“My parents bought a farm at Wilton near Picton NSW in the late 1950’s. Originally my father, Harry Hoare, and his manager decided to breed commercial Aberdeen Angus but Herefords were much easier to obtain so that is what we bred. All went pretty well until we bought a lovely line of 12 unjoined heifers in the 1960’s at which time I was doing my Veterinary Science degree. These heifers calved one November with disastrous results – I was in the middle of my annual examinations, away from the farm and unable to help. I think all of the heifers had calving difficulties. Seven calves died and we had to cull 5 of the heifers following calving paralysis, caesareans, embryotomies and infertility.
In hindsight we had a bull with big shoulders, it was a good season, and the heifers calved late and in fat condition. These factors produced massive calves and a predictable outcome.
While our Herefords were pretty quiet there were some other problems. Some of the cows were not great milkers and we had a couple of eye cancer cases. (In those days Herefords rarely had pigment around the eye.) To reduce the risk of dystocia I bought a stud Angus bull. The bull had been halter broken and shown but he was a cranky animal. Early days I put a halter on him for some reason and tied him up. He would swing around and try to kick. Stand near his shoulder and he tried to kick with a front foot! One year he went down with Ephemeral Fever. I brought him a bucket of water and a low bowl for him to drink out of. He could not stand but charged me on his knees and knocked the bucket over. I brought another bucket and he did the same again. I told him to get better on his own.
But to give the Angus bull his due, we had no more calving problems. The calves were small and were born easily – many of the calves were no bigger than my black kelpie dog. But the Angus calves introduced another series of problems. They were much flightier than our Herefords and they could KICK! Yarding the herd became very much more difficult. We used to get the whole family and some friends down on the weekends that we wanted to yard the cattle. Handling the cattle was not a pleasant experience and frayed tempers were not uncommon. Marking calves became a very risky business. Xylazine (Rompun) had just come on the market and one year, when we left marking a bit late, I sedated a race full of Angus bull calves so that I could castrate them with minimal risk. Unfortunately I had a calf with his head in the head bail and he drowned in his own saliva before I realised what was happening. That is a risk with xylazine and one learns by experience.
We bought some Angus and Angus cross females and in a few years the herd was predominantly black. The Angus heifers were coming of breeding age and a change of bull was required. My then father-in-law suggested that we swap bulls – our Angus for his commercial Murray Grey. At that stage I did not know much about Murray Greys but the first grey calves had me convinced. They had all the advantages of Angus – easy calving, good milkers, great carcase, no cancer eye but they were quiet and did not kick. In 40 years of marking our Murray Grey calves I have not been kicked once.
In 1972 my wife and I bought the old Hordern property, Wilton Park, with its magnificent stables which we set about restoring.
In 1975 it became time for a new bull. There was a Murray Grey sale at Moss Vale but it unfortunately clashed with a Saturday game of cricket. My ex-wife, who had a keen eye, said that she would go to the sale to purchase a bull When I got home from cricket there were 4 stud cows with calves in the yards. “Where is the bull?” I asked. “By the time the bulls came up I had run out of money!” was the reply.
The purchase of a stud bull followed shortly after and the Wilton Park Murray Grey stud was established. Up to that stage our cattle were run jointly between my parents, my wife and me but my wife and I were doing most of the management. After my father retired in 1976 and built a new house on the farm, he became much more involved in the daily management. Twenty years after buying a farm he at last got full benefit from it. The cows gave him great pleasure. The paddocks looked pristine – never a thistle to be seen. The cattle went from strength to strength as we selected better bulls and culled the poorer producers. The cows were quiet, small framed, early maturing, good milkers and suited the Camden market demand for vealers at that time.
Dad never worried much about the registration of the cattle or things like that. But he knew all the cows.
By the early 1990’s my marriage had broken down and my wife retained the Wilton Park property. In 1995 my new partner and I bought a smaller property, Westmorland, near Picton. The cows stayed on the family farm, Shingle Hill. My parents were ageing and finding life on the farm more difficult so Helena and I bought their share of the cattle and leased Shingle Hill.
Harry Hoare with his Murray Grey cows at Shingle Hill.
Dad loved his cows so much that he never really wanted to part with any. The new owners took a more realistic approach to genetic progress and quickly sold a truckload of geriatric and less productive females plus the bull. Dad was more than a bit sad to see them go. We retained about 30 nice heifers.
We thought the cows could do with a lift in size to improve our market flexibility so we bought a large frame bull by Orcadia Park Knight Rider. Joined to the 30 heifers we had to pull three very large calves – all had hiplock. With all heifers having calved we thought we would have an easier time next year but another, different, three had to be pulled the next year. Ninety per cent of the calves were of average size and were passed without difficulty – 10% of the calves were very big. Although we did not lose any of these calves we had to be vigilant and check 100% twice a day which was a pain when we were working. It was not as bad as the Hereford debacle of the 1960’s but made us appreciate the normally trouble free calvings we had enjoyed in the intervening years.
Faced with the prospect of my parents selling the farm and moving to a retirement unit, in 2001 we bought an unimproved property at Binda which we called Cadfor after my mother’s birthplace in Wales. For four hectic years we ran three properties while working full time. The horses were at Westmorland and the cattle were split between Shingle Hill and Cadfor. On Saturdays Helena taught riding at Westmorland while I did what was needed at Shingle Hill. On Saturday nights we drove down to Binda and slept in a shed or a caravan. In winter the inside temperature was only 2 degrees warmer than outside. We decided that we would need a warm solar passive house. On Sundays we worked on improving Cadfor – erecting yards, plumbing, fencing and planting trees.
To reflect the change of stud principals and change of location, Cadfor Murray Greys was established and the cattle transferred from Wilton Park Murray Greys. The cattle were entered on Breedplan and the herd made steady progress as we culled based on calf growth rates to weaning. We are still vigilant watching cows when calving and will yard them to assist if there is no progress in about 30 minutes. Thankfully there have been few such occasions. One year we had a couple of breech presentations for some reason and the local veterinary practice recorded a similar finding in the district.
In 2004 I retired from the Department of Agriculture, we built our house at Cadfor, sold Westmorland and moved to Binda in 2005. Apart from a stint fighting Equine Influenza in 2007, I have been working on the farm and with the cattle and getting much satisfaction from my life in ‘retirement’. With Cadfor having a lifetime supply of thistles for me to control, I may be morphing into my father.
Helena got a transfer to the Department at Goulburn and was busy doing field work with farmers. She resigned from the Department in 2009 and now teaches riding at Cadfor. Her experiences in nutrition and pasture research have proved of great value to working with the cattle and our farming endeavours.
Shingle Hill was sold in 2006 and my parents moved to Carrington Retirement Village. Dad never lost interest in farming or the cattle. Whenever there was rain around he would ring to ask how much rain we had received. He got much pleasure and pride in watching Cadfor develop and seeing the progress that his Murray Grey herd had made.”
Harry Hoare died in April 2011 aged 97. This is a tribute to him. Thanks Dad. Harry Hoare’s obituary here.