Angus in Urbenville’s Mulcahy family has come full circle in recent years with a fresh crack at black.
The very genetics that are rebuilding the herd and the family name, ‘Grimstead’ now relying on bloodlines that can trace their lineage back to the Mulcahy’s home paddock.
In 1956 Hughie started the Grimstead Angus stud, an enterprise now being revived by his grandson Cameron who works with his uncle Ian, son of Hughie, running a commercial herd of 500 breeders.
The family’s 1200ha across five properties encompasses some of the finest flats on Beaury Creek with soil in the basalt ridges as good if not better than the black soil flats.
Proof of the power of Mulcahy's commercial herd has been realised at the Stanthorpe weaner sales where Ian’s Angus – sired by Grimstead and Clunie Range bulls – topped the event two years in a row, peaking last autumn at $3.68c/kg.
These days Cameron experiments with artificial insemination and is adopting the use of embryo transfer to get new stud bull genetics over his self-replacing female herd.
“We are building numbers with 15-20 per cent of females kept each year,” he said. “We keep improving by picking replacements on visual phenotype. You’ve got to like what you see.” And he says the female line is the critical element. “Get your cows right and the bulls will look after themselves,” he says, repeating an old family saying. “Cows are important. That’s where it starts.
“We don’t want high-maturing cow weight because she takes too much for herself. And we can get more beasts per acre which equals cents per kilo per acre with an 8-10 month turnaround.
“We look for feed conversion. Our cows are totally acclimatised to our valley and produce a 250kg weaner after eight to ten months.”
Unlike others in the district the Mulcahys do not enhance their calves with creep-fed grain as they have yet to be convinced of its cents per kilo merit.
The best young calves are sold straight off their mother at the first of the three annual weaner sales with later calves yard weaned.
“But we have to be careful with yard weaning,” Cameron says. “When it's wet, as it usually is at that time of year, cattle go backwards, we waste our time and we risk losing our market.”
Full circle for Angus genetics
Cameron Mulcahy now works with his uncle Ian, better known at the local Crown Hotel as ‘Juicy’. It has nothing to do with the fact that he breeds tender steak from sweet country, but it might as well be so.
Cameron’s great-grandparents, same as Ian’s grandparents, came to the Tooloom goldfields attracted by commerce. Hughie senior sold butchered meat to Chinese diggers, his fresh cuts loaded into saddlebags as he toured the district on horseback. Elder Hughie also worked as a livestock agent and his interests always ran to cattle. When he ran a dairy on Beaury Creek he was regarded as a leader in breeding and fodder management.
Hugh Junior purchased land at Urbenville in 1944 and asked his father about the Angus cattle already running there.
“Only agents make money out of changing breeds,” he advised and so black remained, despite everything, selling locally with the rest of the district’s Hereford as an oddity; pushed to the back corner at Urbenville yards.
Hughie junior persisted with his unusual herd and in 1958 improved the bloodline with a cow line from Bald Blair, Guyra and Mr Sanderson’s stud, Narrabri. Sires at that time that made a difference were Trangie Tristan and Booroomooka Dalrymple. In 1964 Hughie won the NSW division of the Buchanan trophy for his stud efforts.
His early customers were dairy farmers keen to put an Angus over their Jersey cows. The result was a progeny that sold well and helped transform the dairy area to beef, a transition that is complete today.
Those days Beaury Creek held 14 dairying families, often with a share farming family occupying the same land. When Ian went to the primary school at Urbenville it had 120 pupils. In Cameron’s day there were 50 and now, with the hardwood industry on its knees, there’s less than a dozen.
In the people’s place along Beaury Creek grow Angus and some of that cattle have gone on to populate other family enterprises, like Clunie Range at Wallangra. Hughie and Brett Guest took their name of their operation from the rugged range of mountains at the head of Beaury Creek and in 1986 seeded their stud with five heifers from Hughie Mulcahy’s Grimstead.
The Urbenville operation helped seed about 20 Angus studs, says Ian, including the likes of Mundoo.
Funny how those genetics have come full circle, back to Beaury Creek as Cameron now rebuilds its reputation. He, in turn, bought six heifers off Clunie Range to re-boot Grimstead in 2012 and his first stud bull purchase, again from Clunie Range, was ironically named F360.
“I realised that name could well have stood for ‘Full circle 360 degrees’,” he said.
Country ripe for breeding weaners
The Mulcahy’s product is unashamedly weaners.
“This is a breeding area, not a fattening one,” said Ian, waving an arm towards another volcanic plug four kilometres away. “It’s beast to an acre country.”
And yet, the Mulcahys - like other breeders on this creek, prefer to send their cattle away for fattening; banking their annual cash flow with predictable regularity.
The family take their cattle to Warwick, which is closer than Casino and already on the Downs – although the road is bad. They also sell at the Stanthorpe sales in autumn.
There is a 12 week window when weaning, as with calving, and the Mulcahys find the month of special store sales in autumn allows them to market most of their production during that time.
However Cameron’s aim is to keep tightening that line of black calves. “We had a hard cull this year,” he said explaining that late calvers and their progeny went first. “And we took the bulls out early to reduce a late drop. There’s more money in lines.”