Waroona-Yarloop fire fails to dent farm optimisim

Waroona producer Steve Pinzone.
Waroona producer Steve Pinzone.

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Almost a year ago to the day, Steve Pinzone's entire Yarloop property burnt to the ground.

Every fence needed replacing, sheds needed to be rebuilt and stored feed had gone up in smoke.

Almost 80 hectares of the 115ha property had to be dragged and re-seeded and 16 of the 80 heavily pregnant Angus-Friesian breeders on the farm that day had to be put down due to smoke inhalation and burnt feet.

But a year on, the ryegrass is high, the clover looks fantastic, there is a surplus of hay and silage and you wouldn't know the calm cattle in the paddock had lived through the trauma of the fire which decimated the town of Yarloop only six kilometres away.

The Pinzone family has been farming in the Yarloop and Waroona area for the past 48 years.

After making the move from dairy to beef 11 years ago, Steve said the Angus-Friesian cross breeders were the starting point.

"We run two properties, my parents' place in Waroona, where we run 50 purebred Angus breeders and here in Yarloop, where we run about 70 head of Angus-Friesian breeders," Steve said.

"The Angus-Friesians are mated to Charolais bulls which I source from the local bull sales when I need.

"At the moment we have two Charolais bulls and they're working really well.

"The Angus-Friesian cows have a big frame and plenty of milk, so I didn't want to use Angus bulls over them and get a small calf.

"The idea was to make them work a bit harder to rear the bigger calves a Charolais bull throws.

"The results have been good and we haven't had any problems with calving.

"I reckon we're getting probably at least an extra 20 kilograms out of them."

Proving the resilience of the cattle in his herd, Steve said the 2016-drop was in good condition and well raised by the breeders that had been amid the inferno only a month earlier.

"After the fire I brought the vet out to the property to have a look at the cows," he said.

"It was pretty traumatic to see what had happened to the cattle that had been burnt.

"But after the ones that were hurt were put down it was much easier.

"Because I had steel yards we were able to load the cattle and within a week they were all headed to agistment at various properties where they were really well looked after."

The clean up effort lasted a month and it took another month to get the property re-fenced.

While the cattle were gone, Steve took the opportunity to rebuild everything with a few changes here and there.

"I was pretty happy with my paddock configuration but I did add in some more gates in strategic positions," he said.

There's also a bigger and better hay shed, a new driveway and electric fencing - all changes made in order to make operation of the farm easier and more efficient.

"I think I could have just done the bare minimum to be able to get the stock back on the property as soon as possible and chipped away at rebuilding jobs for the next few years," he said.

"But I decided I'd rather get it all done at once, and wanted to have everything finished by the time our second child arrived in May."

The cattle returned to the property in mid-April.

"I couldn't believe Mother Nature," Steve said.

"After the fire, there was absolutely no grass and we had to re-sow the majority of the property, but it all germinated incredibly.

"I don't know if the fire played a role in that or if it was due to the regular rain we had every week from the start of April until mid October, but this has been our best ever grass-growing year.

"I put out fertiliser and lime but I wasn't expecting it to go so well."

On the back of fantastic growing conditions, Steve has been able to completely restock his hay and silage stores with pastures to spare.

"Normally I only cut about 50 acres, but this year I cut about 100 and I still have too much grass," he said.

"The cows are due to drop again next month and I'm going to have to put them on a diet so they're in good calving condition."

Steve sells his calves as vealers to Woolworths and occasionally via the Boyanup saleyards.

"Prices have been fantastic so we're seeing good returns from what we're selling," he said.

"In 2016 we had an order for 44 vealers and they ended up averaging 243 kilograms with a Meat Standards Australia (MSA) index score of 68.

"I was really happy with that result and it was a nice follow up to being made runner-up WA MSA Producer of the Year in April."

For herd replacements, Steve said he normally buys in 10-15 either purebred Angus or Angus-Friesian heifers each year.

"Actually, on the day of the fire, Errol Gairdner from Landmark was supposed to be buying me some PTIC Angus heifers at a sale in Boyanup," Steve said.

"The phone lines weren't working so we were out of touch but he ended up buying me 16 at the sale that day.

"Two hours later the farm burnt down and we lost 16.

"But later on in the year I bought a few more because I ended up with so much grass.

"So it could have been much worse for me.

"Luckily the water tanks didn't burn down, luckily the yards stayed standing, luckily the only shed that didn't burn down was the one with my tractor in it.

"I didn't have insurance on my cattle, so it was hard to lose the ones I did and it was hard to lose the other farm equipment that was destroyed, but I could have lost more.

"It was a terrible experience but it certainly could have been worse and now look at this place - only the burnt trees would tell you there's been a fire here."

So keep an eye out for the smiles in 2017, because fire-affected farmers like Steve Pinzone have bounced back and they're ready for the New Year.