Ed Bradley admits that he didn’t have a ‘traditional’ path to be where he finds himself placed in the agricultural industry today, however looking at where he is in his career you could say that being immersed may be an understatement.

With a relation to the industry growing up through his mother’s family, who were farmers in the Central West of New South Wales, Ed had an interest that saw him spend time working for Twynam at Jemalong Station, Forbes, before completing a Diploma at Marcus Oldham and then a Bachelor of Commerce in Sydney while working in the Thoroughbred industry and as Meat Trader for Rivalea.

As many a story goes, Ed then met his now wife Bea Litchfield while they were both working in Sydney. Soon Ed followed her back to Cooma and since has progressed into the role of Sales and Marketing Manager within her family operation, Hazeldean.

Hazeldean is mixed farming business operation with its headquarters based at Cooma, in southern NSW. Hazeldean, which was founded in 1865, as an enterprise consisting of an Angus and Merino seedstock with sizable commercial herd and flock of both.

Within the core makeup of the company is the family relationship that forms Hazeldean. The Litchfield family have been developing and progressing not only their own operations, but also the Angus and Merino breeds for six generations.

Alongside thirteen full time staff members, Hazeldean is governed by Jim Litchfield in his role as Manager Director, with daughter Bea continuing the breeding and genetic improvements as Stud Manager and Ed assisting farm operations and acting as the Sales and Marketing Manager. The company also has an advisory board which provides advice and reflections to benefit the development of the business.

Prior to entering the Hazeldean business in 2017, Ed had worked for Rivalea, one of the largest pork businesses in Australia. Working in trading and sales there it was determined that Ed’s skills in the area would be of benefit to the Hazeldean business.

“I wasn’t too bad at sales, and it all worked in quite well transitioning to Hazeldean,” said Ed. “They had an opening for someone in sales and marketing – we agreed I would give it a go!”

Entering this new dynamic and role was a learning curve for Ed, who understands the special brief needed to work within a family run operation.

“I’ve definitely had a lot to learn in the whole stud game,” he said. “I came in pretty green, and I was baptised in the way Hazeldean likes to do seedstock, which probably was a real advantage for me and the business.”

“I suppose its both tough and easy to start new people without predispositions of how they like to do things, but it’s been a real learning curve for me! It’s very challenging but rewarding, also delicate because it’s more than just a job – it’s your whole life, family, our livelihood and heritage.”

And heritage is an important part of the Hazeldean story, with the business being at the forefront of early adoption of performance recording in the beef industry and the Angus breed. The late James Litchfield OAM, father to Jim and grandfather to Bea, was a figure head for the beginnings of what we know to be BREEDPLAN and the Trans Tasman Cattle Evaluation (TACE) today. The 1970s saw the emergence of the Angus Herd Improvement Group (AHIG) and its relevance to the Angus TACE as it is today. After its formation in 1966, the AHIG and all its assets were officially handed off to the society in 1970.

The same year the Angus Herd Improvement Scheme was formed by Chairperson Mr Litchfield alongside Gordon Munro of Booroomooka Angus, Bingara, NSW and Michael White of Belltrees, Scone, NSW.

It was at the 1970 beef industry conference held at the New England University, where a committee was appointed for a nationwide performance recording scheme. The committee had three sections, the first under Dr Arthur Rickards in the Agricultural Business Research Institute (ABRI), tasked to develop a data-recording system and compatible computer programming. Dr Keith Hammond headed the Animal Genetics and Breed Unit (AGBU) which reviewed the genetics underpinning the commercially significant traits that could be measured objectively in beef cattle and developed selection formulas.

Mr Litchfield was the chairman of the technical subcommittee whose role was to examine the practical aspects of applying on farm technology.

The National Beef Recording Scheme (NBRS) was established in 1972 and in 1973 the Beef Improvement Association of Australia developed the Beef Sire Evaluation Programme, with the first test of this program being for the Angus breed. In 1977, Angus Australia joined forces with the NBRS to develop the Angus Herd Improvement Register (AHIR).

At the time of the development of the AHIR in 1977, purebred Angus cattle made up 20% of the performance records in the NBRS database. National Angus Group BREEDPLAN was developed in the early 1980s as “an advanced genetic evaluation system that provides a genetic description of Angus cattle for a comprehensive range of traits.”

Angus BREEDPLAN allowed for a database that assisted seedstock producers to identify within their Angus cattle the superior and inferior traits of particular animals, which allowed for data to be provided to commercial producers to assist for the selection of their breeding programs.

By the early 1980s, according to a breed percentage basis, Angus breeders were the highest users of the Group BREEDPLAN. With this, the idea was put forward of an across herd BREEDPLAN analysis due to the active use of the same popular sires being used across many Angus herds. By 1993, 70% of Angus bulls at members sales were presented with Angus BREEDPLAN figures.

