Best in show: Stakes are high for three generations of cattle farmers

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Three generations of the Collins family have spent months preparing some of their best Angus cattle for judging at the Melbourne Royal Show.

Peter Collins’ philosophy is simple. You can stay home all day and say you’ve got the best cow going, but until you actually go up against the other graziers, it means nothing.

Peter Collins, with his son Brodie, grandson Eddie and Cydie the prize-winning cow at the Melbourne Royal Show on Thursday.Credit: Eddie Jim

Collins, 62, his father Phil, 93, and son Brodie, 31, run 800 head of cattle at their farm – Merridale – at Tennyson, about 200 kilometres north of Melbourne.

This year they’re hoping to snare Supreme Exhibit – the Show’s top beef cattle award – ahead of entrants from around the country.

And they’re off to a good start, with their cow Cydie winning best in breed – the Supreme Angus Exhibit ribbon – on Thursday, and earning a spot in Saturday’s grand final.

“I’m rapt. Stoked. So pleased,” Peter said at the Showgrounds livestock pavilion.

The Supreme Angus Exhibit ribbon.Credit: Eddie Jim

The Collins family brought eight Angus cattle to the Show including a 900-kilogram cow.

The livestock had their black hide shampooed with wool wash and dried with a hair dryer. The hide was also shaved and thinned – then combed and sprayed with conditioner.

The animals have been kept in their own paddock and fed grain for eight weeks.

Peter, who has been coming to the Show since he was a boy in the 1960s, said it’s good “to show your animals off, against opposition cattle, to see how they go”.

Four generations of the Collins family at Merridale in Tennyson, northern Victoria. Left to right: Phil, 93, Peter, 62, Brodie, 31, and Eddie, 2.Credit: Eddie Jim

Even in a digital age, deals are done and business networks are forged at the Show – so your cattle must look their best, Peter explained.

Angus cattle can sell for sums up to six figures – a northern New South Wales grazier recently sold a bull for $360,000 – so the stakes are high.

“If you see an animal in the flesh, it’s a lot easier to see the good traits and the bad traits, like walking ability, foot structure and meat content,” Peter said.

The family has won Supreme Exhibit twice, in 1990 and 1987.

Peter said winning an award means you can sell the animal or their offspring for a higher price, which used to be “a lot” but these days is “not a lot”, perhaps thousands of dollars. But it still has prestige.

“It gives you recognition among your peers that breeding is actually working. We might be able to sell a brother, sister [of a winner] or one of her daughters easier.”

And as Phil Collins’ pop singer namesake sings in the Genesis song I Can’t Dance: “You never know who’s lookin’ on”.

One year, the family sold a heifer to a Chinese delegation.

Home on the farm: Brodie, Eddie, Phil and Peter Collins.Credit: Eddie Jim

Phil remembers that in 1986, a farmer from Wagga Wagga talked him into selling a heifer and a calf for $17,500, which was big in those days.

Phil tells the story of how Hollywood actor Mel Gibson, who used to own an Angus cattle farm near Wodonga, once came to his farm at Tennyson for tea, bought a heifer, and ate the savoury scones made by Phil’s wife, Gwen.

The 2023 Melbourne Royal Show is the first for Peter’s grandson Eddie, aged two. His love of tractors and cows could mean he’s a cattle farmer in the making.

Eddie’s father, Brodie, worked as an electrician in Melbourne and Bendigo for seven years but decided to come home to be a cattle farmer. It feels right to him.

”If I do something I want to do it properly,” Brodie said. “Book work and I don’t exactly agree.

“I’m hands-on, and I enjoy being out in the open.”

Peter says it’s a busy time on the farm so coming to the Show, which costs thousands of dollars, is not something done lightly.

“We’re harvesting grass and irrigating our pastures. We’re at the end of calving,” Peter said.

It is a break from the farm, but the family are still working, even as they are socialising. “You’re marketing your stud all the time,” Peter says. “That’s what we’re down here for.”

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