There’s a lot of hard work, forward thinking and planning involved in running a successful business, regardless of the industry you’re working in.
The Turnham family, Eric, Helen, Laiton and Kayla, have brought their cattle operation into the 21st Century … they breed the magnificent Speckle Park cattle, and much of their work focuses on improving genetics and the production and sale of embryos. Laiton is a true entrepreneur … he shares with us some of the processes involved in the Turnham family business.
What’s your association with the New England area, and how did you come to live and work on the land?
I was born in Armidale and have lived and worked here all my life. I was born into a farming family, and I just love to work outside. I worked on the family farm as a kid with my brother, sister and cousins, bought my first cows when I was in high school, and it grew from there.
Who’s involved with your cattle operation?
Our Speckle Park cattle operation is still a family run business today, with my father (Eric Turnham) and I doing most of the day to day running of the farm. Mum (Helen Turnham) does the bookwork, and my wife, Kayla, helps with the web page and advertising. More family help out at sale time and travel from as far as Mt Isa and Melbourne to help for that week or two.
We also have some casual employees and contractors help out at other busy times of the year, with embryos, vets and some tractor work etc.
What can you tell us about the Speckle Park breed of cattle?
Speckle Park is a British meat breed originating from Saskatchewan in Canada. They can come in a variety of colours, including speckle black and white leopard, white with black points (ears, nose, feet etc.) and solid black.
Why did you decide to breed and work with this particular type of cattle?
My first cows were Angus, but I was not able to make a return from them, as the market was flooded with Angus genetics – so, I started to look for another breed. When I found Speckle Park cattle in 2007, they had won seven out of the last 10 years at the Calgary Stampede, in the carcass competition, in Canada. I thought to myself that any breed could win something once, but not many could do it that consistently – so they had to be good!
I started to do some more research into the breed and found out their meat quality is outstanding; you can also get the end product much faster than from a Wagyu, as they perform really well on grass, but are a stand out in feed-lotting.
You’ve put a lot of work into your cattle breeding program at Waratah. How many head of stock do you run, and what do you do to help ensure a strong genetic base for your herd?
We run approx. 250 cows and their progeny, but we also do a lot of embryo work, so we get more pure bred calves as well.
I travel to Canada every second year to look at new genetics and also to see what others have been breeding. In the last few years we have brought in more embryos from Canada to introduce some more cow families to our herd, as well as buying several bulls over there and bringing their semen back to Australia to do artificial insemination and embryo work.
We try to look at what other breeders are breeding here in Australia, and we’ve also had a look in England at their genetics.
Your cattle operation differs from many others, as embryo production and sales is a significant part of your business. For the layman, what’s involved with this process?
When both embryos and semen are produced, the processes involved depend on whether they are for domestic use or sale, or for export. If they are staying in the country, all work can be done locally on the farm. Donor cows are injected with hormones – the same as with IVF in humans.
Once they are in season, we artificially inseminate the donor cows with semen, then wait seven days. On day seven, embryos are flushed out of the donor cow, sorted and graded, then they can be implanted in the prepared recipient cows, or they can be frozen for future use. Once the embryos are stored, they have to be kept in liquid nitrogen.
It is a similar process for export, but there is more protocol to follow, depending on the importing country’s requirements, and the process is done in an Aqis Approved Facility. To send embryos overseas or to a new buyer, they must be stored and shipped in approved liquid nitrogen tanks.
What are your goals/plans for the rest of this year?
The goals for this year include promoting our sale of bulls, females and genetics, getting next year’s embryos made and implanted into recipient cows, and to survive the drought and pray for rain.
Where can we find out more info about your business?
We have a Facebook page: Waratah Speckle Park Stud and also a web page: www.waratahspecklepark.com
Interview: Jo Robinson.