The farsightedness of pioneers like Mr Litchfield, who also championed similar progression within the sheep industry, that has allowed Angus to be placed at the forefront of genetic progression and performance.

Mr Litchfield, Bea’s grandfather, saw a lot of scope in the Angus breed and decided to launch into it and they already had a passion for objective measurement from the Merino stud business that was here.”

“These were then put into BREEDPLAN and generated estimated breeding values down the track.”

This progression and eventual genetic superiority, alongside the breed adaptability and versatility has seen the continuation of the Angus story at Hazeldean, near 90 years on from their initial adoption of the breed.

The Hazeldean operation is run over four properties in New South Wales, with two in the Monaro region and two near Adelong in the states Riverina region.

Cooma properties Hazeldean and Myalla are spread over 13,400 HA, with country made up of a mix of basalt and granite soils with minimal wooded areas and open plains of native grasses and improved. The Monaro properties have an annual rainfall of 520mm, falling predominantly in summer and feature trademark harsh winters.

The Adelong farms comprise 1930 HA and are usually receive yearly rainfall of 800mm.

The Hazeldean Angus herd is a spring calving herd. Each year, the operation artificially inseminates (AI) 2,500 females in their seedstock operation, including 950 heifers. Each female gets one round of fixed time AI, followed by two cycles with a backup bull. Heifers are joined as yearlings, typically when they have matured to minimum of 340kg.

The females in the commercial Angus herd are all naturally joined for a period of two cycles.

For the females in both the seedstock and commercial herds, fertility and the philosophy ‘of the cream rises to the top’ is key, with any females that fail to get in calf during the joining period culled from the herd.

“First you need a live calf, so fertility and calving ease – they’re the number ones. Heifers are classed and sorted, then if good enough are joined as yearlings once they get to around 340kg.”

“They need to have that calf unassisted, rear it, wean it well and then get in calf again the next spring with a calf on them. It’s once they get to that second pregnancy status and pass an independent structural assessment, they officially become a stud cow. They then get a freeze brand and stay with us.”

Additionally, an emphasis is put on temperament and structural correctness in their female herd, with animals culled accordingly if they are not achieving the desired benchmarks.

“Female herd temperament is a huge one that we’re pretty ruthless on at Hazeldean,” said Ed. “We take pride in how quiet they are, so we’re forever managing bloodlines and temperament.”

“Structure is the same deal. We objectively measure all our structure with independent assessors. That’s probably a core operation that every stud should be doing. Having independent structural assessments done on your herd objectively and having that data fed into the TACE analysis, especially as the structural EBVs grow, is important. Then growth and carcase have got to come along after that too, to make sure you have got that performance.”

He continued, “But it’s not all about numbers, they’ve also got to look the part! A nice thick and easy doing type of female that are going to be easy to look at and going to have attractive progeny. Long, impressive, tough and adaptable progeny with industry leading performance is just as it is in the stud business”.

With the female herd raising their progeny in the Cooma country, durability in their females is key. The environment is harsh and challenging through the cooler months. This highlights the importance of their ability to get going when the going is tough.

“The Monaro is pretty tough country. It’s a very long, hard winter,” said Ed.

“We push them pretty hard and that’s probably the part of the success of the business is that nothing gets too much special treatment. They’re stud cattle but run like commercials, big mobs, big paddocks, and they’ve kind of got to do it on their own.”

This management philosophy means that the cattle have a typical nutrition plan before, during and after joining, with a pre calving Selenium, B12, and 7 in 1 to assist with the mineral imbalance in the environment.

When explaining the breeding philosophies and management practices of the Hazeldean operations, Ed once again highlighted that due to the varied environments of their clients, the animals within their herd need to have the ability to handle themselves in the conditions they are being bred.

“Durability is a really hard thing to measure. Australia is generally a big, hot and dry place. It’s the stud systems that should have this pressure applied for find the animals that can excel without special treatment. Then, the cream rises to the top, and you keep selecting for those better ones that can handle it,” said Ed.

“Especially as Australia gets more variable, these cows have still got to rebreed, even when they’re skinny and pretty poor. We don’t give them too much special treatment, they’ve just got to do it by themselves under commercial conditions.”

“To us, it’s obvious why the business has been successful with a lot of commercial clients – because that’s how most commercial cattle farmers want to run their cattle too,” he said.

Hazeldean annually sells over 750 bulls through auctions and privately. The four sales are in New South Wales and Queensland. They have both seedstock and commercial clients, located all over the East Coast of Australia, from north Queensland and down to Tasmania, and South Australia too.

Hazeldean makes selection decisions and breed cattle that they believe are consistently pushing the genetic progress of their herd and in addition the operations of their clients and into the wider Angus breed.
“We’re all about genetic gain and breed average is only breed average. Breed average isn’t going to create a lot of genetic gain for us,” said Ed. “We strive to be industry leading in the four main pillars of fertility, calving ease, growth and carcase.”

