Burtons find value in DAFWA program

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantThe West Australian
Walpole beef producer Neil Burton.
Camera IconWalpole beef producer Neil Burton. Credit: Countryman

Walpole beef farmers Neil and Kelly Burton achieve high stocking rates due to the region's abundant rainfall, but are challenged with above-average asset depreciation.

The couple undertook the MyBeef-MyBusiness program supported by the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their farm.

The business analysis takes into account on-farm data such as kilograms of beef produced per hectare, pasture harvest and financial data.

After reviewing the results of their 2012-13 financial year, the Burtons were pleased that their dry sheep equivalent per hectare was 30.2, more than exceeding the WA beef average of 13.7.

"Stocking density makes beef production very viable in this area," Mr Burton said.

"We are running 320 breeding cows on a total of 348 hectares, with the balance of the farm's 100ha used for silage and hay production."

Mr Burton said due to limited use of agricultural contractors in the area, the mixed farm required extra capital investment, which accounted for a high rate of asset depreciation.

"We have a depreciation of $178 per hectare compared with an average of $39," he said.

The Burtons are planning to grow more perennials to reduce their machinery usage.

"Perennials will optimise our annual average rainfall of 1225mm, particularly when the rains are spread out over the growing season," Mr Burton said.

His father and grandfather ran a dairy on the property which gave way to Hereford/Friesian-cross beef cattle.

During a period of demand for high-muscled animals, Blonde d'Aquitaine bulls were introduced into the herd.

In recent years, the Burtons have changed to the softer British cattle breeds, buying in Angus and Murray Grey females to add extra fat cover into their calves, which are marketed at 18 months.

"We are now running 120 Angus and 80 Murray Grey females and selecting pure bulls of the same breeds respectively from visual assessment and off Estimated Breeding Values," Mr Burton said.

Recently, the couple invested in five Angus bulls from Koojan Hills and Ardcairnie studs, and three Murray Grey bulls from Southend and Willawa studs.

"We are looking forward to having their calves on the ground in 2015," Mr Burton said.

He said the past six pasture growing seasons had varied and some calves had struggled to maintain local supermarket grades.

The farm's free-draining undulating landscape with various soil types has been a challenge for the Burtons in their pursuit of better pasture management.

But their idyllic rural lifestyle living in a newly built environmentally friendly homestead, overlooking the spoils of the region, with daughters Tia and Bree-anna, cannot be matched.

"We are focusing on animal health, including lower faecal egg count, which will help improve feed conversion, thereby reducing overall costs," Mr Burton said.

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