AuctionsPlus, 6 December, 2019
Rob and Angela Perkins on farm at Narweena Station near Hamilton, South-Western Victoria
Narweena Station manager Rob Perkins keeps an eye on weaner prices but says fluctuations during the year don’t really matter – the only price that counts is on sale day each September and January.
Rob and his wife Angela run a split calving herd of about 900 breeders, mainly Angus, with some Hereford-Shorthorns and Charolais-Angus cows on 1100ha near Woodhouse, east of Hamilton, in the Western District region of Victoria.
As part of their risk management strategy, they sell about 200 weaners on the first Friday in September and another 500 on the last Friday in January.
This allows them to maintain a high stocking rate without damaging the permanent pastures, while also producing hay and Italian ryegrass for silage.
“I can’t wean them early to sell them earlier (than January), because I haven’t got any paddocks to put the calves in,” Rob said. “I’ve got to cut the hay and get the hay off before I’ve got paddocks to wean calves onto.”
It’s a juggling act, but one that’s worked to their advantage.
“Prices have been quite good for the last couple of years,” Rob said. “The steers and heifers sold in September – I was quite pleased actually. They made 305c/kg for steers and 289c/kg for the heifers and the overall average was over $1000. It was more than I was expecting because they had a tough autumn down here and they weren’t as big as they normally are.”
Most of the calves are sired by paddock bulls bought from Mt William Charolais, at Willaura, about 50km from Narweena.
As a European Union-accredited producer, Rob finds it almost impossible to buy good EU heifers, but concedes “nobody sells their best anyway, do they?”. So, he breeds his own replacements, using semen from top Angus bulls. This year’s sire of choice is Millah Murrah Klooney.
After two “pretty ordinary” years and a late autumn break, Rob is relishing the return to typical spring conditions.
“Last year we started feeding cows in December and didn’t finish until the end of August,” he said. “We had to put out 80 bales a week right through, of hay or silage. It was very tough.”
He’s now gearing up to yard wean the next batch of calves in early December, get them used to being handled and prepare them for sale through AuctionsPlus on January 31.
Elders Pakenham branch manager Peter Rollason, who manages the southern zone for AuctionsPlus, introduced Rob to the concept of online selling a decade ago.
Rob and Angela began managing Narweena in 2007, on behalf of a family trust set up by Rob’s second cousin, George Crocombe. George, now in his late 80s, has retired to live in Melbourne but still takes a keen interest in the farm.
“We were thinking of having an on-farm sale, but it seemed an expensive way of doing it,” Rob said. “Then (Peter) mentioned AuctionsPlus to us and we haven’t looked back. It’s so much better for the cattle.”
Peter said online selling offered several advantages for Narweena. As well as the animal welfare benefits, it reduced transport costs, offered vendors the option of setting a reserve price and ensured all potential buyers – whether repeat or first timers – “a fair go at them”.
Narweena was among the first in Victoria to sell its entire drop on AuctionsPlus, after testing the waters in 2009. Rob later chose to switch from a Narweena-only sale to listing their weaners in the regular Friday weaner sale to give even more potential buyers the opportunity to see and bid on the cattle.
Elders Hamilton livestock agent Aaron Malseed will work with Rob during the assessment phase which kicks-off about 10 days before the sale. The weaners will be weighed, drafted into lots within a 30-40kg weight range, assessed and condition-scored by Aaron, photographed and videoed.
Thanks to the ripper season, Aaron said there was no doubt the weaners would grow well between now and sale day, but it was too early to speculate on what prices might do.
Given the abundance of feed available in the region, he suggested feedlots might find extra competition from locals seeking to take advantage of the opportunity to buy a few cattle and turn them over.
In previous years, the Narweena weaners have been snapped-up by buyers from Tasmania, King Island, across Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.
Rob said there were several regular buyers, including Princess Royal Station, of Burra, South Australia, but not all of them came back every year.
“It depends on who’s having a good season,” he said.
Q&A with Rob Perkins, Narweena Station, Woodhouse, Victoria
Rob Perkins living his personal motto ;)
Q. What keeps you up at night?
A. Nothing. (His wife, Angela, can vouch for that)
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Fly my drones. I fly them for fun and take photos and they’re quite useful for checking for water leaks and when there’s a cow calving, I can fly it out and check them.
Q. If you won the lottery, what would you do?
A. Farm until it’s all gone. (Angela warns he may have a fight on his hands there).
Q. What’s your personal motto?
A. Don’t worry.
Q. If you could be anywhere in the World, where would it be?
A. Thorn Farm at Lewdown, in West Devon, England, or Narweena or travelling between the two.
Note: Rob and Angela were forced to cull their dairy herd during the UK’s outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001. They travelled to Woodhouse to help Rob’s second cousin, George Crocombe, who owns Narweena Station, at calving each year until 2007 when they sold their farmland and moved permanently to Australia. Rob and Angela have kept the 300-year-old farmhouse and buildings, which are now occupied by a family member.
Q. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
A. 900 cows.