CAM and Carol Emerson are cashing in on the best qualities of Herefords and Simmentals to continue family tradition of beef production.
For Cam Emerson, producing beef cattle is about meeting the needs of his customers.
Recently, that has meant producing European Union-accredited weaner steers calves south of Coleraine to sell direct to northern NSW clients.
The Emersons' Alva Downs cattle have been at or among the top of the annual Casterton weaner sales for decades and, like all successful businesses, Alva Downs has evolved to meet the market.
Cam is a former corporate businessman. He spent 35 years working for the UK-owned Swire Group, most recently as managing director of Transwest and as a director of Kalari.
When his brother David, who was a cattle industry mover and shaker with a market-orientation well ahead of his time, died in 2003, Cam stepped back into the family business.
Although Cam and his wife Carol live in Geelong, they spend much of their time at the Alva Downs properties.
Merino-based Jason Harris is employed as farm operations manager.
The Emersons have roots in the Western District going back to the 1850s.
Joseph Emerson began breeding Herefords in 1905 and started the Alva Dale Hereford stud in 1920. In 1935, his eldest son Claude moved to Alva Downs at Merino and established the Alva Downs herd.
In 1965, David took over the family partnership from his father and continued breeding Herefords until 1972, when he introduced Simmental genetics.
Cam said the aim was to take the growth, muscle and maternal traits of the European Simmental and adapt it to suit the Australian commercial environment.
David's goal was to produce cattle that were structurally correct, fertile and quick growing with excellent carcass traits.
Backed by the strength of the Alva Downs Hereford herd these Simmental crossbred calves were the first Simmental cross calves sold at the Casterton sales.
They topped that sale for many years, five years in a row at one stage.
"When I came back into the business I felt we should find the right staff to manage it day by day and modify things to suit the new structure," Cam said. "I thought we should continue to operate the business, there was no question of doing otherwise."
In 1992, when David was serving as the Simmental breed society president, he was quoted as saying "the beef industry has a future in which Simmentals will share, because Simmentals will be doing what they do naturally - adding value".
Cam said that statement still rang true.
"Simmental crossbreeding with Herefords add 40-60 kg in weight compared to pure bred," he said.
He has followed a very similar business structure to that which David established.
Some changes have been required and, while the stud cows are not registered, the stud herd has been maintained.
Cam selects outstanding sires from both breeds to be used as lead sires.
These bulls are then joined in the elite herds to produce bulls for the commercial herd.
"We maintain two elite pure-bred herds," Cam said.
This year, Cam and Carol bought a Simmental sire named Woonallee Filter from the Baker family's Woonallee stud for $17,000.
Cam expects Filter to underpin the Simmental side of the cross-breeding operation and add growth, muscle and maternal strengths for which the breed is known.
In 2006, Cam also bought a bull from Woonallee for $21,500 - a BHR Three Sixes son called Enforcer.
This significant purchase acted as a lead sire for five years.
"He did all we hoped he would," Cam said.
"Structural qualities are the most important characteristics I look for, I look for a solid colour as well as capacity and softness."
Cam said estimated breeding values were an important guide, but the bull must also pass a comprehensive physical inspection.
"Filter is also polled, which is a benefit," he said.
"He may have more softness than Enforcer and provides new bloodlines and genetics."
Cam said the Emersons' relationship with the Bakers over the past 40 years allowed Alva Downs to contribute to and take advantage of the genetic improvements and breeding achievements made at Woonallee.
"Tom and Lizzy are to be congratulated on the outstanding success that their stud has experienced, particularly over the last 10 years," Cam said.
"Their research into and introduction of new genetics into the Woonallee stud particularly from the US and South Africa has been done with great endeavour and skill and their sale results are there for all to see."
On the Hereford side, Cam sources his sires from Injemira and Ardno Hereford studs.
The Emersons now run 2000ha of owned and leased country.
The herd includes 100 Simmental cows, 100 Hereford cows and 800 commercial crossbreds as well as weaner heifers.
"In 2006, I decided to sell the Alva Downs weaner steers privately instead of through the saleyards," Cam said. "We believe it's a better way to market our cattle from a presentation and animal husbandry point of view - much less stress on both animals and humans - and there's also a great logistics and labour advantage.
"We're also able to get accurate feedback from clients on how our cattle perform in their conditions, which allows us to make any changes to our breeding program that may be required to produce the best weaner steers for our clients."