SIGNIFICANTLY expanding into beef cattle production early last year is certainly paying off for SA young gun Trent Walker, but don’t go thinking the 29-year-old has just lucked into the industry at the right time.
He stresses extensive education and strong mentor guidance has gotten him to where he is today – running a 499-head feedlot and 400-breeder Angus operation at Culburra in SA’s Upper South East – as well as plenty of “learning experiences”.
One of the more defining moments was when leasing a 2000-head feedlot with his brother Ryan near his family’s farm at Parrakie in the southern Mallee.
It was June 2011 and then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard had just announced the suspension of all live cattle exports to Indonesia.
“About 50 per cent of the cattle in our feedlot were not contracted, so that threw things into chaos,” he said.
“We were feeding cattle on the spot market with no issues. But then a lot of boxed beef came onto the market from the north and the supermarkets and processors didn’t need our meat.”
Mr Walker said they chose to trade through the suspension. “We sold some cattle straight away at a loss, but also fed some on for longer,” he said.
“It made us realise feeding cattle on the spot was too risky, and took the loss on as a learning experience.”
Mr Walker said the feedlot helped them learn what to do and what not to do in contracting grain, contracting cattle, feeding and marketing cattle, while also building relationships in the industry.
“It also enabled us to integrate our own grain and hay into the business,” he said.
Full integration is a major focus of the Walker family business, which Mr Walker runs in partnership with parents Kerry and Alison and ‘retired’ grandfather Lyn.
The operation today consists of two properties – 3300-hectare Keringa near Lameroo with 1800ha of cropping and 2000 self-replacing Merinos, and 1000ha Tulara Downs at Culburra.
They also have a hay contracting business.
But it is at Culburra where the Angus Australia SA branch chairman has been able to pursue his passion for beef production.
Mr Walker has been trading cattle since 2004, after graduating from Urrbrae Agricultural High School.
But it was after a year-long stint studying agribusiness at well-known Marcus Oldham College, Geelong, Vic, in 2008 that he started his own stud with the Keringa name.
He transferred embryos from local stud Bull Oak Well Angus at Pinnaroo into his own commercial cows.
“I only started off small,” he said. “It was about then (2009) that we also took on the lease of the Parrakie feedlot, which then took up the majority of my time.”
It was only earlier last year, when they bought Tulara Downs, that Mr Walker was able to expand the stud.
“At the time I had about 60 registered breeders, plus 50 recipient cows,” he said.
The herd has since grown to 200 registered breeders and 200 recipients.
“This year we calved down 250 registered calves, and in 2017 we will calve down 350-400 registered calves,” Mr Walker said.
“The aim is to sell 100 bulls a year into northern SA and the NT, while slowly developing a market in the SE.
“We want to breed a consistent line of quality bulls and offer volume to our pastoral clients, while also having the ability to cull hard to increase our quality and make the most of the good cattle market.”
Mr Walker has invested heavily in genetics, buying quality females and embryos from leading NSW Angus studs Millah Murrah and Irelands.
He also bought up big at dispersals, including females from the Willow Fields herd dispersal at Mount Compass.
Carabar Docklands, American sire EF Compliment and Millah Murrah Kingdom are three AI bulls used, while back-up bulls have similar genetics to keep consistency in the herd.
Significant live bull purchases made this year include Kirribilli K113 from Irelands for $50,000, an EF Compliment son from Millah Murrah at $17,000 and a Docklands son from Karoo Angus, NSW, at $14,000.
“We believe to do the job properly you need to invest in good sires,” Mr Walker said.
“We have focused strongly on getting our female quality up – if we can get our females right, then we will breed good bulls.”