Age is no barrier for family with passion to learn

YOU’RE never too old to start an Angus stud or learn something about pasture management – just ask Colin and Sue Hill of Riverside.

During the past three years the life-long farmers have moved from supplying JBS with grown grass-fed steers to establishing an Angus stud and commercial cow herd.

A March bull sale at Powranna is now locked in for Tolivar Angus Stud and the couple could not be more pleased with the presentation of their herd as they graze the rolling hills on the cusp of the West Tamar, just 15 minutes from Launceston.

In their early 60s, the Hills could be forgiven for just wanting to tinker away on the hobby farm or reap a little of what they’ve sown with a decent holiday.

Instead they’ve bought more land, employed their grandson and have concentrated on establishing their stud literally from the ground up.

“In 2020 we sold off all of our steers and bought in commercial angus heifers in calf and heifers ready for embryo transplants, concentrating on the Baldridge Beast Mode and Millah Murrah Paratrooper linage plus other proven sires, having previously purchased stud heifers with lineage to Pleasant Vale, Te Mania and Cluden Newry,” Colin said.

“We’re now running more than 350 cows and calves over three properties, and that includes 80 stud cows.

In the last two years we have had a strong emphasis on embryo transplants which has boosted the stud numbers quickly.

We aim to increase the stud stock numbers to approximately 200 cows.

“Eventually we’ll step back a bit and let our grandson take over management, but in the meantime we have laid a strong foundation and we want to build on it – with the help of genomics to assist in the selection of breeding easy calving, quick growing, sound structured animals.”

For Hayden, a sixth-generation farmer in his first year of employment, there was plenty to learn.

Recently Colin, daughter and neighbouring farmer Lisa Harper and grandson Hayden Harper have undertaken the Pinion Advisory Pasture Principles course which is designed to hone pasture management skills to maximise stocking rates and profitability.

As the 17-year-old works through his Certificate III in agriculture and receives on-the-job training in machinery maintenance, cattle work, fencing, cultivation, animal husbandry and much more with his grandfather as the guiding hand, there has been scope for the whole family to become better educated.

For Colin is was a handy revision and update of the pasture management knowledge he gained when he was younger and working on his dairy farm. “It’s been great – I highly recommend anyone who wants to get the most out of rotational grazing do a course and also engage an agronomist, something that we’ve done to great benefit,” he said.

Colin’s mother’s family, the McKays, originally from the Huon Valley but later moved to Pipers Brook, were small acreage farmers concentrating on cattle and an orchard, while his dad’s side of the family, the Hills, were based at Lebrina using bullocks to work the land as well as growing cattle, sheep, fat lambs and potatoes through the Depression years of the 1930s.

“My dad Bert was a very hard worker, short in stature but extremely strong and wiry and very determined,” Colin said.

“He and mum taught their 12 children to work very hard from an early age – the eight boys were expected to help out on the farm while the girls helped mum in the house, as there was always plenty to do.

“At one stage six of us boys were employed by dad working the farms and working in the bush cutting railway sleepers.”

Over many years Bert and his older sons bought a number of properties, including two at Gladstone, one at Waterhouse and several around Lebrina and Pipers Brook including a property at Lulworth.

“The cattle numbers grew and eventually, at the age of 68 years, dad and three of my brothers were able to secure the prime Mount Direction property ‘Cranbourn’ from Monds & Affleck.

To do this he sold off numerous properties keeping only the Waterhouse and Lulworth farms.”

In 1983, at the age of 24 and 21, Colin ananother direction and became dairy farmers, first at Springfield and then later selling that property to purchase a larger one at Branxholm.

“I didn’t enjoy the milking routine and so after 15 years Sue and I decided to sell the farm and move to Launceston.

We couldn’t see ourselves on a suburban block so we were fortunate to secure a 59ha property on the outskirts of Launceston,” Colin said.

After a period of well-earned rest, Colin established a new business that he later sold to daughter Lisa and her husband Adam, then ventured into establishing a construction company which youngest daughter Amanda now capably oversees.

“We always had cattle though,” Sue said.

“When Colin inherited land at Lulworth in 2017 we both realised just how much we enjoyed the farming business.

Our goal was to bring the property up to its maximum potential.

“There was a lack of running water on this property so in the second year we obtained permits for water bores.

“Tapping into underground water enabled us to add pivot irrigators and fixed sprinklers and over the next three years we were able to go from stocking 80 to 400 steers, which we sold to JBS at Longford.”

Like the generations before them the Hills have eked out a living, growing and improving the land they own and diversifying into various industries such as the floor sanding and building.

They agree that like with all self-employed people, farming can have its ups and down, but passion, willingness to learn from others, hard work and having a vision for the future enables them to stay ahead of the game.

“It’s also allowed us to employ Hayden who has brought his own skill set to enhance the business,” Colin said.

“He enjoys farming and it’s a pleasure to work with him and help establish a farming future for him to carry on.

“Other members of the younger generation have a passion for livestock which we want to encourage, and we look forward to facilitating where possible these dreams and desires.”