Program continues tradition

Tradition continues with Tocal College beef program

Smart Farmer News
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Tocal College beef has enjoyed a long and colourful history.

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OLD AND THE NEW: Tocal College has a rich history including the current beef program, a new hydraulic crush and a bull circa 1910.

OLD AND THE NEW: Tocal College has a rich history including the current beef program, a new hydraulic crush and a bull circa 1910.

James Phillips Webber was granted Tocal in January 1822, nearly 200 years ago when he was just 24 years old.

He was an innovator and worked hard to accumulate wealth and to provide a sound base for Tocal into the future, and it grew fast.

When he sold Tocal to Caleb and Felix Wilson, 12 short years later in 1834, there were 600 head of cattle on Tocal.

Cattle were part of the scenery at Tocal as soon as European settlement began.

The beef cattle at Tocal were important for Webber and the colony, but it was the Reynolds family that really put it on the map.

Charles Reynolds was born in Devon, England in 1806 and came to Tocal in 1844.

After spending a considerable amount of time and effort breeding stud horses and cattle, he met an untimely death, falling from a horse on Robinson's Hill in 1871.

Charles' widow Frances and son Frank, assisted by members of the Kidd family, took over the stud and Tocal's Hereford cattle became renowned throughout Australia with many Royal Sydney Show winners such as Minerva, Champion Hereford cow 1909, 1912 and 1913 and Twyford Hero, Champion Hereford Bull 1920-25.

The formation of the Australian Hereford Society can in large part be attributed to the work of Frank Reynolds.

When Charles Boyd Alexander arrived at Tocal in 1926, a real change came over the cattle enterprises.

Mr Alexander wanted a lean operation, immediately dismissing all staff except for Daly Kidd.

He wasn't passionate about cattle breeding like his predecessors, although he did like to display prize winning bulls in the front paddock along Tocal Road.

Mr Alexander used cattle as a way of making money from the farm and in good seasons he often bought in large mobs of poor cattle from as far as Queensland.

They would be brought down by train to Paterson herded to Tocal, and turned out into the back paddocks.

When fat, they were brought in and sold.

Mr Alexander died in 1947 and there was an 18 year gap while the estate marked time. But the cattle remained.

When Tocal College was formed on Foundation Day 1965, there was a mixed bag of around 800 cattle at Tocal and so began the hard work of building a commercial herd that would support a training program.

As Beef Cattle lecturer from 1965 to 1968, Bruce Urquhart managed the Herefords as a commercial herd and his guidance continued in his role as farm manager until 1985.

Between 1996 and 1998, under new management, Tocal began the shift to the Brangus breed.

The change certainly didn't go through without a struggle as it meant consigning our long association with Herefords to the pages of history.

Tocal is now operating with around 300 Brangus breeding cows split between autumn and spring calving herds to ensure students see the full life cycle of the breeding program.

Mal Burke has been Beef Manager since 2006 and along with livestock assistants Elyse Parker, Paul Young and Georgia Neilson, they have made sure that this enterprise continues to grow and get stronger each year.

Also worthy of mention is Bruce West, Beef Cattle lecturer now retired, for his work guiding the training program.

In July 2020, a five year beef multi breed research program will officially begin.

This is known as Supergenomics and is a $7m project funded by Meat and Livestock Australia with significant support from NSW DPI, UNE Armidale and the Australian Genetics and Breeding Unit.

The project will involve up to 2000 breeding cows from six breeds - Hereford, Shorthorn, Angus, Charolais, Brahman and Wagyu - operated across five DPI sites including Glen Innes, Grafton, Trangie, EMAI and Tocal.

Currently at Tocal we have started setting up with 105 Shorthorn cows and 101 Angus cows, with 100 Charolais to come.

These cows are now in a breeding program to calve next year and then enter the project officially from 1st July.

The beef industry in Australia cannot compare Estimated Breeding Values (EBV's) for animals from different breeds.

This project will record data for a large number of traits over five years from animals born and grown under the same environmental conditions.

Tocal is now gearing up for this project and while it's not without challenges, there is a sense that it will offer some very exciting opportunities for Tocal College, its students, industry partners and staff.

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