The Initiation of
Forest Hills Brangus
After continually searching the property market in the Central Highlands for a couple years, accompanied by multiple property inspections and the highs and lows associated with this, my husband Michael and I finally found a contending property called ‘Forest Hills’ that we thought would suit us. We went back for a second inspection and were overwhelmed with the amount of work required but could see that it had potential to be a magical block.
The following month in August, 2009 we proudly purchased ‘Forest Hills’ at Auction, which is ten years ago now. On that day we vividly remember the gamble that we just signed up for and the overwhelming awareness of the large undertaking that it was for a young couple with two little babies; both financially and logistically due to minimal improvements or infrastructure on this property.
Whilst it was a big gamble for a young couple to take on, it was one that we had calculated very carefully and felt that we could manage. Since then it’s been a lot of determination, severe budgeting practices, many sleepless nights and lots of hard work, yet we are very pleased and satisfied with our decision to purchase our own property. It’s been very rewarding and completely satisfying to set regular goals and keep achieving them, piece by piece and gradually see the whole jigsaw evolve.
Forest Hills is a freehold block comprising of 8,640 acres (3497 hectares) and is centrally located between Capella and Emerald approximately 65 km northeast of Emerald in the Central Highlands. The property is predominantly heavy brigalow, melon hole country scattered with bottle trees and is well developed and established with buffel grass.
The versatility of this country allows us to run a very good breeding-fattening operation enabling our breeders and progeny to thrive with great weight gain along with other cattle we fatten, particularly bullocks destined for the abattoirs. We have implemented strong land and vegetation management practises which enhances a suitable and sustainable grazing program, now currently running 450 Black Brangus females and up to 1,000 commercial cattle.
In the beginning upon settlement, there was no time for celebrating; it was straight to work processing newly purchased cattle, fixing fences and trying to get water to outer paddocks and of course renovating the existing two dongas, that were soon to become our new family home. I still remember seeing a large dozer at the front gates when we drove in for our second inspection and after seeing the state of the dongas, I said to Michael, “I hope you’re going to tell me there’s another house on this property as I’m going to go and get that dozer and knock this place down!”.
Unfortunately, reality set in and there was no other house and there was absolutely no spare money left in the budget for a house. Therefore, we were faced with the decision of either renovate the dongas ourselves on a very tight budget or live in a tent! Therefore, renovations commenced and our house is still commonly referred to as ‘The Love Shack’ due the state of repairs required and the fact that I regularly told my husband, “I must really love you to live in this place!”.
Since purchasing Forest Hills we’ve worked hard to improve and build new infrastructure by completing lots of new fencing, reducing the size of paddocks and expanding laneways, coolers and sheds. In conjunction with refining and enhancing watering points throughout the entire property by drought-proofing it with the construction of a large dam and articulated water running to troughs in all paddocks which now ensures easier management practices.
We’ve also incorporated and completed some selective bade-ploughing and stick-raking to many paddocks enhancing the overall carrying capacity. The potential of this property was clearly evident to us from an early stage and now with these additional improvements it’s really starting to shine through. Whilst many long and hot days have been experienced on the property with our two children, Jayden now 12 years old and Heidi, 10 years it has been extremely gratifying and pleasing for us to see its potential develop.
Originally, we solely ran the property as a commercial fattening operation which consisted of buying and selling older and larger cattle and turning them over within short periods of time as fat cattle. Various cattle were purchased that could effectively return a profitable margin, this often ranged from steers, heifers, bulls through to cows and calves. Unfortunately, this meant dealing with some very undesirable, quick and ugly cattle that often led to some lively action in the yards and the paddocks.
Suddenly I became very familiar with running fast and climbing fence rails even faster with many a trip flying over the rails! Frequently, as I recovered to my feet, found my hat and brushed the dust off, Michael would cheekily smile at me and say, “That one was really cheap, Honey. Lots of money in him!”. Always in an attempt to make me laugh and think that it’s all worthwhile dealing with these wild ones that no one else wants…. for obvious reasons.
On a particular occasion, I distinctly recall driving into town one afternoon and pulling over on the side of the road near our property to courteously let a road train pass. All I could see was these massive ivory horns sticking out everywhere! I made a quick call to Michael and asked, ‘Did you buy reindeers or steers at the sale today?” His response was, ‘Don’t let them out on your own!’
For many years I have gritted my teeth and reluctantly dealt with them; yet I was always very happy to muster them in the chopper to the yards and load them back onto the road trains and even more aware and appreciative of the financial reward we gained from these cattle, which has helped us immensely over the years.
Obviously, Michael has played a large part in fulfilling this role as he is a well-recognised cattle buyer by trade and has been self-employed in the livestock buying industry for almost three decades, travelling extensively throughout Queensland. This has definitely played a fundamental role within our commercial business platform by sourcing the correct cattle to fatten. Naturally, he has a wonderful eye for cattle and is well respected for his knowledge, marketability, manageability and always provides an invaluable and unbiased comment, backed by experience when required.
During our first five years here, it was essential that we both maintained off-farm work to help meet our large commitments. Michael with his self-employed cattle buying business, Silvester Livestock Services Pty Ltd which we still continue to operate successfully today and myself as a Senior Constable/Acting Sergeant with the Queensland Police Service, happily retired now.
My policing career expended for almost fourteen years and whilst challenging, dangerous and often very traumatic at times it was also very rewarding with the majority of my service being conducted in many small Western Queensland country areas and also various stations along the Sunshine Coast.
This gave me a wonderful opportunity to travel and work extensively throughout Queensland and I also had the privilege to fulfil various roles and relieving duties throughout my career. These experiences included working within General Duties, Stock Squad, Criminal Investigation Bureau, Juvenile Aid Bureau, Prosecutions, Officer-In-Charge and being a District Educational Training Officer, finishing my career stationed at Emerald.
