A keen eye for Chianina

Rebecca TurnerThe West Australian

Trends in cattle breeds come and go, with some lasting longer than others.

One of the oldest breeds of cattle the Chianina (pronounced kee-an-ina) have been on Doug Corker's Mayanup property for more than 40 years.

Mr Corker has spent most of his working life running the family farm and a successful sub-clover harvesting business in the Boyup Brook district.

Now 69, Mr Corker has a particular passion for cattle breeding and the trends of WA's cattle industry.

It was in 1975 that Mr Corker's interest in Chianina cattle began.

He said he was among some of the initial farmers trialling Chianina genetics through artificial insemination to improve hybrid vigour and growth rates.

"We started the program in 1975," he said.

Mr Corker said the decision to try the Chianina breed came about after experimenting with cross-breeding Brahman bulls over his cows in the 1970s.

"I found the Brahman bulls I was using were giving a 10 per cent increase in weight gain," he said.

Mr Corker said his thoughts on importing cattle genetics were there was no point in bringing anything into Australia unless it was better than was already available here.

"My research revealed that Chianina sired calves were achieving a 30 per cent weight gain in their first year and that this advantage in weight gain did not stop at three years … but went on past the age of five," he said.

Both the tallest and the heaviest breed of cattle, mature Chianina bulls can stand up to 1.8m tall, with steers reaching 2m.

It is not unusual for bulls to exceed 1600kg, with cows usually weighing 800kg-1000kg and calves routinely weighing more than 50kg at birth.

In 1984, Mr Corker and wife Jan visited Italy to see the magnificent cattle in their homeland.

Chianina cattle's meat is seen some of the finest textured and leanest available.

In Italy, Chianina beef is sold by its name at premium prices by approved butchers.

Mr Corker said the famous bistecca alla fiorentina or "beefsteak Florentine style" consisted of a T-bone traditionally sourced from the Chianina breed of cattle.

Most recently, it was reported as the steak of choice at actor George Clooney's wedding and is in high demand.

Mr Corker said while the attributes of Chianina cattle were widely appreciated in Australia during the 1970s, trends in cattle breeding constantly changed. He said cattle fashion was dictated by many things, with the buying power of supermarkets having a big impact on what farmers produced.

"A lot of people breed certain cattle breeds for a lot of different reasons," he said.

"For instance, a lot of people breed a certain breed for its colour.

"Once I discovered the Chianina breed and all its attributes, I said 'I'm not changing anymore'."

Mr Corker also breeds Chianina cattle for their good temperaments, intelligence and manageability when handled properly.

They learn commands quickly and he is able to work them, in his yards by himself and they come to him to be drafted.

He said when he weaned his calves he would normally take between two and four days in the yards to get them so they would eat out of his hand.

Once this is achieved, the weaned calves are let out into their paddock and remain calm and approachable and will follow him into the yards.

Because of their size, Chianina cattle require suitable yards and fencing.

Mr Corker is not involved with showing his cattle, but attended the Sydney Royal Easter Show and Perth Royal Show with his cattle in the 1980s.

It was in 1988 that Mr Corker's bull Nunkeri Downs Angelo won Supreme Exhibit at the Sydney Royal Show.

"That year, Angelo caused a bit of a stir at the Sydney Royal Show Interbreed judging," he said.

"You have to appreciate that this was in New South Wales, the heart of Hereford country and it would have been virtually sacrilegious to award the Interbreed Supreme to a Chianina bull and cow."

He said many of the other competitors had picked Angelo and his matching cow to win the Interbreed, but they did not win.

Instead, the rules of judging for the following year were changed from a single judge to a panel of judges.

Mr Corker's bull Angelo was also a bit of a celebrity at the 1988 Perth Royal Show.

Prepared by Pat Walsh, of Kojonup, the bull was expected with great anticipation at his weigh-in, Mr Corker said.

"There was a Charolais bull that had weighed in earlier and many of the exhibitors were waiting to see if Angelo would be as heavy," he said.

"He weighed in at an extra 200kg, which many could not believe just looking at him.

"Meat is heavier than fat, however, and Chianina cattle produce a much leaner meat than a Charolais."

That year, Angelo again caused a stir in the Interbreed judging, where he was overlooked despite being a hot favourite among the exhibitors.

Mr Corker said it was after this judging and a consequent meeting among exhibitors that the Perth Royal Show changed to a blackboard system of revealing what each judge was scoring each exhibit in the Interbreed class.

Now retired from the show ring, Mr Corker has continued to breed his cattle for private sale as well as on a commercial basis.

He said he had produced baby beef, steers, cows and bulls that had topped the market at both Bridgetown and Boyanup saleyards.

His bulls have sold as far north as Broome, south to Augusta and to the Eastern States.

Chianina cattle do well in a large variety of environments, with the breed being used in outback Queensland as well as the deserts of California on irrigation.

The Corkers' Waka-Doo stud runs 90 cattle, of which 50 are breeders.

Inquiries from prospective clients interested in buying Chianina cattle are welcome, with on-farm inspection available by appointment.

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