WHEN Carly and Grant Burnham, Bonnie Boone, Monto, made the decision to go organic five years ago, they did so out of a passion for food and customers.
The Burnhams run a herd of between 2500 and 3500 head, with 700 breeders on the 6000 hectare property, and finish to the organic export market predominantly, but have recently begun direct selling to customers as well.
The herd is predominantly Red Angus, but Mr Burnham said he has mixed in Belmont Red and Senepol genetics for adaptability traits, while still maintaining excellent eating quality.
“Customer preference is king - but the cattle have to survive first, and then we need to produce as good meat quality as we possibly can,” he said.
The decision to go organic came with a shift from thinking of themselves as farmers, to business owners.
“We’re producing food, not just cattle,” Mr Burnham said.
“Changing over to organics there were some paradigm shifts for us, but there was actually not too many big changes because we already cell and rotation grazed, and that helped with cutting down on our supplements and parasites.”
Now the operation only has tick challenges “from time to time”, and Mr Burnham said it was all a learning curve with more information coming out about mineral balances.
Mr Burnham said anyone who went into organics chasing premiums would be “in for a shock”.
“We’re not in it to chase the dollars - I think anyone who goes into organics thinking that they’re going to get rich out of it and haven’t made all the changes that need to be made, like working with nature, they’ll be in for a shock,” he said.
“Organics are still holding up really well - organics are the biggest growth industry in the food industry still at the moment.”
He said in order to stay profitable, he has a one strike system for cows and heifers.
“The bulls go in, in December, we have a 10-12 week mating window, and we preg test and cull everything that isn’t in calf,” he said.
“Fertility is one of our biggest drivers.
“Working with our variable seasons it’s really important to have a mating window which matches our rainfall - as unpredictable as that is.”
Mr and Mrs Burnham have four children; Lily, 15, Ruby, 13, Knox, 11, and Quade, seven.
A van, a beast, and a customer
With a home delivery van and a passion, the couple are hitting the road to sell their beef to customers.
Mr Burnham said it was not an easy task at times.
“It’s still tough work, because we sell whole sides of beef or quarters or eighths,” he said.
“It’s about working with a customer - a different customer base.
“They learn how to eat the whole animal.”
He said while the couple may consider moving to individual pack sizes as they expand, he finds the current model “very rewarding.”
”We’re providing some recipes and helping people,” he said.
“People who don’t already know about those lesser cuts of meats don’t know how good they are in slow-cooked meals.”