A spread of grazing properties and marketing options provides increased flexibility for Colin and Jill Greenfield, Billa Kalina Station, particularly during dry times.
Along with their three children, Laura, Anna and Bridie, the pair take care of the 5000-square kilometre parcel of land, which is north-west of Roxby Downs, along with neighbouring 2000sqkm Millers Creek Station and Pernatty Station, which is 2200sqkm in size and located between Woomera and Port Augusta.
The Greenfield family also bought 2500-hectare property Broughton Downs, south of Port Pirie, about 15 years ago, and this has become an integral part of their livestock operation.
“Having an inside block in the Mid North provides a depot for our cattle and sheep and has given us a lot more flexibility,” Mr Greenfield said.
“Typically when it comes in dry, pastoralists dump everything at the saleyards and hope for the best, but having a spread of properties has enabled us to better market our stock and eliminated the need to sell the tail at low prices.”
With only nine millimetres of rain falling since December last year, it has been a long, dry summer at Billa Kalina, which relies on surface water for livestock. The average rainfall is about 145mm.
“We did have handy rains in January and April last year so the cattle and sheep were in good order up until November,” he said.
“A lot of our dams haven’t had enough rain to run water since April last year so most of the smaller dams have gone dry or are about to, so we have had to offload a lot of females.”
In an average year the Greenfields would run 4000 cattle across Billa Kalina and with the Dog Fence acting as the boundary between the two properties, Millers Creek stocks 11,000 Dorpers and 250 cattle. A further 11,000 Dorpers and 500 cattle are run at Pernatty.
Since the mid-1990s, Billa Kalina has been home to a pure Shorthorn herd, with the Greenfields preferring the breed for its mothering ability, fertility and increased meat marbling.
Bulls are sourced from studs throughout SA, with the Greenfields focused on traits such as fat cover, low birthweight, and 400-day growth rates. Structural soundness, including walking ability, and temperament is also vital.
“We target bulls which lay down fat a bit earlier, we don’t want bulls that are too lean as you never know what the growing season will be like,” he said.
“When I am buying bulls, I like to put them in a yard and walk around with them, they need to be very mobile and quiet.”
Because of the unpredictable seasons, bulls are run with the herd year-round, with the main calving generally in April/May and September/October.
In dry times, the calves will be sold as weaners but in an average or good season, the steers will be kept through to heavy feeders, typically 450 kilograms to 500kg.
Alternatively, they may be sold over the hooks at more than 550kg to Teys Australia or Thomas Foods International.
The Greenfield family properties are certified organic through the NationaI Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia as well as being Grassland and European Union-accredited which means they can obtain a premium for their cattle, depending on which specifications they meet. In a dry year, cows are marketed to HW Greenham & Sons at Echuca, Vic, which carries out an organic kill.
In recent times, they have also enjoyed premiums as a certified supplier through the Shorthorn Society’s Thousand Guineas beef marketing initiative with JBS Australia.
“The most recent prices we got through the Thousand Guineas program was $3.10/kg which is a premium on what we can get locally, even with the freight taken out,” he said.
“We think it is vital to be able to access a range of marketing options if you are are running a beef operation in the pastoral country.”
Improvements in infrastructure, such as yards and roads, also play a significant role. Having 25 sets of trucking yards on Billa Kalina alone ensures cattle can be mustered quickly and weaners removed as required when the season gets dry.
“There is no place on Billa Kalina that the stock have more than half a day’s walk to a trucking yard,” he said.
“This gives us more flexibility and means we don’t need to plan a muster six months ahead and have 20 people on-hand to do it, we can go out with two to three people, put them in the yards and pull the weaners off quickly.”
The Greenfield family have also utilised camera technology, which means tanks and troughs can be monitored remotely, improving staff management and time efficiency. Billa Kalina has a permanent staff of three to four people, while contractors are employed for dam cleaning, yard building and fencing.
The Greenfields use water management, turning bores and troughs on or off, to control grazing. They have chosen not to fence the properties into smaller paddocks to enable the cattle to go where the feed is after rains and storms.
“As a lot of our country is dams, we need the flexibility of larger paddocks.
“In good years we will use the main dams and permanent waters as little as possible to reserve them for drier times.”
They have run White Dorper sheep for more than 10 years and have been pleased with how the breed has handled the variable rainfall.
Rams are sourced from Saltbush Dorper at Quorn and run with the ewes all the time. Mustering occurs three times a year, with lambs trucked to Broughton Downs before being sold.