14 years our margins have gone down 25 per cent," he said. "Last year, our fuel bill was $130,000; this year it's going to be $170,000, so it's not getting any easier. My youngest son, Joseph, doesn't want to die a farmer, so we've just set up a tractor business - Southern Forest Machinery - for him and his wife, Chelsea, in partnership with myself."

It opened last month, with Mr Della Gola and his other son, Matthew, helped by Matthew's partner Felicity Willett, working 100-hour weeks on the farm started by Mr Della Gola's father as a 40ha plot in Pemberton in 1952.

"Before I came along, he bought another 120ha in Pemberton, then 180ha for me in Northcliffe about the time I started," he said. "I've built up the holding and never really thought of doing anything else."

He's put his Della Gola Prime brand - supplied to Neil Perry's Rockpool when it first opened in Perth - on the backburner, with 80 per cent of his meat sold under Bunbury processor DBC's premium Tender Ridge label to food service.

"No Della Gola cattle go on boats and that's a conscious decision, so when my wife and I see them on the TV, we know those animals are not ours. It makes life easier because we know their destiny."

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Change location

°

- °

Lifestyle Videos

Follow Us

Latest

More from The West