Meet the breeder behind the $65k brahman bull
HE HAS seen his bulls sold on to premier studs, become the first seed and stock breeder to clone a female cow in Australia and last week he topped the Big Country Brahman Sale.
But the thing Tony Fenech is most proud of is his family's involvement in the business.
The Central Queensland breeder has even taken to naming his best sires after family members, last week's sale topper, FBC Felix Manso, is in fact, the namesake of his one-year-old grandson.
After another long day on the property, Mr Fenech caught up with the Rural Weekly to talk all things cattle and to explain why he knew from an early age brahmans were the breed for him.
FENECH Brahmans is located in Wowan, a seven-and-a-half-hour drive south of Charters Towers, where Mr Fenech made the trek to the Big Country Brahman Sale.
On the back of the truck was a bull called FBC Felix Manso and while it was expected he would do well, Mr Fenech didn't know the 36-month-old bull would top the sale at $65,000.
Felix was named after Tony and his wife Joanne's grandson Felix who turns one in April.
"We've named our top bulls after our grandsons, the first one was Jacko, then we had Harrison," he said.
"We've also had Hugo, and now Felix."
He said it's hard to get a bull who has structural soundness, the right beef attribution, a good strong head and good temperament all in the one animal.
But Mr Fenech said Felix had it all, with a magnificent temperament.
"He has a lovely nature, it's hard to get an animal with nearly everything right," he said. "He has a real clean sheath, good sized testicles, his feet and legs are perfect, he's massive boned.
"He carries himself so well, he's a very well-balanced bull."
Felix comes from a good line of sires with great producing results.
"We imported his grandfather's semen from America and he did a really good job," he said.
"We had a son by him called Megatron, who is the sire for Felix, so I'm sure Felix will breed on like his father and grandfather had.
"It's a really powerful line."
The decision to sell Felix wasn't made lightly, with Mr Fenech saying it was a hard decision to make.
"We thought he'd be a good bull to lead our draft at Big Country this year," he said.
THE Fenech's have lived at Craigleigh, a brigalow block of more than 4000 hectares, for the past 17 years, after originating from a small dairy farm in Sarina (near Mackay).
"We were there (Sarina) for five years, we sold that and bought a property in Marlborough, " he said.
"The dry years convinced me that we needed irrigation, and we always wanted scrub country.
"It was hard to find a brigalow block with irrigation on it and then this one came up so we bought it," he said.
Mr Fenech describes the property as a good universal block that has about 200 hectares of cultivation, which they use to grow their own silage and hay.
"We've made ourselves pretty self-sufficient, it's a lot of work," he said.
While Mr Fenech is surrounded by brahmans on his property, he is also surrounded by his loving family. He met his wife Joanne whilst doing some work for her dad.
"I was driving her (Joanne) dad's cane harvester and the rest is history," Tony said.
"Our son Will is here full time with his family, and our other son Chris has a job at the mines, but he spends a fair bit of time here on his days off," he said.
The grandchildren have also started showing some interest in agriculture as well.
"Our eldest grandson has just started Year 7 and is boarding in Rockhampton, and he rings up frequently during the week and asks what paddocks we're working on or what we're doing," he said.
Mr Fenech's love for brahmans started at a young age.
"My dad had a small cane farm, and about 150 breeders," he said. "They were mainly santa gertrudis but every now and dad used a brahman bull over them.
"I thought if I could ever afford a little place, I'd have brahmans on it," he said.
Currently, the Fenech's run about 1600 head of cattle, however it can fluctuate anywhere between 1600 and 1900 depending on the season.
"We are down a bit now because last year was just so dry," he said. "But there's a lot of satisfaction in breeding cattle," he said.
TEN years ago, the Fenech family became the first people in Australia to clone a cow.
They cloned 17-year-old Lady Manso 969 when she was getting too old to breed.
"She had perfect balance and she was breeding very consistent quality," he said.
"I thought if we cloned her we could put her over some of the more modern bulls."
After spending time doing much research, Mr Fenech found Dr Richard Fry, an animal scientist in Melbourne.
"We approached him and he'd never done cattle before and he was excited," he said.
The cloning process was lengthy, using 16 eggs to get two pregnancies out of it.
"One aborted midterm and the other one worked," he said.
As with any new process, there were fears that something may not work or go wrong.
"When the calf was born, we weren't home but our son Will was there to help deliver it," he said.
"The scientist said when the calf is born to make sure to clip the navel, because it was possible they could bleed to death.
"But he clipped it to seal it and let it dry and she was a very healthy calf," he said.
Mini was a cow that bred well and the Fenech's even retained a sire out of her.
"When you clone an animal, your genetic gain is zero because it's the same, so you need to make sure it's a very special animal," he said.
"It's also a very expensive process."
Mr Fenech said he would consider trying cloning again if the opportunity arose.
THERE is no doubt that over the years the Fenech Brahman stud has had many successes. They range anywhere to making top of the sale, successfully cloning a cow and welcoming grandchildren, as the next generation of the Fenech Brahman stud.
But moving forward Mr Fenech said the task they have is the same as what they are trying to do now.
"It's great satisfaction to build a herd up, but to maintain it there year after year, and try to improve it is not an easy process," he said.