Breed loyalty pays off at ‘Gwalia’

2013_Susie_Chis_with_cows_280_x_186ADELONG beef producer Susan Chisholm transitioned her herd across to Angus in the mid-1990s and believes the breed has well and truly repaid her for her loyalty through thick and thin.

Mrs Chisholm moved to “Gwalia” outside of Adelong with her late husband David Chisholm, a Northern Territory cattleman, in 1984, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that she started running a black herd.

“Chis (her husband, known as Tony) had run Shorthorns in the Territory, but he was impressed by the black cattle and bought about 15 little black cull heifers, which he called his stonks, onto ‘Gwalia’ in 1987,” she said.

“I had actually bought 20 Angus heifers at Cootamundra and they were the first Angus we had on the place, but it wasn’t until Ian McMichael (director of McMichael and Associates) encouraged me to go into black cattle in the early 1990s that I really got serious about it.”

She describes the transition from her original herd of 160 Herefords to her current operation, where she runs 562 cows and calves and 200 maiden Angus heifers across “Gwalia”, and a finishing block on the Murrumbidgee River near Gundagai, as a gradual process.

Mrs Chisholm and her employee Carol Morris use the 129 hectares on the river as a finishing block.

“There’s new pastures there and it’s where the steers go for finishing, I do my backgrounding there,” she said.

“In the drought, I only fed the young heifers, first calf cows and the weaners. The rest had to do it tough and rely on their body fat.

“They did do it tough but we came through without selling any thankfully.”

According to Mrs Chisholm, its this endurance which makes Angus the best breed.

“I believe very much in Angus and the things associated with it, like Certified Australian Angus Beef (CAAB) and Team Te Mania,” she said.

In fact, she credits Team Te Mania, a co-operative team made up of 44 breeder and producer members whose collective herds total 20,000, as keeping her afloat when the going got tough.

She has played a key role since joining the team in 1995. She has helped achieve its focus on testing and recording information to determine the most elite sons of major bulls to produce top quality beef and then pool these genetics to share among members.

Team Te Mania members lease 330 bulls on a rotation basis. It was these genetics which created the 203- head draft of European Union accredited heifers which Mrs Chisholm sold at the Team Te Mania sale through AuctionsPlus in 2010 for a top price of $2330 and an overall average of $1970.

The sale caused a stir within the industry and Mrs Chisholm herself acknowledges that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“They had been AI’d to the top drafts of bulls and they were also on Breedplan,” Mrs Chisholm said.

Seventeen years after joining Team Te Mania, Mrs Chisholm said she’s not only had opportunities to breed to the best bulls in the beef business, but that it has fostered her love for Angus. She is a firm believer in being able to reduce and record chemical use, and in the early days she gained both her European Union Cattle Accreditation (EUCA) and Cattle Care qualifications so she could assure buyers of her quality from paddock to plate.

“I really feel very strongly about chemical use and how we use chemicals or can even cut them back,” she said.

“Getting these qualifications is just like having more bows in your quill, it opens up more markets and opportunities for your product.”
Mrs Chisholm has been involved with CAAB since the early days as an avid promoter and a supplier.

She now sells her annual steer draft to Rangers Valley Feedlot at Glen Innes.

“We now tag the steers with a special progeny test tag so that Rangers Valley knows those cattle are from (the team), and they have been so impressed with them that around 80 per cent of their Angus is sourced from Team Te Mania members each year,” she said.

Teamwork at the centrepiece of breed

THE co-operative aspects of both Team Te Mania and CAAB are concrete examples of Susan Chisholm’s belief that the Angus breed pulls together as one to continually improve and promote the breed.

“I’m a big believer in teamwork and that’s what is integral to both CAAB and Team Te Mania – not only achieving their success, but maintaining it,” she said.

“I believe so strongly in the CAAB brand name, the name Angus is now stamped on everyone’s minds thanks to CAAB.”

When Mrs Chisholm first started with the team, a ballot system was used to allocate bulls to members.

“They’d pull your name out of a hat and then you’d pick, but nowadays they send me the bulls that suit me for three years,” she said.

“As it turns out I’ve been able to use bulls like Berkley, Emperor and Regent. There’s no doubt just by looking at the data from Regent that he is the best bull in the world.”

Mrs Chisholm said the information and data recording more than compensated for any perceived shortcomings on a producer’s behalf.

“We’re trying to breed a long, stretchy cow rather than a deep cow and when we first started, we used to do all the recording by hand, it was a huge paperwork job.

“Nowadays it’s much easier with wands and laptops and technology, and it’s great to see Australian producers leading the way in using data like this. The US does it to a certain extent, but I believe we’re the most progressive in this sense.”