Earlier this year, the Meatworks Messenger took a scenic drive to the central highlands of Tasmania to visit Dungrove Station. Located near the historic township of Bothwell, Dungrove Station is a mixed cattle and sheep operation run by James Downie, his wife Jess, and two young children Grace and Susie.
Since James’s forefathers emigrated from Scotland, the property has been in the family, with soil first turned over in 1830. James is the sixth generation to be running the station but what’s unique about the operation is that he works in conjunction with his sisters Bec Downie and Emma Boon.
“We run it as a family, but each has separate properties where we manage the livestock. We help each other out sharing staff, genetics and stock,” said James.
“How our system is set up is we have this property, and we’ve got another two properties up near the great lakes in the highlands at an altitude of about 600-900m,” he continued.
James and the Downie family are passionate about the health of the land and caring for the environment.
“We have a philosophy of really looking after our country. We’ve set up really efficient production systems while considering the health of the landscape and the welfare of the animals and the people.”
Rotational grazing, managing stock numbers, educating cattle, and responding to seasonal variations in rainfall are some of the practices used by the family to put this philosophy into practice.
The Downies use their property locations strategically to benefit the land and animals.
“At the beginning of summer, we start taking the stock up to the high country, and they spend summer and autumn there. It gives this property a rest, which strengthens the land in the long-term,” James explains.
“Then we get the irrigators going here to build a big feed wedge for the winter and bring the cattle back to this property when the high country begins to get quite cold,” he continued.
James has a high focus on cow efficiency and fertility, with a bloodline that can handle the cold winter while still achieving successful growth rates in offspring and fattening cattle.
Over the past five years, James has worked to improve the landscape and operation with trees and introduce irrigation, which has enabled him to increase cattle numbers by 50%. The property boasts a native forest that sells carbon credits to Qantas and other corporations for carbon offset. James is keen to continue his work in this space, looking into soil carbon projects as well.
A windy 40km drive from Dungrove Station, reaching into the high country, is the 3,400ha Lake Echo property that James’ sister Bec manages.
Here there are approximately 500 Black Baldies. Bec Downie explains, “it gets quite cold here through the winter sometimes with a foot of snow in September. The Black Baldy breed hold condition better throughout the winter.”
When the Downie family purchased the property about 20 years ago, Hereford cattle were on the land.
“They didn’t perform well here, so we started putting Angus bulls over Herefords and also a splash of Devon for thickness.”
It’s not just cattle around the property but also 48 towering wind turbines commissioned in March 2019.
On the way back into Hobart is Emma Boon’s 3,400ha property, Mount Vernon in Kempton, where she manages a sheep and cattle operation.
The breeding herd at this property fluctuates from 100- 150 with a mixture of Angus and South Devon cows. Some of Bec’s Black Baldies can be found here too.
Emma explains, “There is a synergy between the properties, and we work together. I background and grow out Bec’s heifers on this property.”
“So for us, it’s about getting the real balance between breeding and having an efficient and fertile cow herd that then will breed an article that is then able to be finished at a high quality.”
For the past seven years, the family has been working with Greenham selling steer calves to be finished at Greenham’s Westmore property with empty cows going into the Vintage Beef Co. program.