Ken Heywood, Bowmans Forest, Vic, lets his breeders get back to nature, grazing in the high country all year round. Photos by Ross Heywood.

No fences, no problems

Ken Heywood, Bowmans Forest, lets his cattle thrive in the high country.

Ken Heywood’s cows don’t know what’s like to live between fences.

Or what it’s like to be yarded or moved from paddock to paddock all the time.

They live as closely to nature as possible, and this simple life seems to be paying off.

Mr Heywood’s 560-hectare property at Bowmans Forest, Victoria, has been in his family for generations, and he has lived in the same house all his life.

It is on this property where Mr Heywood finishes his Angus steers and heifers.

But it is an hour and a half away where they begin their lives, grazing in the high country with their mothers on two other properties.

They are 490ha at Abbeyard, which he bought six years ago and has an alpine grazing licence, and “Buffalo River”, a 660ha section of Katherine Station.

Mr Heywood also runs a self-replacing Merino flock at his home block, running 1000 ewes.

The president of the north east branch of Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria began converting his Hereford herd to Angus about 25 years ago.

He said he was tired of dehorning cattle and also had a few problems with eye cancers.

“Also, Angus [as a breed society] seemed to be doing more as far as Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), and doing more work on the carcase side of it,” he said.

“Plus the cattle are better fossickers.”

And for the life they lead, it is an important skill to have.

His 400 Angus breeders live out the year on these properties, which are a mixture of cleared and fertilised areas and large areas of bush.

On “Buffalo River”, it is only 500 metres above sea level, but it gets the occasional dusting of snow. There are no fences – the tall hills provide a natural barrier to contain the cattle. The Buffalo River takes care of any water worries.

“It could be regarded as cattle heaven,” he said.

Bulls are put in in late October, and Mr Heywood sources his bulls solely from Landfall Angus, on the Tamar River, Tasmania.

He has been getting his bulls from the Archer family since 2007, and is looking for bulls that offer a moderate birth weight, good feet, calm temperament, and are easy doing and soft coated.

High fertility is also a must.

“They place high emphasis on fertility. They have extremely short joinings,” he said.

He said he had always been impressed with Landfall’s attitude towards its clients.

“If there is a problem, they want to know about it. Their after-sale service is exceptional,” he said.

“The cattle speak for themselves. I always say ‘good cattle, great people to deal with’.”

Mr Heywood’s cows are only mustered twice a year – once for weaning in May, and the other to mark calves in late November or early December.

Mr Heywood lures the cows to the yards with salt, and with the help of a couple of motorbikes and a couple of dogs, mustering is no big deal.

“We used to use horses, but it can be an obstacle course with all the wombat holes,” he said.

Mr Heywood said because of their way of life, the cows were used to walking and were “in pretty good shape”.

In a tough season, Mr Heywood doesn’t supplement their feed, but brings some back to his home block. He also makes pasture hay.

Wild dogs are a problem in the high country, but Mr Heywood said there was a trapper who had plenty of success, trapping about 50 in the first year he trapped the area, and about 20 in 2016.

Once weaning is done, the eight to nine-month-old weaners are taken back to the home block.

Keeper heifers are later joined and then taken back to the herd.

The cull heifers and steers are finished on improved pastures, such as phalaris, clover and rye grass, until they are two years old, when they are sold to JBS Australia.

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