A CONVERSATION on a train set the Rich family at Blackall on its path to breeding Devon cattle, a course that ends this year with retirement.
Fred Rich, who together with his wife Daphne will put their Yalleroi district properties of Tilbury and Milroy up for auction at the beginning of October, was travelling with his father to the Brisbane Exhibition in 1948, sharing a carriage with a well-known meat buyer.
"At that time, my family ran Merino sheep with a few cattle as a sideline," Fred said. "My father had decided he would like to start a small beef cattle stud; he had no particular breed in mind.
"He told this buyer of his intention and west of Rockhampton, going over the Gogango Range, we sighted some red cattle grazing alongside the track. The buyer said to Dad, 'Those are the cattle you want for your country. They are very hardy'."
The cattle were Devons, running on Evergreen Station, owned by the Lawrie family, so when they arrived at the exhibition, the pair set about tracking down the breed and found the late RA Howell, owner of the Devon Court stud at Killarney.
Although the cattle had little preparation, Fred said they caught his father's eye, and at the subsequent exhibition sale, he purchased Devon Court Moorman 3238 and four cows. The cattle travelled to Yalleroi by train and the Devon story began.
After a 100 per cent joining, all the sheep were sold, and another 18 cows and the reserve champion bull from the Sydney Royal Show were bought instead.
Bebe Rich embarked on a full-scale cattle operation in 1950, registering the Boorara Devon stud and purchasing 200 breeders, which were railed to Morven and walked the 350km to Yalleroi.
He paid the then world record price for a Devon of 925 guineas ($1942) for Havilah Midas at the Sydney Royal that year, along with four other bulls. They also travelled all the way from Sydney to Yalleroi, 100km north-west of Brisbane, by train. At the same time, Fred and Bebe were helping pioneer the use of buffel grass in the region, after trials pointed to its success.
"It was one of my father's burning desires to knock down the gidyea scrubs and improve the carrying capacity, so in 1953 we purchased a TD14A International tractor and pushed 400 acres (170 hectares)," Fred recalled.
This was burnt and sown just before good rain early in 1954, the first instance of this technique being used in Australia.
In Fred's words, the results were spectacular. By 1957 they had treated about 25,000ac (10,100ha), and the completely new approach to grazing cattle meant they had trebled stock numbers and were turning them off to meatworks, rather than selling as stores, at a much earlier age.
The Riches began selling Devon herd bulls, and by the time they stopped registering progeny in 1966, had sold more than 1000, mainly to north Queensland.
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