Sue and Trevor Whitehall
Replacement heifers on-farm at Mount Berryman. Picture supplied
Situated in the south eastern corner of the Lockyer Valley sits pristine scrub country run by avid Santa Gertrudis breeders Sue and Trevor Whitehall.
The pair have spent the better part of 33 years perfecting their commercial herd for local markets and competitions, initially investing in genetics from renowned Santa Gertrudis breeders Ron and Lynley Sinnamon, Robenlea, and Mervyn and Serophene Christensen, Santa Rio.
Running five separate herds, the combined carrying capacity of the property currently includes around 350 head of breeders, steers and replacement heifers.
"We don't buy any females in, everything is home bred and we run five separate herds with different bloodline bulls in those herds," Mrs Whitehall said, adding all replacement heifers are put back out to the appropriate bulls.
"The only thing we do purchase is good bulls - we spend a bit of money and get different bloodlines. A lot of the bulls that we have purchased seem to find they really handle our country."
Sue and Trevor Whitehall with granddaughter Tayla at a local sale. Pictures supplied
The Whitehall's property at Mount Berryman covers 580 hectares of virgin scrub country with 6ha of dryland cultivation which has been left under improved pasture.
"The cattle can go in and graze it and then we'll spell it - move them from one side of the paddock to the other which sometimes involves the cultivation paddock in the rotation." With high quality grass on offer year-round, the couple rarely supplementary feed.
"Our cattle are rolling fat [and] we don't need to supplementary feed at the moment, though we've tried heaps of different lick blocks but our cattle won't touch them.
Cattle are cell grazed on scrub and grasses including the ever-persistent Kikuyu and the highly palatable green panic.
"We're still green up here. Our country is the first to come back and the last to go off," she said.
"Everyone tells us we've probably got the best country around this area but we don't sort of realise it because we're here all the time but people just come in and they say 'now I can see why your cattle are so good', because they just do so well up here."
Like many livestock producers in Queensland and New South Wales, Mrs Whitehall said the couple are also battling invasive fire weed with fears the toxic species will affect the health of their older cows.
"The fire weed is driving us nuts. It's just scary and, when your girls don't leave here because we don't buy and sell, you don't want them eating this stuff."
With Robenlea and Kendara in the background of their herd genetics, Mr and Mrs Whitehall have most recently invested in bulls from local stud breeder Jeff Beutel and his father Howard at Warrillee Santas, Boonah. "We find their bulls just do really well up here because they're from similar country," Mrs Whitehall said, adding bulls are also purchased through the Annual Brisbane Valley Santa Gertrudis Sale at Toogoolawah. Keeping their bulls with the herds year-round, the couple are prepared for all season calves.
"We're surrounded by people with all different breeds of bulls so we just keep the bulls out all year round and when we're putting heifers back out, we put them on the appropriate times but we're getting early calves, late calves - you name it.
"One of our best bulls has thrown a lot of females this year for some reason and we usually use a lot of his steers for our commercial show steers so we're a little bit disappointed because we've already picked out the females that we want to keep."
The couple selectively cull for temperament, form and function and are admittedly "very selective" on their replacement heifers. "We want to make sure they've only got four teats and just little things like good navels and all that sort of stuff. We try to do the right thing by the breed."
With the lingering threat of an El Nino event on the horizon, the couple are preparing as best they can for potential drought conditions, recently selling 20 steers and 10 heifers at the local saleyards in Beaudesert and investigating the installation of a new bore closer to the homestead.
"We're just getting a bit scared with this weather report," Mrs Whitehall said, adding while the property received enough rain during the recent flood events to fill their dams, the pair are concerned the water is already beginning to dry up.
"We had two and a half years of drought just before Covid-19 came onto the scene and everything was completely empty and we were carting water and feed to all of our cattle - that was all we did all day, every day.
"We were preparing to sell one of our herds, with a lot of reluctance, but the sale fell through," she said. "We had to keep working hard but we're so grateful now because we still have those cows and we still have the calves - we can't buy what we've got back with our breeders."
The pair said the investment in a pure Santa Gertrudis herd has paid off with commercial offerings consistently returning a top price.
"They're tough, they're good mothers, there's just nothing that we can fault with them, they're just the perfect breed to be honest for us," she said. "We love the breed and they just suit us perfectly."
*First published August 2023 for Queensland Country Life - owned by Australian Community Media.