Presenter: Sharon Kennedy
An ancient Irish breed of cattle has given a South West woman a dream run at this year's Royal Show.
Sue Hannaford runs Kirup Park Dexter stud along with her husband. About ten years ago, the couple were looking for a lifestyle change; just build me a house on a hill, said Sue and I'll be happy. Today, she still sighs with relief as she heads through the trees to catch sight of home. The Hannafords chose to run Dexter cattle, a smaller breed that are easier to handle and kinder on the land. The effort paid off this year when Kirup Park Waterford won Supreme Female at the Perth Royal Show.
Depending on your point of view, cows are either for milking or for eating. Or, in the case of the Dexters, for both. Of ancient celtic lineage, the breed is believed to have been around when Stonehenge was built. At one stage, they lost popularity and contracted back to Ireland, so missing out on the herd improvement movement in Britain. They're early to grow and to calf, says Sue. Waterford, at just three years old, has had two calves.
When asked what impressed the judges, Sue replies "I wish I knew." Judges may all see the same things, she feels, but they value them differently, perhaps looking for what they would like in their own herds. Sue's description of her prize winning cow sounds like a sculptural. "This particular cow's got a lovely wedge shape, she's smooth over the shoulders, she's nice and wide over the back end, she's got a nice little calf, she's firm over the loins, she's got beautiful neck extension, she walked out well." But for all Waterford's winning attributes, Sue still thinks she's lucky.
Her beasts weren't as well prepared as Sue would have liked. Timing is all important in preparation: getting the feed right so the animals come on at the right time; clipping far enough ahead so the coat is at the right length; putting in the hours training. Sue reckons they were lucky. Given that Kirup Park also won Junior Heifer, Senior Heifer, Reserve Senior Heifer and the hat trick in other classes, that's an awful lot of luck.
Luck, though, is something no successful breeder can do without. Sue's seen both sides of the coin. At one stage, she had a run of males; out of 19 calves, 17 were bulls. "Nobody wants that many bulls," she says. One cow cost $10,000 from Brisbane and consistently drops males. Yet Waterford was an embryo and she turned out just great.
Luck also plays a part in genetics. Sue is interested in polling, that is, breeding cows without horns which is not traditional for the breed. Imagine her delight when the Hannafords bought three embryos, had two take and both turned out to be poll heifers. Sue's learned to back her own judgement when it comes to choosing genetic lines. In the beginning, she says, they believed what they were told, out of inexperience. Now they believe that the WA lines are every bit as good as anywhere else.
Along with other breeders, the Hannafords have worked to widen and enrich the local genetic pool. "It started as a breed that had very limited genetics," Sue notes, with stock tracing back to too few animals. She's tried UK, likes Canadian lines, isn't impressed with the American and has had success with South African genetics.
In South Africa, Dexters are mainly used for milk. In Australia, they're a good choice for meat. "They're the right size for the home freezer," says Sue. People also buy them to "munch the grass". Does she do it for the love or for the money? Definitely the love, is the swift reply. She reckons could do just as well on an ordinary job. For instance, preparing an animal for show costs around $1,000 she says. You have to be committed, to get dirty, to love the work and to go with the flow when all those bull calves keep coming.
As for compensations, Sue enjoys nothing more than a glass of champagne in the paddock with the cows for company. "I actually like cows," she says. "They're very forgiving and wonderful mothers."
Sue Hannaford with Kirup Park Waterford
Waterford with her calf
Sue with one of her boys