Euan and Kaye Murdoch are not afraid to take the proverbial bull by the horns. In 2005 the founders and former owners of Herron Pharmaceuticals bought Nindooinbah, a historic homestead on 3000 acres of prime grazing land in the Kerry Valley, only ten minutes from the town centre of Beaudesert. When they acquired it, the homestead was extremely run down, and the surrounding property was in a state of disrepair. Although the monumental amount of work required to restore Nindooinbah to its former glory was overwhelmingly substantial, they were not deterred. Over a period of five years, and with the help of highly skilled people, they rejuvenated the homestead and the entire infrastructure of the property, and established an Angus, UltraBlack and Brangus breeding program designed to transform northern Australia’s beef industry. Nindooinbah is now not only a beautifully restored heritage-listed homestead, it is a warm and welcoming family home. (www.nindooinbah.com.au)
EUAN & KAYE MURDOCH
What brought you to the Scenic Rim?
KAYE: We sold Herron in 2003 and we took a deep breath for six months, and then we became a bit edgy and decided we needed to do something. At that point, we hadn’t hit sixty, and we thought we needed to do more than just play golf, which we do very badly, and collect wine, because we drink most of it anyway before it gets to lie on the shelf for too long. So, we just had to do something to keep ourselves occupied, and our minds working and so forth. This came on the market. It was about eighteen months before it actually hit the auction space because it was in the family court for a while, because of a dispute over the estate. And we were finally successful in buying it, and I remember very clearly Euan and I signing the contract on the dining room table, thinking, ‘Oh, my God, what have we done?’ We didn’t buy it for the house; we bought it for the land, and for the opportunity of running cattle and doing something with the land itself.
So, when you purchased the property, it was run down?
KAYE: It was run down because for three generations, I think, men had pre-deceased the women in the family. The women would say to the manager, ‘Just carry on.’ Over three generations the property, the infrastructure just completely collapsed. Anyway, so when we took it over …
Euan’s forte is, if he can’t do anything himself personally to the level of a professional, he employs. You know, people used to say, ‘Well, you must be a chemist if you own Herron Pharmaceuticals.’ ‘No, not a chemist. But I employ them.’ So, here we have a really fine team of people on the farm. They’ve been able to put through road systems, new fencing and watering. Every paddock has its own water trough, so cattle aren’t steeping in dams up to their hocks in mud. It is just really well done. Our irrigation system is excellent, all on the river flats. We have a great set of cattle yards. Our manager put eighteen months of thought into the design so that the cattle weren’t stressed. There’s a lot of thought gone into the planning of the place.
The house was here. We’ve tried to keep it as it was; we’ve just de-formalised it. Sort of whipped it out of the Edwardian era of heavy velvet drapes, plus lace curtains, plus blinds. What for? We just took them all off and let the outside come inside. It is very serene. I think it has a fantastic energy. When you come back from Brisbane, you drive in and go, ‘Ah.’
It looks incredible. It must have taken so much work.
KAYE: I know. We landed here and hit the ground running … for the last ten years. I mean, the house took five years to restore.
EUAN: There’s two people who are here who deserve recognition. One of them is Nick Cameron. He’s the manager, and he has done a fabulous job. He has a broad mind, and he thinks outside the square, from a producer point of view. And then there’s Nathaniel McGee, who is a Kerry Valley resident. His parents were teachers at the high school, and they are very passionate about Nindooinbah.
Did you live here while you were restoring the property?
KAYE: Like gypsies. We had one room, one bathroom and a toilet with barnacles in it, and a barbecue. The builder put up an alfresco sink on the verandah with a pipe running over it. We had a ball.
EUAN: We lived like that for two or three years. No TV. Bloody fantastic.
KAYE: We had to read books. We still had a place in Brisbane, so we were five days here then a few in Brisbane. So we juggled that for a while. Now, we’ve been here permanently for the last five years.
Can you tell us about the cattle?
EUAN: Northern Australia is populated predominantly by Brahmans, but Brahman is not the best eating experience you could possibly ever have. The northern Australian beef industry has lots of issues with poor fertility. The Brahmans transformed the north, but they need tweaking now: they need to improve the fertility.
What we set out to do is introduce some more European or British genetics to the north, but you can’t send an Angus cow or bull to the north because they’re just not tropically adapted. So, what we’ve done is we’ve said, ‘Let’s tropically adapt a European or British breed and send them up there.’ If the people say, ‘That’s a good idea,’ then the next question is, ‘What breed should you introduce?’ And we said, ‘Angus’, because Angus as a breed is so far in front of any other breed in the context of performance management and the genetics behind it, and the way they professionally and scientifically developed the breed. So, we take Angus cows and cross them with what is called a Brangus bull. A Brangus bull has 37.5% Brahman content and the remainder is Angus. So, we cross those over with an Angus cow and you get 18.75%. So, it has a little bit of Brahman in there, but not much, and it is adapted to go and live in the north. It has the attributes of Angus beef, so it is pretty well marbled and a good eating experience, but it will survive in northern Australia.
We have them in every state of Australia now, bar Tassie. The global market is moving more towards black cattle — Angus, in particular. And we claim to have the best Angus genetics in the country … or ‘some of the best’ is probably a more appropriate way of putting it. And that’s what we do. From an eating perspective, we do our own kill, and it is bloody good.
How did you establish the breeding program?
EUAN: We bought 650 elite Angus cattle from a stud: Lawson Angus. There’s about three or four top studs in Australia, and Lawson Angus is one of those. So that’s our female base, and we imported Brangus semen from the US, on the sire side. And then we’ve just gradually developed them ourselves.
Can you explain what an UltraBlack is?
EUAN: An UltraBlack, from a genetic perspective, has 82.5% Angus and 18.75% Brahman. So, what that does is give the progeny a little bit more leg, so they can walk out further than an Angus. They’ve got a slick coat, which means they’re better protected against ticks and things like that, but they won’t survive in the Gulf country or the heavy tick country. In that environment, you’d use a Brangus, which has twice the Brahman content. That’s what an UltraBlack is. It is predominantly Angus. It classifies as Angus cattle, in an eating sense, from a butcher shop. But we do a lot of research and development here, with the university. We do quite a bit of genomic work. The idea being, if you look at other proteins — chooks, for example — with the use of genetics, chooks convert … for every 1.1 kilograms of dry matter they eat, they put on 1 kilogram of weight. That is just extraordinary. In the beef industry, at the other extreme, it varies between 8 kilograms of dry matter to 15 kilograms of dry matter for 1 kilogram of weight gain. So the pressure is on beef to become more feed efficient. And you do that a number of ways. You can do it by improving your genetics and your weight gain, and so on. But they are now identifying genetic markers or traits that some cattle … If you can breed a beef that convert more efficiently, then we’ve got an opportunity to compete with other proteins because it is so expensive.
How do beef-lovers get their hands on your beef?
EUAN: We are seed stock producers. Apart from our culls, the only way you can get Nindooinbah beef is a bit of cattle duffing, where you climb over the fence and pinch a couple. [Laughs.] Ours are used to breed from.
Do either of you have a background in farming?
KAYE: Yes. Euan came from the Castlemaine district, and I came from the Wimmera, which is in western Victoria. I certainly didn’t think I’d ever come back to the land. But, here we are. We just love it. Just love it.