When Kylie Graham left high school all she wanted to be was a grazier.
Her teachers thought she was stupid.
She didn’t got to university, she didn’t try her hand at an apprenticeship, she just went straight to the land.
Now the 47-year-old is the manager of Farnham, a 4856 hectare (12,000 acre) property near Taroom, alongside partner Mat Durkin and her children Ally, 13, and Tom, 12.
Her grandfather Monty Atkinson was a pioneer of the Droughtmaster breed, and it was Kylie who took on his stud, Mungalla, 17 years ago.
She and the remaining 160 head moved from North Queensland to Taroom in 2001 where she reduced the herd to 100 of the best.
Up until February this year, Farnham was in drought.
For the first time under her management, the 700 registered stud cows and 500 commercial breeders had to be hand fed molasses and cottonseed last year.
Thankfully relief came when 169mm fell in February.
“I mean obviously because we are a stud we can’t just offload the cows and start again – you have got to hold onto those genetics,” she said.
Feeding the cattle quickly became Mat’s job.
“I let him do that one because I really don’t like seeing them when they’re suffering,” Kylie said.
“We didn’t actually lose any thankfully, but it’s an awful feeling when you know they’re starving.
“It always rains at the end of a drought so we’ve just got to hang in there until it does.”
Approaching the Farnham yards, anyone would be forgiven for their confusion as they spot a scattering of black calves amongst the red.
It isn’t the neighbours’ cattle though – the Wagyus are a new venture for the operation.
First calf heifers are crossed with black bulls, creating progeny for a new market while also combating a seasonal calving problem on the traditionally backgrounding country.
After realising she wasn’t alone in the district with the problem, Kylie sought advice from a nutritionist who put the issue down to milk fever.
She said it was a seasonal occurrence which only happened after a flush of green grass.
“We were having a calving problem that I couldn’t get my head around because Droughtmasters don’t have calving problems,” she said.
“And so the heifers’ calves are easily helped out but her body won’t make the necessarily contractions to get it out on her own.
“So my cousins, they are Droughtmaster breeders, they were having the same problem and this is how they solved it by having the Wagyu bulls because the calves are just born so small they kind of just slip out.”
The trial has so far proved successful with the second crop of calves now on the ground.
Spending the big bucks for bulls
For years Mungalla remained a closed herd as Kylie looked to build up the family’s genetics.
But in recent years she has been a notable figure at bull sales trying to secure some of the breed’s best sires.
Last year she and Mat purchased the $60,000 SC Leeroy at the Droughtmaster National Bull Sale in Gracemere after spending $67,500 for Medway Warrie at the same sale in 2016.
While they are only expecting “a small handful of calves” after losing one of their earlier purchases, Kylie is hopeful Leeroy and genetics from her sister Gayle Shann will boost her herd.
“I can see within our stud that we’ve got a lot of things that I still want to improve on,” she said.
“It’s easy to get a small group of really good cows and genetics, but to get a large number that’s hard, and it takes a long, long time.
“That’s probably what I’m aiming for, and getting the Droughties consistent because that’s one probably shortfall in them a little bit and has been in the past; because they’re from such a wide gene pool, there can be inconsistencies in the genetics.
“I’d like to be able to breed closer to 100 per cent high quality seed stock eventually.”
A move from single sire mating has also led them to DNA test their stud progeny.
Like most Queenslanders in the cattle industry, Kylie and Mat are preparing for Beef 2018 – and have about 140 head being fed at Duaringa Station Feedlot for the commercial competition.
While they have previously placed in the event, Kylie said being judged against the best in the industry was valuable enough.
“It’s such good competition there, that’s why it’s so good and why you want to be part of it,” she said.
“And Droughties have always done really well as well, so even if you don’t win just being part of the exhibition that’s there is good.”
With the operation ever-improving, new yards going in and everything on the go from cattle to the horses, Kylie said there was never a dull moment at Farnham.
She plans to shift to a stud-only herd within the next 10 years and continue to grow her grandfather’s legacy.
”Cattle is never a five year plan, it’s a lifetime plan,” she said.