The Male family, Henty
Anthony and his family currently run 700 pure Angus breeders and 20 Scotts Angus bulls. Picture supplied
LOCATED 18km west of Henty in the stunning Riverina region of News South Wales sits 'Elgin', a 2800 hectare commercial Angus and dual-purpose cropping operation run by three generations of the Male family.
Now managed by brothers Anthony and David, with help from their father Ken, the farm was originally purchased by the sibling's grandfather in 1948 and has continued to flourish ever since.
"My grandfather first came to the property from Barellan, near Leeton, and bought Elgin which, back then was only about 1300 acres (520 ha)," Anthony said, adding Ken and his late uncle Neville also grew up on the property.
"Dad and mum got married in 1965 and took over the property and Neville moved to another property on the east side of Henty."
After finishing school in 1983, Anthony returned to the farm, closely followed by David, and slowly began expanding on their grandfather's dream.
"I was fortunate enough to come back to the farm, to a father who was enthusiastic about purchasing land," he said.
"He could see we needed to increase our acreage and we were lucky that neighbours were selling out in a period where you could buy 500ac or 600ac (240ha) and pay for it and, funnily enough, it's actually a little bit easier to manage now."
What began as a majority sheep operation running a small number of Herefords on the side has now transformed into a predominantly commercial Angus business, with sheep kept as a side income.
"We started to get into Angus cattle because the market was dictating that and we ended up buying Scotts Angus bulls - which we have done now for the past 35 years." Anthony said the business slowly increased Angus genetics in their herd to now run 700 pure Angus breeders and 20 Scotts Angus bulls.
"We still have 300 Merino ewes and we join them to Suffolk rams," he said, adding the expansion of property boundary allowed for the family to focus more heavily on the commercial cattle operation.
"We used to trade at Wodonga. Dad would take a load of cattle in the truck and bring a load of weaners back then we'd feed them and return them to the market when they were finished.
"And we did that for quite a few years, whereas now we're just concentrating on breeding and our inputs are lower because we're not at the saleyards buying cattle. We're letting another end user do that so we don't have to be feeding cattle so much."
With a program focused on selling 450-500kg steers direct to JBS and larger cattle to Teys, Anthony said it made sense to move the joining program back to winter for an autumn drop.
"A lot of people around here work on spring calving but, because we're not selling them as a vealer off mum or not putting them into the feedlot and fattening them as quick as possible, we can calve them in the April-June period and sell them in the spring of the following year.
"We're also now calving just before they go on the crops, not when they're on the crop." With one bull covering around 40 heifers, Anthony said the herd is returning a high birth rate due to low birth weights.
"Because we have such a small amount of labour on such a large property, we're not able to get around the property as much, so it's easier to have low birth weight bulls over all the cattle and that takes a stress out."
Anthony said, while a heavier calf might allow for an earlier market option, using the resources available on-farm to grow out a smaller calf was a better option for the overall health of the herd.
Anthony attributed the ease of calving, temperament and high growth rate in Elgin calves to Scotts Angus bulls, purchased from neighbours Steven and Cindy Scott.
"Steven knows the blood lines and selects the bulls for us that are suitable...he knows our cattle and blood lines and what would work for our herd." With steers sold locally, Anthony said the surplus heifers are usually sold online via AuctionsPlus.
"We find that platform very successful when you've got a good line of cattle because the agent can come out and draft them up and get a good line of heifers for people to bid on.
"While they're still good heifers, they're surplus to our requirements - we're not keeping every single heifer that's born on the property."
The Male family including Douglas and Rueben (front), Kelly, David and Isabelle (middle) and Ken, Anthony and Amanda (back) on-farm at their commercial Angus property Elgin, near Henty. Picture supplied
Fluctuating with the seasons, Anthony said the family have about 1200 hectares of country dedicated to cropping with wheat, canola and oats in the rotation.
"It sort of depends on what's going on as to whether we put another paddock or two of cropping in, or whether we go back a bit on cropping and then keep a few more heifers to join," he said, adding the season usually determined whether the family kept more heifers from the drop, joined more heifers or sell more cattle and plant more.
Although there is an increasing likelihood of an El Nino event later in the year, Anthony said it has been unseasonably wet in the Riverina, with winter crops in low-lying areas starting to yellow.
"Despite El Nino, the season has actually been a little bit too wet. The crops are going backwards and, on top of that, urea is in short supply - so all the crops are suffering.
"I do believe it will probably turn warm and dry later in the year. I just hope that we can get past October before that happens to get the spring rain."
Conserving fodder hay from surplus pasture during opportunistic years, the Male family pride themselves on their dual-purpose cropping operation.
"We're in a good position to grow dual-purpose crops to complement the cattle operation," Anthony said, adding the wheat is often grazed during the winter before the paddock is closed, allowing the crop to mature before harvest.
"If you do the management right, you can take the livestock off at the right time with minimal yield penalty when you put the header into the crops at the end of the year and, after the headers have been through, you've got stubble for the cattle as well."
Anthony said, while it's hard to plan for the future, he hopes to keep the property in the family.
"I only have one daughter and she's 10, and my brother's got two little boys, so we're keeping the property for the next generation - no doubt about that," Anthony said, adding he would like the legacy of his family and what they have achieved at Elgin to continue.
*First published August 2023 for The Land - owned by Australian Community Media.