Three enterprises make up the modern and diverse operation of South Killanoola, located south of Naracoorte, SA. From the people they involve in the operation, to the breeding objectives they set, land management practices and family succession, South Killanoola provides a practical example of a large-scale operation putting management practices in to place to ensure they have a viable future.
Owned and operated by CC Seymour& Co, the Seymour family have had the holding of the land that South Killanoola resides on since 1847.
Current principles Robert and Digby Seymour continue the generational progression of the operation and run the business alongside Manager Dean Eastwood, and his wife Jenny, who heads the business administration and compliance for the operation.
With their team, South Killanoola runs three enterprises interchangeably across approximately 3,000 hectares. The three enterprises are made up of a cropping business of wheat, beans, canola, and small seeds production run over 800 hectares, a beef business of over 900 cows and a sheep operation of approximately 7,600 composite ewes. South Killanoola is also home to Australia’s oldest registered Hampshire Downs sheep stud.
“We are unashamedly a protein-based business and that’s where we see our future,” said Manager Dean Eastwood. “We’re not wool producers, as it’s just a byproduct that we deal with but we’re about producing meat.”
On the diversity of their business model however, having the benefit of the three operations means that risk can be reduced when there are areas of unproductiveness in one of enterprises.
“In 2017 we had a very wet winter and we lost 250 hectares of effective grazing area and 200 hectares of crop,” said Mr Eastwood. “By being in three different operations we’re reducing our risk and that’s a really good example of when we lost a lot of crops, it was okay because we also had other operations that could support that cropping operation.”
To achieve the best from their operations, CC Seymour & Co places an emphasis of employing specialised personnel to enhance their operations.
Highlighting this philosophy is Digby Seymour, who returned to the South Killanoola operation after a career in aviation, which saw him based off the property.
“For me coming in from an outside profession to come back onto the farm I can identify skills. I know that I can’t compete with someone who’s been working full-time as a manager and it’s just good business to have the best person doing the best job,” he said.
An example of this specialised business acumen is the employment of a private agronomist, a sheep advisor, a cattle advisor and vet and an accountant who assists the team in decision making relating to their various areas of enterprise.
“Our job is to take on board their advice and use it where we think it can work within our business,” said Mr Eastwood.
“At the end of the day they’re the advisors and we’re the managers of the business.”
“I then ask Jenny every year to give me a report for what every one of those individual advisors has cost for the year and just make some decisions as to whether I think they’ve given us a fair return on investment.”
South Killanoola is made up of a Phalaris and Sub-Clover based pasture. The pastures are on a rotation that also utilises Brassica crops and annual rye grasses.
The cattle side of the business is made up of a combination of Angus and Hereford genetics. Historically a Hereford herd, the cattle enterprise is now predominately Angus and is made up of purebred Angus cows, black baldy cows and Hereford cows.
“We have over 600 black cows and why we have chosen Angus is a combination of market access, which is probably the biggest one at the moment, and better returns,” said Mr Eastwood.
Using an Artificial Insemination program (AI) the team join in May for a mid-February six week calving period. The cow herd begins calving in March, again for the six-week period.
With this program, heifers are due each year to calve down a month before their cow counterparts.
“Initially we did it as a labour saving as we thought that by condensing the calving we could save time in checking heifers,” said Dean Eastwood. “It probably hasn’t worked out that way as with using shorter gestation length bulls our heifers start calving about ten days ahead of their start date anyway, but we’ve kept it going because it just gives a heifer more opportunity to get back in calf.”
He continued, “We’re putting better genetics into the herd we can actually manipulate food a bit better, as we know we’ve got X number of heifers calving very early and then we’ll have a break until the next batch.”
When selecting bulls for use in their AI program, based on Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) CC Seymour & Co seeks bulls that are in the top 10% for 400-day weight, 600-day weight, are low birth weight, and have negative gestation length figures. Mr Eastwood noted that on occasion, bull progeny produced from the AI program are retained by the team and later utilised as sires in small portions of the herd.
