Meet your farmers!

Meet the farmer:
Wendy McDonald of Hideaway Park

Wendy breeds Murray Greys in Grafton, which she shows at Casino Beef Week at Beef Week Saturday

Wendy with Murray Greys.jpg

How long have you been farming?
Dad bought the property when I was 18 – I'm now 56. I made the property into a stud in 1992 for breeding bulls and cows. I supply bulls with a good studline to go into commercial or stud herds.

Where is your farm located and how big is it?
I have 3 different blocks near Grafton with a total of 170 acres. 

What do you farm?
Stud bulls and cows.

How many people work on your farm?
Me, myself and I: just 1.  
My niece and nephew or a young local fella help sometimes. That’s why I farm Murray Greys - they are nice quiet cattle, very easy to handle.

What do you like most about farming?
The animals, the open air, achieving something: you feel proud if you get good feedback like if someone saw great steers or calves in a sale that were descended from my stud.

What is your least favourite part of farming?
You have to have another job for support.

What is one key change you have seen take place in farming over your years in the industry?
Biosecurity – farmers have to keep complying with ever-changing regulations. And breeds are getting bigger.

What challenges do you see for farming in the future?
Cattle prices, biosecurity, loss of farmland to housing estates.

What opportunities do you see for farming in the future?
Opportunity is there if you want to make it. Drought and hard work makes it harder for younger people to consider staying. It's easier to farm on the coast but it's hard to make a living.

Why do you like being involved in Casino Beef Week?
I will be showing cattle there. It's good advertising for my stud. It's friendly – all the people come up to learn about cattle and ask questions. Parading around is fun. You get to see good steers - this is what they look like before beef ends up on the plate.

Why should people come to the festival? 
Enjoy what’s there - there’s lots to see at Beef Week, lots of exhibits. You can pat the cows – lots of kids have never done that before.

I wish people knew... 
You can't tell the difference between breeds when it comes to meat. Angus has done a brilliant job of marketing Angus beef, but Murray Greys also have marbled, lovely-tasting meat. Every breed has its place – such as breeds for tropical climates.

 

 
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Meet the farmer:
Doug Bennett of Little Valley Grazing Co

Doug breeds Brafords near Casino, which he shows at Casino Beef Week.

How long have you been farming?
I was born and bred into farming in 1960. I'm 58 now. I finished school in 1976 and started working with parents. I amalgamated with my parents in 1990s. I took over the farm in 1996, buying out my parents after their illnesses. 

Where is your farm located and how big is it?
Our farm is Little Valley Grazing Co at Stratheden, 20km from Casino. We have 290 acres at home plus the adjoining property of 200 acres. In 2005, our son bought the property of 360 acres on the eastern side. Then we rent another 600 acres within 20km of home. 

What do you farm?
We run stud Brafords on our properties - about 200 cows and replacement heifers. On the leased property is crossbred cows bred with using Braford bulls for veal production. You can't buy what you can breed so we try to use our own cows.

We raise 20 stud replacements each year (weaner bull calves) and 50 stud weaner heifer replacements (female calves) so the breeding herd stays young. Weaners are calves that have weaned from their mothers but are younger than a year old. 

We sell about 20 bulls a year. We once sold a bull for $36,000 at the national Braford sale in Rockhampton. A lot of homework goes into stud farming. We are very selective in which bulls we buy for the outcomes we want. 

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We run a hay contract business as well, cutting and baling the hay of hay farmers, making a lot of silage and hay. We use a combo baler to wrap the hay into silage bales. Each bale takes less than a minute for the machine to make. 

We also operate a school bus service as well! (My wife and daughter do). This helps with cash flow. 

How many people work on your farm?
My wife, Shirley, and I farm with our son Cameron & Sarah Bennett, and our daughter runs the off-farm income of the school bus. Cameron and I work a lot together. Cameron's two oldest boys are 10 and 11 and work with us too. 

What do you like most about farming?
It's the satisfaction of doing something and you know you've achieved something out of it. I'm proud of my weaners. It feels good to drive away from the hay contractors knowing they're happy.

And the lifestyle - we work 7 days a week. We try to have time off when we can. There are some times of the year when there's no time off. I love being on the land. You can go out there and not have anyone annoy you. 

What is your least favourite part of farming?
The economics of the beef industry when it's up and down. You move into a project and suddenly the industry changes. It's hard to accept. There's absolutely no guarantee. There's a fine line between if you can or can't do something. You have to do your sums on the worst possible scenario. A lot of people don't understand how a small change in price per kilo can have a huge change. It would be a more viable industry if there was a minimum price guarantee. Not having that makes it hard for young farmers. 

What is one key change you have seen take place in farming over your years in the industry?
Electronics and technology - for example, in bull marketing they want to know every detail of each calf's life - its breed plan. We're putting in a TSI system to automatically read every animal every time it comes through the yard to record its life. It will also give a five year breeding program report for every heifer. We had to restructure our yards for this at huge expense. 

Why do you like being involved in Casino Beef Week?

It's our local town. My dad was one of the instigators who started Beef Week. It makes sense to support the local community and meatworks and beef industry. 

Why should people come to the festival?

To get a firsthand experience of the industry. You'll see led steers and realise that's where the rump steak comes from when you go to the butchers. 

 

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Cattle Farming Tours

You can join an exclusive tour of the Northern Rivers Livestock Exchange (NRLX) and the Northern Co-Operative Meat Company (NCMC) in the beef capital of Australia on Wednesday 23 May 2018.

You'll experience a cattle sale day and a behind-the-scenes tour at the meatworks.

The Casino saleyard is undergoing a $14 million upgrade which will make it one of the most modern facilities in Australia. Experience the thrill of a live cattle sale and have a chance to meet farmers, auctioneers and other saleyard characters. The 30-minute NRLX guided tours starts with a basic safety induction on site and morning tea.

After that you will be treated to a tour through the nearby Northern Co-Operative Meat Company Ltd, a unique and exciting experience for visitors.

Since 1933, NCMC has established itself as an industry leader in meat processing, providing members with the opportunity to process livestock in world-class processing facilities. The meatworks will open its doors so guests can tour parts of the facility and get a visual overview of desirable attributes of livestock and the stages of processing. Guests will be treated to a facility tour of the cold chain management facility showcasing the latest technology & Dematic Multishuttle Automated Storage and Retrieval System.

Tickets are limited to 20 people per tour to facilitate a more authentic experience. This allows the guides to be flexible with the tour, sneaking in some Q&A and sharing stories along the way.

Tours kick off at 8.30am, 9.30am and 10.30am and go for two hours. Tickets are $20 which includes morning tea at the NRLX canteen. Tickets on sale now at the Beef Week office at 86 Walker St, Casino or call (02) 6662 8181.

Linda Tillman