Hands-on expertise and a passion for genetics have seen this second-generation cattle farmer transform his family’s cattle run into a celebrated Angus breeding enterprise.

Love of the land

Ross Thompson says he was born lucky, growing up on the land in the NSW Central Tablelands. But there’s been more than luck involved in the extraordinary success of Millah Murrah, the Angus cattle stud he and his wife Dimity took over in 2003.

Under their stewardship, its breeding program has developed international renown. Millah Murrah has been producing 400 registered calves annually, selling 170 bulls and 300 embryos each year.

The market for its progeny is buoyant. Thompson has set a slew of beef industry price records over the past decade. All punctuated by the sale of a $190,000 heifer in October 2017, which established an Australasian beef female price record.

Thompson (son of late Olympic equestrian-turned-cattleman Wyatt Thompson) studied economics after leaving school and worked briefly in the banking industry but says the call of the country was always strong.

When a neighbouring property came up for sale in 1993, his father suggested it might be time to come home and help run the expanded operation.

Over the next 10 years, the pair laid the groundwork for transforming the family’s 1,950-acre stud and commercial cattle run. Together they turned it into one of the best studs in the country.

Following Wyatt’s retirement in 2003, Thompson amped up his efforts to create Australia’s premier Angus cow herd by marrying modern technology with old-fashioned cattle breeding know-how.

Upping the earn

Building a customer base for Millah Murrah embryos, at home and abroad, has proven a particularly profitable move, with sales regularly oversubscribed.

“It’s a really good win-win – people can buy into our program at reasonable prices and we get a really good earn from it,” Thompson says.

“My embryos sell for around the same price as a fat cow – around $1,600 apiece – and I don’t have to feed them.

“It allows us to free up genetics so they go out into the broader market and we retain the actual ownership of the animal and can continue to make income from it.”

Thompson uses NAB overdraft facilities to manage cash flow and has worked with the bank on off-farm investment projects. Theirs is a second-generation relationship spanning seven decades.

“My dad started banking with NAB when he moved to the Bathurst area in 1950 and we have been with NAB ever since,” he says.

Staying hands-on

Knowing his stock, past and present, has been the key to producing stellar progeny. Thompson’s photographic memory of the herd stretches back two decades and staying hands-on keeps him familiar with the animals currently in his paddock.

“An awful lot of the cattle work I do myself, from the artificial inseminating right through to weighing the calves at birth and filling up my file catalogue and talking to clients,” he says.

“I breed them; I know them. I know the animals and that’s where the art form of matching up the right bull with the right cow comes into it.

“When you know your cow has had three calves from this bull and that bull and that other bull, and what they looked like and how it worked out, it means you have a good idea what sort of sire is right for her next mating.”

The hunt for quality

Thompson makes regular trips to the US to assess potential new sires in situ; an activity he describes as due diligence – and good fun.

Viewing every bull he’s used in the program over the past decade has lowered his ‘error rate’, in the inexact game of genetics that running a cattle stud involves.

“You do all your research and then plane hop, looking at the bulls and the mothers and getting to know as much as you can,” Thompson says.

“I’m very phenotype-focused so actually witnessing the sires we use in the flesh allows me to implement what I see as the ‘art’ of stud cattle breeding – visioning and blending two animals together to produce the phenotype we desire.

“You’ve got to see, you’ve got to look, and you’ve got to keep your ear to the ground. I enjoy that side of it very much – it’s the part I’m passionate about.”

Stock in demand

Plenty of traipsing around paddocks occurs back on home soil, too. The Thompsons play host to about 50 prospective clients a year, who come to break bread and inspect their animals.

“It’s a very privileged thing, that people take the time to come and look at your cattle,” Thompson says.

“I dreamt of it happening because it means people are interested in your program. We’re only a small family business and, what’s happened with Millah Murrah, if it happened to someone else, I just wouldn’t believe it.”

Important information

The information contained in this article is correct as of July 2019 and is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. NAB recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.

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