Digging deep to survive, and breed quality cattle

Summer Angus: Digging deep to survive, and breed quality cattle

Stock and Land Beef
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The Bedford family at Nhill, Victoria, have raised their family growing Angus cattle.

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FAMILY AFFAIR: David and Wendy Bedford (right), their son Josh and his wife April work together on the family property Noongarra, Nhill, Victoria.

FAMILY AFFAIR: David and Wendy Bedford (right), their son Josh and his wife April work together on the family property Noongarra, Nhill, Victoria.

The Bedford family are survivors.

Living out on the sandy, undulating country near Nhill, Victoria, David and Wendy Bedford have raised a thriving family growing Angus cattle.

But for them it has not only been about producing quality cattle - it has also been about using innovation in the tough times to survive, and tirelessly improving their soil along the way.

The Bedford family's home Noongarra is made up of 730 hectares on one block and then 1416ha only a few kilometres away.

David's parents Alan and Jean bought the property in 1964 from the AMP.

And the Bedford family is the last original family to still call the sandy soil home.

It is a true family farm, with David and Wendy's son Josh, his wife April and children Caleb, Amity and Kyan all living and working the property.

Mr Bedford said they originally started breeding Merinos, but that only lasted three years.

"We just thought the country was better suited to cattle," he said.

And from the beginning, they ran only Angus cattle.

"Dad went with a hardy breed," Mr Bedford said. "They do well in tough conditions. They are easy to handle. Temperament was an important aspect."

"One of the advantages of Angus cattle is the ease of calving."

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Right now the Bedford family runs about 250 Angus breeders.

Mr Bedford said heifers were joined when they hit 350 kilograms. The bulls, sourced from Langi Kal Kal Angus, Trawalla, go in for six months.

"We have been impressed with their temperament," he said.

They have also found cattle that are kept in back paddocks and don't have constant human contact remain very docile.

"We are looking for cattle that are quiet and have good growth rates," Mr Bedford said.

Mr Bedford said he had also found the Angus cattle handled the heat and flies very well.

Calves go into the Bedford's on-farm feedlot at about 10 months old, depending on the season.

Mr Bedford said they tended to concentrate on growing frame rather than fat at this stage.

The steers and cull heifers are backgrounded, and then sold to a feedlot as EU-accredited when they weigh in the region of 400 to 500kg.

They usually spend 100 days in the feedlot before being sold.

QUIET ACHIEVERS: Some of the Bedford family's Angus cows. Their calves go into the family's on-property feedlot at 10 months old and are fed for about 100 days.

QUIET ACHIEVERS: Some of the Bedford family's Angus cows. Their calves go into the family's on-property feedlot at 10 months old and are fed for about 100 days.

And this time in the on-property feedlot is a real advantage.

"They are acclimitised to the conditions and the ration, so the feedlots are really happy with them."

It hasn't always been smooth sailing for the Bedford family, and they have had to dig deep to make ends meet. Literally.

Despite always having Angus cattle as their foundation, in the tough times, the family has found ways to make it through. And this has meant thinking outside the box and getting creative.

The family has improved their soil drastically by digging up clay soil and spreading it with the sand.

Mr Bedford said they first heard about this method in the 1990s.

But it is only in the past 10 years they have become really serious about it, and to date have carried it out on 730 hectares of their property.

The process involves digging up clay with a clay bucket from a lower part of a paddock, which then becomes a dam. The clay is spread on the paddocks and then worked into the sand a number of ways, such as using a smudger bar, a scarifier and off-set discs.

They then plant usually barley, and then after three or four years, spray it for weeds and then plant lucerne. They then plant rye or barley into the established lucerne.

POWERING ON: The Bedford family uses this 620-horsepower tractor to drag clay through their sandy soil. This has made their soil much more fertile.

POWERING ON: The Bedford family uses this 620-horsepower tractor to drag clay through their sandy soil. This has made their soil much more fertile.

They also carry out delving, where two metre long prongs, attached to a 620-horsepower tractor, are inserted into the sand to drag the clay to the surface.

They can spread between 250 and 500 tonnes of clay a hectare on the soil. And Mr Bedford said it had made a colossal difference.

"We'd be going backwards if we didn't do it," he said. "The sand used to just grow silvergrass, brome grass, barley grass and dandelions. Now we can spray weeds and it actually has some effect."

Now they can grow lucerne and rye in soil, which has basically become loam.

About 800ha of lucerne has been sown on the property over the years, and the Bedfords plan on renovating the lucerne soon. They also sowed just under 500ha of rye last year.

They started their business JDW Earthworx in 2009, and it has their son Josh working flat out across the region spreading clay for other farmers.

Mr Bedford said the benefits of improving the soil had helped their herd. "We have lucerne as cattle feed. The cattle are a lot better off."

The family has seen some pretty tough times. But they have always found ways to make ends meet.

During times of drought and pests, they have found ways to keep their Angus cattle and property functioning, even if it meant starting new ventures.

HARD WORKERS: Josh Bedford, his wife April and children Caleb, Amity and Kyan all live and work on the family property. The family owns JDW Earthworx, which keeps Josh busy across the region.

HARD WORKERS: Josh Bedford, his wife April and children Caleb, Amity and Kyan all live and work on the family property. The family owns JDW Earthworx, which keeps Josh busy across the region.

Mr Bedford said they were hit hard in the 1970s when aphids came through, and they decided to plant 120 hectares of lucerne trees, also known as tagasaste.

"We were looking for an alternative," he said. And after 35 years, the tagasaste trees are still thriving.

This wasn't the first time the Bedford family found an alternative to make ends meet during tough times. Wendy Bedford said they used to grow commercial flowers, such as carnations and chrysanthemums, from the mid-1970s.

"We had greenhouses of them, and we used bore water," she said.

They stopped growing flowers about 25 years ago. But they weren't done innovating, and they started to sell free range eggs, running up to 2000 hens.

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