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Bowen Pastoral Company
My name is Stephen Peake, and I live on ‘Bowen’ with my wife Jodi and sons Nick and Josh. ‘Bowen’ is a 2,000 hectare Hereford and Angus cattle stud, a family property that has been passed down through the generations. Being located in an area with a harsh winter, we purchased 700 hectares of land in a warmer area at Emerald Hill near Gunnedah, to help us out during the feed gap in winter seasons.
We use this other block of land to fatten and grow out our weaner cattle, which is done easily because of the oats in winter and subtropical grasses that grow in summer over there. We also use this block to grow different crops, including barley. We harvest these crops and bring it back over to ‘Bowen’ to feed the cattle during the cooler months or when grasses aren’t growing, or we store it for drought reserves.
We’ve made a lot of changes over the years, so we farm very differently to how my parents did. ‘Bowen’ used to be primarily a wool producing enterprise, with some Poll Hereford cattle (Poll meaning they don’t grow horns), but after the wool collapse I pestered father to get out of sheep and into Angus breeding. Back then we had a lot of set grazing, which hurt the land. But we’ve changed the way we operate and our land has thankfully recovered from that, in terms of groundcover and grass species. We have a lot better ground cover now and a lot more careful management strategies in place.
I’ve learnt to manage and understand the land by always watching and taking notice. I go to a lot of field days and keep up to date on what suits our climatic conditions – essentially learning how to maximise production from the rainfall we receive.
Rainfall and water are critical in this kind of business. We’ve got both dams (that collects run off water from rainfall) and bores (that draws water from underground streams). Over the last eight years we’ve restructured our watering system giving every single paddock access to clean bore water.
Feedlots are rather dominant in this area, and our own steers basically go to feedlots when they reach an ideal weight. We do fatten some cattle that go to the supermarket trade. However, our primary business is in the stud and our focus is to stay at the top end of the genetics. We market our bulls to every state in Australia, and to overseas as well. As far as comparing Australian cattle against the rest of the world, we’re equal too, if not better than a lot of countries. We’ve got cattle that will suit a harsh environment.
We were one of the first farmers to get involved in the National Beef Recording Scheme – known as ‘Breedplan’. Breedplan is a modern genetic evaluation system for beef cattle that allows you to identify, and breed cattle focusing on fertility, production and carcass traits . You can breed cattle that have good fertility, calving, weight gain, mothering ability, milking and so on. We at ‘Bowen’ do not reside to single trait selection but strive for multiple trait selection, and this has become an imperative part of our operation. To breed bulls that maximise our clients dollar return is our key objective.
We predominately grass feed at ‘Bowen’. I like it because to me, grass feeding is natural, and that’s what our cattle have to perform on out in the vast areas of Australia. There is nothing better than seeing happy relaxed cattle chewing their cud lying in the shade of trees. I hope to leave this property in better condition than what I inherited it. I want to have better ground cover, good water sources set up for the cattle, and fodder reserves for dry times.