AFTER close to 50 years of running a dairy herd, a Riverton farming enterprise is heading in a different direction with the farmers loving the lifestyle change.
In December last year, Bruce and Karen Slape did their final milking and are well into establishing a full Speckle Park beef herd and a paddock-to-plate brand in the Clare Valley.
Mr Slape had been dairyfarming and cropping at Riverton for 49 years and the Slapes had a 250-head Holstein-Friesian herd, supplying the Woolworths' Farmers' Own milk brand.
While the Slapes said the decision to get out of dairying was a difficult one, it was the correct one from a lifestyle point of view.
"We got out while the going was good and had been building up the beef herd for two years prior to that in preparation," Mr Slape said.
The timing was impeccable, with their beef numbers built up and the beginnings of their Speckle Park beef herd bought before an explosion in cattle prices.
"We originally went into black Angus and Murray Greys," Mrs Slape said.
The first two Speckle Park females were bought from Ewyn Beef, Balhannah, and their first two bulls from Summerlea Speckle Park, Bagot Well.
"We've bought pure Speckles from breeders, flushed them, then undertook a program where we can build a Speckle Park beef herd quickly by putting embryos into the beef cattle we already had as recipient mums," Mrs Slape said.
The Slapes presently run 120 commercial Angus, Murray Grey and first-cross Speckle Park breeders.
They also have 24 pure Speckle Park cows, calves and bulls, with more on the way for what will be their stud side of the enterprise.
The herd graze on pastures and are fed hay, with grain available from the cropping side of the operation if seasonal conditions call for it.
"We pregnancy-tested 14 in calf to embryos recently," Mr Slape said.
"The other older cows and heifers are in calf again so there's another six there, so the pure herd should build up quickly."
The Slapes eventually plan to have a full Speckle Park and Speckle Park-cross stud and commercial operation.
The Slapes said they chose the Speckle Park breed because of their good fertility, early cycling and easy breeding, calving ease and maternal instincts, while their feed efficiency and growth rates, and their meat quality and marbling would result in consistently superior carcases.
"We also chose them because the breed originates from Canada and they can thrive in conditions ranging from minus 40 degrees to 40 degrees," Mr Slape said.
"They also have a high carcase dressed weight percentage."
AN important aspect of Bruce and Karen Slape's transition from dairyfarming to running beef cattle at Riverton has been establishing a strong brand with a paddock-to-plate ethos.
Trading under Clare Valley Speckle Park Beef, the couple have sold first-cross Speckle Park steers to feedlots and recently partnered with the award-winning Watervale Hotel to serve local beef.
The hotel has won multiple excellence awards for its restaurant and environmental practices and are renowned for sourcing local produce.
"They want to use the whole beast and are introducing it to their menu in December," Mr Slape said.
"It's important to us that our partners know our ethos and methods and exactly where the meat they serve comes from.
"The nose-to-tail approach is important to us as well and we're excited to partner with a local business and supply them with local product.
"For us paddock-to-plate food is all about ensuring every step our food takes between being in the ground or on-hoof, to the dining table, is carefully monitored to ensure it is processed sustainably and kept as fresh and unprocessed as possible.
"We're in a beautiful area of the state and know we can grow a sought-after product in a sustainable manner."
After many good years of service, the dairy shed has been converted and is utilised for under cover artificial insemination work, weighing, tagging and regular stock health checks.
The Slapes are more than comfortable with their new direction and say they don't miss the early morning milkings.
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