“We want to continue to bend the curve in with profit driving traits and make actual genetic gain”.

He continued, “With objective measurement and quantitative genetics, the sky’s the limit. Finding a balance of all the traits with type and functionality is the hard part.”

“It’s hard to get the perfect mix, but you want to be trying to shoot for the top in all those areas and still have a good, functional animal that’ll get out and walk, be low maintenance and tough enough to go to any environment,” he said.

The 1,150 female commercial Angus operation at Hazeldean focuses on producing steers for feedlot, with an entry weight of 400kg. With an ongoing relationship with Rangers Valley Feedlot, the cattle go into a long fed program of 200-250 days to produce high carcase quality and marbling beef for restaurant grade export.

For both the seedstock and commercial operations, Ed’s role in the business supplies the important connect between vendor and client, with the business relying on the feedback of their clients to continue to growth and success for their herd.

“We keep up with all our clients to make sure they serviced well, then discuss with them upcoming requirements for bulls and rams,” said Ed.

When looking at their business and the challenges that the Hazeldean team face on the day to day, Ed identified external factors that he highlights that not only impact their operation, but their fellow producers across the agricultural industry.

“The cattle market has come off pretty hard, pretty quick, but that’s definitely been a challenge. Unfortunately, the sheep market is just as tough. So, instability of markets makes it a bit tricky – especially from a sales point of view.”

He continued, “Obviously, the last couple of years, bull demand has been feverish and it’s hard to meet that market. It’s three years to make a bull for us and you just can’t turn the bull tap on.”

“I think trying to manage supply and demand for our clients in the seedstock space is tough because you want to be able to cater and sell bulls to everyone when the phone rings and they need them.”

When looking at the future for Hazeldean, Ed speaks for his family when he highlights both short term and long-term goals that they have identified, which will hopefully be brought to fruition with the combination of the generations of the family at the helm of the business, which now includes Ed and Bea’s two young children.

“Jim has done a phenomenal job of running two studs. Not many people do two, especially not the scale that the Litchfield’s do.

“For the short term we’ve grown a lot the last couple of years, so we want to maintain that growth, maintain all our clients, and have genuine sustainability in the cattle game. Like I said, when people need bulls, they don’t get blown out of the water and can still come and get what they require at a fair price and repeat that.”

“For the long term, we would like to continue to have a happy workplace with a really good group of staff who enjoy their work, are happy and raising their families,” he said.

“For us as a family, we want to do that as well. You want to enjoy your work every day and look forward to bringing kids into the business one day if they want to. We want to be able to leave it in a better shape than it was and continue the legacy into the 7th generation and have the business in tip top shape if someone else wants to continue that in our little family.”

Fostering the Future with GenAngus

Ed was a member of the 2023 cohort of the GenAngus Future Leaders Program (GenAngus), which saw him take part in the three-day intensive workshop in May of 2023. The program is designed to equip young members of the beef industry in their new or existing beef enterprises with the skills, knowledge, and mindset required to excel in today’s dynamic and fast-paced agricultural industry.

“I applied for GenAngus because I thought it was a really generous program with plenty of scope. It’s not just a one-day workshop and a dinner, it was three very full days with a good, likeminded bunch of young people who are keen on the industry,” said Ed.

“I think it’s great that Angus Australia is working to foster younger people who are keen on staying in the industry, because a lot of it’s about are the friendships and networks who you can bounce ideas off.”

He continued, “If the industry and the breed want to grow fast and try and achieve as much as they can, that’ll have to be a group effort. It will come from everyone sharing ideas, genetics, resources and supporting each other in trying to do the best job that we can as a breed to stay at the top.”

When reflecting on the experience and the sessions that resonated with him the most, Ed highlighted those presenting outlooks on the future of the beef industry.

“Simon Quilty (of Global AgriTrends) highlighted a lot about global agricultural markets. With my background, it was really positive to be reminded that beef such a global market and you have got to keep your eye on the ball with what’s coming down the line. Keeping plenty of up to date and relevant information at your doorstep is important for decision making. It’s always moving fast and things don’t stay the same in ag for very long.”

When asked why he would encourage others to consider applying for the GenAngus Future Leaders Program in the future, Ed highlighted that the experience provides the opportunity to get off farm, be surrounded by likeminded people, and work to grow yourself for the betterment of your career.

“I think it’s a really good week of professional development. GenAngus makes you think about what you’re doing as a person in your work life, personal life, and career,” said Ed.

“I think a lot of young people in ag are so busy with their noses on the grindstone, trying to do as much as they can all the time. Professional development is valuable, so to have this stuff reiterated, I think
is really important to make you a better employee, employer and person”.

— Cheyne Twist, Senior Marketing and Communications Officer