School is well and truly in for teachers-turned-farmers Jamie and Sal Andrews at their Gloucester, NSW, property.
Both from farming family backgrounds, the teacher couple returned to Mrs Andrews' 1010-hectare family farm about eight years ago to take up the beef business after her father died.
Mr Andrews runs the farming operation while his wife continues to teach at Gloucester High School, and the results and turnaround on the property show he might well be just as good a pupil as he was a teacher.
"My wife still teaches at local high school and while I did a fair bit of casual teaching until I took over the farm business, I think I have done only about two days in two years,'' he said.
"Growing up on a property and having that freedom and the lifestyle it provides, was that draw that brought me back to it. I lived in Sydney and went to university and taught for 10 years and, to be perfectly honest, I stopped enjoying teaching.
"The appeal of being your own boss is certainly something, but the biggest draw was to be able to raise our family in the country.
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"Farming stimulates me. I'll happily go and educate and run workshops. We're heavily involved in the local farming community.''
But while this teacher-by-trade is getting good grades on-farm putting quality Angus feeder steers to the Caroona feedlot and taking heifers as feeders to Killara or fattening them for the Wingham Abattoir, he acknowledges he is very much the pupil when in the company of James and Ted Laurie from Knowla Livestock where he buys his Angus bulls.
"It is absolutely invaluable having James and Ted to liaise with,'' Mr Andrews said.
"The brothers judge at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, they have been all over Australia and all over the world judging and you're talking about a couple of the best cattlemen if not just in the district but in the state.
"Everywhere you go, it is just the knowledge they can impart on you that is just fantastic. They are very giving of their time and I ask a lot of questions as I'm trying to get my eye in with the bulls.
"It is interesting, I go along with them to the bull sales and in about 10 seconds they go: 'Yep, cross that one out ... his back left foot is no good. Wouldn't go near him with a barge pole''.
"They are very structured and they go through a process and they see it in 10 seconds where it takes me half an hour to determine.''
The appeal of being your own boss is certainly something, but the biggest draw was to be able to raise our family in the country.
Listening and learning from the best, it seems, has worked well for the couple. Mrs Andrews was a talented judge of stock as a junior, which means she still has final say over any bull purchased for their herd.
"When we first returned here it was a bull operation with Hereford and Limousin and there was a little bit of Senepol in there for that hybrid vigour and we were turning off four-year-old bullocks for $1200 and I sort of had a look at the business and thought: 'Right, we need to change this because it's just not profitable to have something on your property for four years at $300 a year'.
"I worked out you needed to make at least $500 to $1000 per beast per year ... so we've changed from Hereford Limo. We've still got a bit of a hangover from that which is fine for a little bit of hybrid vigour but we're mainly black now. I'd say we are 90 per cent black.''
As well as feeder stock, Mr Andrews said at times he had hit the Wingham Abattoir MSA grid - HGP, antibiotic-free and grass-fed.
"It's actually a pretty good grid to try to hit, it's around the 570 mark.''
He was also pleased in what has been a really tough time for the NSW coastal country that Karoona brought their grid down to 250kg for black steers.
"We were able to get a double-decker of black steers at 14 months of age away and make $1100 at an average weight of 350kg. It's great to have that flexibility where if you're in the reds or the black baldies its up to 350kg.
"That ability to be able to sell into a market and still be able to make top dollar in a really tough time is a bit of a godsend. It frees up some room and you still make good money on them.''
The Andrews retain a percentage of their heifers and that's been high across their eight years on the farm.
"We started with about 100 cows and we're up to 300 now. We're breeding about 300 with an autum and a spring calving and just trying to distribute the bulls that we have and get two joinings out of a bull each year.
"We're certainly working harder to get the best possible bulls and we're stepping up in what we spend on them and looking at their EBVs.
"With the bulls that we're selecting, there's about five things we're trying to get and that's that 400- to 600-day EBVs for the feeder steers, then we're looking for some maternal traits in the bulls as well ... so scrotal size, days to calving, IMF and a few things like that.
"We've got one bull here that's up to his 10th joining now, he's seven or eight years of age now and within the Angus Society that's pretty good. The average age of a bull, I believe, is two years of age.
"We've found the bulls are doing that and James and Ted will guarantee a bull for two years as well.''
Mr Andrews said the next step in the journey was to get Angus certified but at the moment a tough season has him maintaining his operations rather than progressing with great momentum.
"We've been able to take the herd to 90 per cent Angus and that has been very beneficial, certainly this year when it has been a lot tougher,'' he said.
Although he says there are many doing it much tougher.
The story Spring Angus: Learning from the best to build Angus herd first appeared on The Land.