With loyalty and hard work, rewards will come at the right time.
The Downie family farm Hereford cattle on their property Kerrisdale, located in the western region of Victoria near Camperdown. Philip and Jenn, together with their son Kirk love working with their animals in the fresh air and enjoy the sense of achievement that comes with working with cattle, improving the farm and their environment.
The property is named after a local area in Vancouver, Canada where Jenn was born and raised before coming to Australia. The name ‘Kerrisdale’ also has the meaning which goes beyond the origin, to reveal that with loyalty and hard work, rewards will come at the right time.
The Downie family appreciate being their own boss’, while also having a supportive community around them and great neighbours who are more than willing to give advice and lend a hand when needed.
“The Provenir program looked really enticing.
We appreciated the welfare management, farmer-to-consumer relationship and carcass feedback aspects, as we are very proud of the animals we grow out and the farming system we have.” – Kirk Downie
Farm fast facts
250 Acres (100 hectares)
|How many cattle?|
We average around 150 head with approx. 50 breeders each year.
|Who works on the farm?|
Philip is the main operator on the farm with some assistance from our son Kirk (when he is freed up from his full time job) and a little bit of help from Jenn.
|Favourite beef meal?|
We love just about anything that is slow cooked to bring out maximum flavour… be it a flavoursome curry, a slow Tuscan braise, or Philip’s favourite a slow cooked Rolled Brisket Roast.
It is extremely difficult to get feedback on your animals from the mainstream processing system, especially if you are not a large producer, similarly with Breed brands. Provenir looked like an ideal fit for our size enterprise, plus the bonus of having control and involvement for the entire life of our cattle.
Why we farm
A rewarding and grounding experience.
Philip was raised on cattle stud properties and held a passion and interest in cattle throughout his life, but only came to full time farming in retirement. While Philip and Jenn got into farming through family connections in the industry, beef cattle are now a major part of their lives, they are passionate about their livestock and find the farming lifestyle very desirable.
The Downie family enjoy being at one with nature, with space and fresh air to breathe. To watch the animals grow and rear their calves and to raise magnificent bulls and steers in a sustainable environment is very rewarding and grounding.
Over the years the family have created shelter belts of native trees, through planting the smallest of seedlings and watching them grow into majestic trees, providing refuge for wildlife and shelter from the weather for their cattle. The lifestyle and environment that surrounds them has provides a fantastic learning experience for their children, and city friends too.
“There is nothing better than to do a hard day’s work on the farm and follow it up with a wonderful meal of good food and wine, as a justified reward.” – Jenn Downie
Fourth generation beef cattle farmers.
The Downie family are fourth generation beef cattle farmers in Australia. Philip’s grandfather and father both immigrated from Scotland to work as Stud Managers on Beef Stud properties in South West Victoria, raising champion bulls. Philip’s mother lived on a small farm and when a nearby property came up for sale at an opportune time, Jenn and Philip were provided a natural step into farming during their semi-retirement.
The Kerrisdale property was part of an original large “run”, settled over 150 years ago. In the early 1900s parts were subdivided into 40 acre blocks which each supported a family. Later the farms were re-amalgamated into several hundred acres and ran as a dairy farm for many years.
The family have named each of the paddocks on Kerrisdale after people and places from local history. The old Naroghid cricket pitch is in one of their paddocks, now aptly name Cricket, with Fine Leg Right behind it. Another paddock is named in honour of a previous owner, who held the property for several generations, as well as another for a long standing neighbour.
The Downie family purchased the farm, which was quite run down, in 2002 and leased it for about 6 years. Throughout this time they worked on improvements including in watering points, new fencing and began planting native plantations which comprised a mixture of species suited to the area.
Philip became a builder’s labourer during the construction of the family’s new home, which was designed to be as environmentally sound as possible with double glazed windows, lots of insulation plus solar hot water and electricity. Jenn and Kirk moved from Melbourne to take up residence on Kerrisdale with Philip in 2008.
“Working with Provenir means processing the animals in the lowest stress environment possible, transforming a high quality animal into a high quality product all whilst being sustainable and efficient.”
– Kirk Downie
Hereford cattle with Australian bloodlines.
The Downie family breed horned Hereford cattle, running about 50 breeders and calves, 48 steers and heifers, together with two rising bulls, and four commercial stud bulls for their own breeding program.
The cattle herd originates primarily from South Boorook cattle with some Melville Park genetics as well as other purchased stud bulls from around the country. Hereford are an English breed of cattle, however they are actually now classified as a rare breed in England, with the Herefords that have been reintroduced to England from North America genetically different to the original breed. The Downie family have tried as much as possible to only breed cattle with Australian bloodlines, originally from England.
