Off-farm income a key driver for Cook family

Meet the Cook family from Clermont


Beef Business more
Jeff and Sarah Cook, Etonvale, Clermont, say it was their choice for Mr Cook to work off-farm on a seven-on-seven off basis to help fund property developments.

Jeff and Sarah Cook, Etonvale, Clermont, say it was their choice for Mr Cook to work off-farm on a seven-on-seven off basis to help fund property developments.

Aa

Off-farm income has given the Cook family the opportunity to improve pastures by not fully stocking their Clermont property.

Aa

It’s been long understood that agriculture requires a solid source of capital to fund expansion. 

The same is true at a micro-level and for Clermont beef producers, Jeff and Sarah Cook, off-farm income has proved an invaluable source of capital for projects such as new water infrastructure.

The couple run a 4633 hectare operation at Etonvale, 25km south west of Clermont, where they live with their three children Anna, 11, Libby, 9, and Tom, 7.

They purchased the property from Mr Cook’s family in 2008 and now run a breeding and backgrounding operation with between 400 and 500 breeders.

Mr Cook works at the local mine on a seven-on, seven-off roster, and the couple said it was that off-farm income which they relied upon to invest back into Etonvale. 

“People say it's a shame that the land is not returning - but it's probably been more that we have chosen to do this because we wanted to put in a lot more waters, and also not stock Etonvale to full capacity,” Ms Cook said. 

Anna Cook walking the steers home. Photo - Kelly Butterworth.

Anna Cook walking the steers home. Photo - Kelly Butterworth.

They also trade an additional 300 head per year, targeting the feeder market with both home bred and trade cattle. 

Their keep heifers are crossed with Brahman bulls, and those progeny crossed with a Euro bull, usually Simmental or Charolais to create a three-way cross. 

While the property can carry about 1000 LSU, Ms Cook said they are yet to run at capacity since taking over the property due to the seasons, and their own management decisions. 

Mr Cook works at the local mine on a seven-on, seven-off roster – a move that Ms Cook said had allowed them the freedom to stock lightly and undertake key development projects. 

“We want to stock it more on the grass as opposed to the cattle, and you can't do that if you don't have that security of income,” she said. 

Ms Cook said it was not a case of the couple never exploring expanding – but a case of making the best decision for the family financially. 

“We've often looked at whether we'd take that next step if we had the equity, but then you are looking at so many more components like staff,” she said. 

“Instead, I tend to do a lot of off-farm investing in shares and we've gone down that path a little bit more. It gives us more flexibility and our eggs are not all in the rural industry.”

MEET THE COOKS: Tom, Jeff, Sarah, Anna, and Libby Cook mustering at Etonvale, Clermont. Photo - Kelly Butterworth.

MEET THE COOKS: Tom, Jeff, Sarah, Anna, and Libby Cook mustering at Etonvale, Clermont. Photo - Kelly Butterworth.

The Season

On the back of the early break in the season, Mr and Ms Cook were happy to report they have seen 58mm of rain in October.

It’s a welcome sight for the property which has only seen pre-Christmas rain twice in the past eight years. 

With cattle heading into Clermont this week for the Beef Expo Show and Sale, Mr Cook said he hoped the rain would the market. 

The family have had about 40 steers on feed at Paringa Feedlot, Capella, which will come back for the expo with the intention of entering them into the 100 day Jap class, and the trade class. 

They will also sell feeder steers at the sale. 

Mr Cook said he had gravitated more to selling through private sales recently, and had been buying trade cattle through Auctions Plus over traditional saleyards. 

“I like the idea of it as opposed to a sale, where you go to a sale and you don't have a lot of control whereas Auctions Plus or selling off the place you have much more say in getting what you want,” he said. 

The Cook family mustering at Etonvale, Clermont. Photo - Kelly Butterworth.

The Cook family mustering at Etonvale, Clermont. Photo - Kelly Butterworth.

The operation

Like many operations, the Cook family are pushing an increased focus on fertility in their female lines. 

They control mate, with bulls going in after Christmas, and also do rotational grazing which they find useful. 

“It's a good management tool with your land and I think it's definitely helped a lot with getting a lot more grass cover and definitely with the cattle - they're a lot quieter and easier to handle,” Mr Cook said. 

The bulls stay in with the heifers for three months and the cows for four, and they are happy with the results, which sees weaning happening before winter. 

Weaners are put onto some M8U, and dry lick was fed all year around this year with some additional molasses for the cows. 

Ms Cook said the key to their operation was communication. 

“I think we communicate well, though it's not always pleasant,” she laughed.

“I think for people on the land that's the toughest thing - it's not just a marriage; you've got to be parents of children, and run a business, and you're in each other's faces all the time. 

“We have our areas within the partnership and we respect that, so Jeff will come to me on areas, and generally outside he'll tell me where he wants things done.”

Libby Cook ready for mustering. Photo - Kelly Butterworth.

Libby Cook ready for mustering. Photo - Kelly Butterworth.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by