However, being a shift worker was definitely a difficult juggling act with two small children along with trying to make improvements and run the new property, there was never a dull moment and unquestionably never enough hours in the day or days in the week, although somehow, we made it work...as we had too.
To say that my husband is extremely happy that I’m now retired from Policing and shift work would be an understatement. He’s very relieved that I’ve now taken up breeding brangus cattle and continue to occasionally fly helicopters when time permits.
Whilst, attempting to commence a brangus stud was undoubtedly a heavily negotiated plan which took a lot of convincing on my behalf as Michael loves buying and selling commercial cattle and doesn’t necessarily like looking at them for long. Subsequently, you can imagine going into breeding was not initially a welcomed business idea, yet he reluctantly ended up agreeing to get me out of the police uniform. Successively, we initiated Forest Hills Brangus Stud, carrying the distinctive MK-. brand about six years ago when I was ‘allowed’ to begin with 30 black females which then rapidly grew to 300 breeders due to a sudden but grateful opportunity to purchase and invest in some generational bred brangus females.
Michael remains concerned with how quickly his commercial paddocks are starting to fill up with lovely black cows, these paddocks are often referred to as ‘his’ and ‘hers’ around here with Michael running the commercial herd and myself running the stud operation. In return, the kids often ask prior to mustering, ‘Are we mustering Dad’s cattle or Mum’s cattle today?’ This is usually to determine if mustering is going to be ‘fast and furious’ with Dad’s cattle or ‘simple and easy’ with Mum’s cattle.
Fortunately, moving into Brangus was a reasonably easy transition and a natural progression for us with an established family background within the brangus breed. I have been involved with this industry for most of my life, having grown up with Bindaree Brangus in the South Burnett owned and operated by my parents Ron and Narelle Hanson. I also have three siblings, all of whom are now breeding brangus in both commercial and stud operations along with many friends and colleagues within our extended brangus family.
We truly believe that Brangus are very well suited to any country and they are very appealing for their temperament, carcass qualities, easy doing ability, high fertility and ease of calving traits. The temperament of Brangus cattle was a very large and important consideration for us to ensure safety in the yards and confidence for our children to participate with ease. Subsequently, temperament is a very important part of our breeding process and we focus on maintaining quiet cattle, which are a pleasure to work with.
Since starting our stud operation, we have fenced some of our property into single sire mating paddocks with adjoining laneways and we continue to do this as our stud grows.
We focus strongly on cow fertility and subsequently all our cows are seasonally mated regardless of the season. It has become clearly evident that Brangus are becoming more popular throughout Australia and this has been reflective in being recognised as the fastest growing breed in Australia and hence attracting premium markets and repeat buyers.
Our family is very dedicated to this breed and we aim to continue to work on improving and promoting generational breeding as well as advancing the breed and supporting the society and colleagues where possible. I remain actively involved with Brangus in Australia, currently fulfilling the role of Vice President and Director of Zone 1 for the ABCA – Australian Brangus Cattle Association. It’s very pleasing and essential that we are seeing more consistent lines of animals while still maintaining fertility, softness, good growth and temperament.
With all these positive traits, Brangus cattle are excelling in paddocks throughout Australia and Worldwide and are well recognised competitors within carcase competitions, shows, sales and more prominent in stud and commercial operations. We are continually learning from our experiences and we are pleasantly surprised with the seed stock that is starting to consistently come through our Forest Hills stud and with calving time approaching, it’s always a very exciting time of year for us.
It’s very satisfying to see beautiful black brangus cattle on green buffel grass and we’ve been fortunate to experience some nice rainfalls this year after a distressing few years of drought. Naturally, like most people experience during any drought our country was dry with minimal grass. Our cows lost their shine and condition but overall held up extremely well supporting large calves.
We offered dry lick to our cows as an extra source of nutrition and energy but remarkably they weren’t interested in it. After numerous conversations with vets and specialists in this area; it was determined that obviously they don’t require it yet and that our country is still giving them sufficient nutrients and sustenance. I guess it’s in these tough times that you actually appreciate how good your asset is and the returns that can potentially come from good cattle and good country.
Despite the harshness of the drought, it has also been a great learning experience and testament to our country, the brangus breed and in particular our females through these tough conditions. Proven to us recently after completing a full round of pregnancy testing on our females. We were delighted and genuinely surprised with a 96% pregnancy result for our females, especially after the harsh conditions we experienced, a great relief for us. Regardless of all the turbulence associated with the cattle industry, it is still an extremely rewarding one which we are proud to be involved in.
Particularly, being associated with other like-minded people that keep our motivation levels elevated and inspire us to continue to grow and learn. It also keeps us excited as to where the Brangus breed will take us into the future and we look forward to sharing the journey with you all. In the meantime, we continue to be extremely busy here with more fencing being our predominant workload at present along with preparations for our first upcoming sale. We would like to extend a warm welcome to our First Inaugural Forest Hills Brangus Sale at the AgGrow Bull Selling Complex, located on the Capricorn Highway east of Emerald. Our sale commences at 10:30am with all our bulls being exclusively offered for sale here, and additionally we will now be offering twenty-two registered females for sale after numerous inquiries recently.
Inspections welcome from 7am on Sale Day. We sincerely hope that you can find the time to join us and we look forward to seeing everybody in Emerald.
Michael & Kellie Silvester
Some of our replacement heifers retained for our future breeding program.
Taking a few breeders to the yards for pregnancy testing.
Our 2019 Sale Bulls that will be exclusively offered for sale at Emerald in October.