Charolais key in Walthum Station cross

Crossbreeding success for Dennis family

Beef
Top cross: Charolais-cross heifers typical of the article produced by the Dennis family in their commercial breeding operation at Walthum Station, Clermont.

Top cross: Charolais-cross heifers typical of the article produced by the Dennis family in their commercial breeding operation at Walthum Station, Clermont.

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Close to 120 years ago the Dennis family established their breeding herd on Walthum Station, Clermont, with Shorthorn and Devon cattle before shifting to pure Brahmans. But 20 years ago the wheel turned full circle with the introduction of Charolais bulls by current owners David and Lydia Dennis.

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Close to 120 years ago the Dennis family established their breeding herd on Walthum Station, Clermont, with Shorthorn and Devon cattle before shifting to pure Brahmans. But 20 years ago the wheel turned full circle with the introduction of Charolais bulls by current owners David and Lydia Dennis.

Mr Dennis is the fourth generation of the Dennis family on Walthum, where he lives with Lydia, and Jason and Melinda Sypher (their son-in-law and daughter).

Cattle have been the constant focus on the 27,520 hectare property which lies on a variety of sandy loamy flats peppered with brigalow, gidgee, and ironbark coverage.

The introduction of the Charolais came about due to the Dennises wanting to improve the fertility and rapidity of weight gain in their then-pure Brahman herd.

"A first cross of anything usually yields good results but sometimes the breeds used compromise each other a bit. We haven't found that with the Brahman/Charolais-cross and Charolais/Brahman-cross article, and we like the resulting creamy reddish grey coat," he said.

"The Charolais are also good cattle to handle, adding docility to the cross."

As they're EU accredited, they aim to turn off the crossbred progeny at 30 months and the pure Brahmans at 24 months, depending on the season and the dollars.

"Our steers are sold at 300kg carcase weight and cull heifers at 400kg live weight.

"Barmount Feedlot, Marlborough, feed for us to then market the finished product ourselves, and we feed cattle at Smithfield Feedlot, Proston, from which they select the markets they fill."

The Dennis family purchased Mountview Notorious for the top money in the Charolais section ($9500) at the 2018 February All Breeds Bull and Female Sale, from the Bebbington family, Mountview Charolais, Cambooya. Mr Dennis said Notorious is currently performing very well in the herd.

The Dennis family purchased Mountview Notorious for the top money in the Charolais section ($9500) at the 2018 February All Breeds Bull and Female Sale, from the Bebbington family, Mountview Charolais, Cambooya. Mr Dennis said Notorious is currently performing very well in the herd.

The Dennises are running 4000 head, though in better seasons that number is usually closer to 6000.

"We control mate, at a ratio of one bull to 25 females, from just before Christmas through to April. We find the bulls last a lot longer using this window, and when we muster the calves are the same size which is ideal for branding. We really like that uniformity, and the same goes for the weaners.

"The introduction of control mating close to 10 years ago has forced a rethink on us giving any breeder a second chance.

"Females from some breeds can look after themselves in the tougher seasons (especially on buffel country) and still not go in calf, whereas the Charolais-cross produce under all conditions regardless of the paddock.

"Usually we average close to 75 per cent for our calving rate, but last year the rate was down to 60pc. Our vet said that most breeding operations in our area were in similar positions, and that it's purely a seasonal result."

Mr Dennis said they look after their bulls to ensure they have a good life. "We make sure they're in good order and we run them on good buffel country to keep in good store condition."

The Dennises purchased their first Charolais bull from the Bondfield family, Palgrove, and they've continued to buy bulls from the stud regularly ever since.

"The Bondfields are very particular with the article they put on the table. They produce lovely, big, square bulls with good temperaments, and great bloodlines."

It was for these same points of emphasis in the bulls they purchase that the Dennises have also been buying bulls from the Bebbington family, Mountview Charolais, Cambooya.

This included the purchase of Mountview Notorious for the top money in the Charolais section ($9500) at the 2018 February All Breeds Bull and Female Sale, who is currently performing very well in the herd.

Mr Dennis said there is an opportunity to diversify into farming on Walthum, but as he and Lydia are looking to pull up stumps and retire to a block they recently purchased at Farnborough (in the Yeppoon district) in the not too distant future, it will be an idea for Jason and Melinda to progress.

"We had people come out and inspect the country, and they told us we have close to 8095ha of land which lends itself to farming. We already have good buffel country, but it would be very expensive to establish a fully fledged farming operation so we'll leave it to the youngsters to have a crack if they want to."

He said he's more than happy for Jason and Melinda to try out fresh ideas. "If something works, beauty! If not we won't try it again. I think as we get ready to make our move, we've got to be open minded about the direction they'd like to take."

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