For the bulls utilised in their cow herd joinings, the company looks for bulls that are in the top 20% for 400-day weight, are breed average for 600-day weight, breed average for milk, have positive EBVs for rib and rump fat and are breed average for Intermuscular Fat (IMF), capping their birthweight figures at 5 – 5.5. Additional to their EBVs, the team ensures that the bull is structurally correct before making selection decisions.
“We’re looking for bulls that have got good feet, good temperament, they are balanced in shape, they are athletic, and they are soft skinned,” said Mr Eastwood.
“I was once given advice from an Angus breeder that you really should select bulls with maternal traits as a priority over traits that are directly effective to the profitability of your steers, otherwise you could end up with a herd of cows looking like a mob of steers,” said Mr Eastwood, “We hold that pretty true still today in how we look at our traits for our females and how we manage the whole operation.”
“Something that is probably slightly controversial is that we test all our bulls for semen morphology, and we will cull bulls that fail two tests on a vet’s recommendation.”
South Killanoola breeds with the objective of producing a moderate framed cow, that gets back in calf each year, doesn’t require excessive feed and ideally producers a 280kg+ weaner.
The enterprise retains 90 – 95% of the heifers produced, under the philosophy that the tail end of the drafts each year will be determined at joining. Furthermore, Mr Eastwood highlights that through retaining the majority of their heifers each year, they have the privilege of option in numbers, come stocking new land acquisitions or if there is the desire to build the herd.
At calving, animals that are not rearing a calf or failed to produce a calf are culled from the mob.
Producing weaners for sale, the enterprise typically sells the majority of their weaner calves from November through to January.
In the mix of the businesses, parts of the cropping enterprise are utilized as fodder for grazing from January to June, before locking them up and taking them through to harvest as a grain crop.
On top of the existing diversity of the business, CC Seymour & Co also have a Dung Beetle program, with which they have seen benefits of the beetles in the natural soils of the property, and in the effect of worms, assisting them in reduced costs relating to the drenching of their stock.
Environmentally, South Killanoola has been challenged by factors that have led to the continued development of the business. With four different soil types across the property, Mr Eastwood identifies that the threat posed by black cracking clays over limestone has challenged them and has led to cropping being utilized in those areas. Furthermore, as touched on earlier, high rainfall in the area has provided areas of loss for the business, particularly through their cropping business.
Within their company, Mr Eastwood identifies that staffing the operations has been an ongoing challenge for the business, and the team emphasises the value that they place on finding staff that may not necessarily have a developed pre-exposure to the industry, however, display a willingness and ready attitude to learn and grow.
Looking to the future, the team at CC Seymour & Co are working consciously to develop their business to be a more efficient and sustainable model through continued expansion.
“Planning towards 2030, we’re preparing for a carbon market and where that’s going to take us and how that will affect our business,” said Mr Eastwood. “We’ll continue to improve our facilities to both retain and attract staff, obviously comply with our OHS requirements and also meet our animal welfare requirements.”
“We will continue our pasture renovation program; this is allowing us to increase our stocking rate and not have such a reliance on supplementary fodder as animals always do best on grass. It also allows to grow the business without having to obtain extra capital to purchase more land.”
He continued, “Over the last six years we’ve added approximately 570 hectares to South Killanoola, so paying down and reducing debt for the Seymour’s is very important, and this is because if the opportunity of something coming along that we want to buy and grow again we’ve got the ability to do it.”
“We are also going to look to expand our irrigation and that’ll lower risk by either diversifying crops, providing more fodder for stock or right now we are looking at a different one which is hemp for fibre production.”
He concluded, “We by no means are doing everything well and properly but we are continually trying to improve and challenge ourselves. All involved with South Killanoola love agriculture, and this is what has made us successful up till now, and what will take us into the future.”
Watch Dean’s presentation at the Zoetis Angus National Conference here ‘How a modern farming enterprise operates’
Cheyne Twist, Senior Marketing and Communications Officer