Aside from the family involvement in the breed for many generations, Jenn and Philip choose to farm Herefords as they are typically quiet animals with good temperaments. Further, the Hereford cattle are good for weight gain and have a good shape, having processed some for their own personal consumption the family know that the eating quality is great too. They also appreciate the aesthetics of the Hereford cattle with their striking red and white markings, and find it them especially pleasing when set against the green grass of a good season.
The Downie family use data recording such as pedigree in their breeding program, and with the herd being stud cattle, they can trace the genetics back over many generations. The animals are all weighed at a similar age to give a measure of improvement over time, while this measurement can be confounded by environmental factors and seasons it does allow comparison within a cohort.
Low Stress Stockhandling and working with the cattle on foot.
Low stress stock handling is a major priority for the Downie family as they believe it results in a better animal welfare and ultimately a better product. Cattle are checked upon and mustered on foot, using the assistance of two kelpies who are trained ‘eye dogs’, meaning that they move the cattle with their gaze and stance, creeping in towards the cattle when required, without any barking or biting.
Working with the cattle on foot rather than with vehicles assists to keep the cattle calm and allows Philip, Jenn and Kirk to observe their environment and be surrounded by nature each day.
At weaning the calves are kept close to the yards, over four consecutive days each calf is run through the yards, caught in the crush and combed. This process provides the calves familiarity with the yard flow and reassures them that being handled is not threatening. It also has the great benefit of having them relaxed and comfortable moving through the yards if they do need to undergo any treatments, or for weighing in the future. A pour on drench is applied at weaning and further treatments are only used if the animals are displaying parasite issues.
The Downie family currently breed about 50 cows per year, selling the steers at around 18-24 months old, dependant on weight, prices and seasonal conditions. They keep around 15 of the best heifers to introduce into the breeding herd and cull out old or underperforming cows. They use their own bulls over the heifer contingent and purchased stud bulls over the cows. Calving typically starts in March and goes for nine weeks, although the majority calve in the first six weeks.
When they purchase bulls, the Downie family look for good 200 day growth, a relatively low birth weight, for calving ease, good body scan results which reveal eye muscle area, and fat. They also look through the bloodlines to ensure that the bulls have produce good animals through the family. The Downie family prefer to use real data rather than Estimated Breeding Values, this is particularly important for fat coverage as bulls within a cohort can have very different fat depths, and this provides a clear indication of how long the cattle will take to fatten on grass.
Observation and adapting to a changing climate.
Settling at Kerrisdale, the Downie family soon recognised that the traditional grasses, used by many of the dairy farms in the region, were not preforming well over the hotter summers. They adopted the use of grasses typically grown further north, however with the effects of climate change they felt there would be a place for these grasses in their region. Their experience has proven the theory correct, with the new grasses lasting longer and being quite productive.
Perennial rye grass and different varieties of sub clover are the primary pastures on Kerrisdale. Plantings of fescue and cocksfoot have proven better persistence over the hotter summers, and the grasses also have more, and deeper roots, which helps to prevent pugging during winter and also in adding carbon to the soil.
Fertiliser is applied across most paddocks every year and cultivation helps to prevent soil compaction, as well as quickening the breakdown of old plants to allow them to enter the soil profile more efficiently as organic matter. Sub clover species are utilised to help introduce nitrogen back into the soil. Glyphosate is used on paddocks prior to renovation, to ensure removal of troublesome grass such as Bent Grass, which is very difficult to control and has no nutritional value, whilst creating a mat limiting other pasture species. Around half of the land has never had glyphosate applied, the other half would have seen it applied once in five years.
The pastures on Kerrisdale were very run down when the Downie family first arrived. Improvements to pasture have seen the herd grow from an original 13 breeding cows to 50 breeding cows. Overstocking is prevented by splitting the herd and utilising a rotational grazing system. Depending on the season, pasture hay and silage are cut from the paddocks and with the improvements to pastures the need for herbicides has greatly decreased.
South-west Victoria typically has very wet winters, which can result in some pugging in paddocks if they are overstocked during these times, they experience some frosts and the summer month of January and February are usually very dry. Both summer and winter can be a times of low feed. Calving on Kerrisdale happens in March, and the low feed in summer helps keep the calves smaller for ease of calving.
The properties in south-west Victoria are renowned for their cypress pine plantations providing very effective shelter belts for cattle. The Downie family, however, have been rewarded by their efforts in renewing plantations with native species of trees and bushes, which have attracted birds and wildlife to the property. The new plantations have also grown to provide shade and protection for both the cattle and the pastures, and also beautify the landscape.
Dams and creeks have also been fenced off and planted with native trees and the family have seen the return of native wildlife in abundance to Kerrisdale, in particular native bird life.
“We are always learning about the way the topography and soil profiles of different paddocks are impacting our grazing and pasture systems, and are adjusting our management accordingly.” Philip Downie