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What's happening at Lapins Lament

Find out what what everyone have been up to at Lapins Lament.


Weekly Times Article

Dennis and Gail O\'Brien turned up at their first farmers market with a few Eskies full of meat and a small table.  Their grass-fed Wagyu-cross branded beef sold like hot cakes under the LL Wagyu brand.  They were swamped with questions.  Is Wagyu a breed or a style of meat? Have the cattle been fed in feedlots?  Suddenly they were plunged into the world of value adding, with chefs and providors clamouring for their Wagyu-cross product.

FARMERS markets have turned into big business for the O\'Briens and changed their Sundays, writes KIM WOODS (The Weekly Times)

 

Dennis and Gail O\'Brien turned up at their first farmers market with a few Eskies full of meat and a small table.  Their grass-fed Wagyu-cross branded beef sold like hot cakes under the LL Wagyu brand.  They were swamped with questions.  Is Wagyu a breed or a style of meat? Have the cattle been fed in feedlots?  Suddenly they were plunged into the world of value adding, with chefs and providors clamouring for their Wagyu-cross product.

As foodies, Dennis and Gail had enjoyed the slow food movement and visiting farmers markets for organic produce.  Today, the languid lunches are just a memory as they supply branded product to a list of farmers markets as long as your arm.  The couple juggle a 130-cow Wagyu-Friesian herd and a small farm at Stewarton, in the state\'s northeast, with their professional jobs - Dennis is director of post-graduate programs at Marcus Oldham College and Gail is a clinical nurse.

 As foodies, Dennis and Gail had enjoyed the slow food movement and visiting farmers markets for organic produce.  Today, the languid lunches are just a memory as they supply branded product to a list of farmers markets as long as your arm.  The couple juggle a 130-cow Wagyu-Friesian herd and a small farm at Stewarton, in the state\'s northeast, with their professional jobs - Dennis is director of post-graduate programs at Marcus Oldham College and Gail is a clinical nurse.

 As foodies, Dennis and Gail had enjoyed the slow food movement and visiting farmers markets for organic produce.  Today, the languid lunches are just a memory as they supply branded product to a list of farmers markets as long as your arm.  The couple juggle a 130-cow Wagyu-Friesian herd and a small farm at Stewarton, in the state\'s northeast, with their professional jobs - Dennis is director of post-graduate programs at Marcus Oldham College and Gail is a clinical nurse.

 Dennis and Gail are building a 200-cow autumn and spring-calving commercial herd.  They bought their 121ha farm at Stewarton in 2006 at the height of the drought.  Originally in two paddocks, the farm has been refenced into 10 paddocks with a central laneway.  About 400 trees have been replanted, residual pasture seed is flourishing and new cattle yards erected.

 Sydney-born Dennis completed a degree in agricultural science at Sydney University, a masters degree in Canada, and a PhD in the US before researching cropping systems in Indonesia and the Philippines.

He then worked at the Universities of Wollongong and Southern Cross and from 2001-09 was the head of Melbourne University\'s Dookie campus, near Shepparton.

 The O\'Briens manage the farm with the help of Rhys Feldtman and have been breeding cattle, including Scottish Highland, Brangus and Angus, for about 20 years.  They began using Wagyu bulls over Friesen cows when they moved to Dookie.  \"We were lending two Wagyu bulls to dairy farmers and buying the heifer and steer calves back, growing them out to 350kg liveweight for feedlots,\" Dennis said.  \"But we felt we were at the bottom of the food chain - there was no say in where our product went and we weren\'t enjoying it.  \"We decided to keep the best heifers - 130 Wagyu-Friesian and three-quarter Wagyu.

 \"We are not chasing full-blood cattle or the high levels of marbling required by the Japanese and Korean markets.\"  The brand is for consumers wanting quality, grass-fed steak that is hung for at least three weeks, he said. \"The first and second-cross Wagyu-Friesian have a natural level of marbling without excess subcutaneous fat,\" Dennis said.  \"They have big frames and make good mothers.  \"Ideally, we want to turn animals off at 28 months for slaughter, but demand has pulled that back to 24 months.  \"The steers and heifers weigh 450kg live and dress at 300kg.  \"We end up with 150kg of packed meat per carcass.\"  About two bodies a week are slaughtered at Wangaratta, boned out and cryovacced at Benalla\'s Hook and Spoon.

 \"Going into value adding was a big learning curve, and we now have an appreciation for the middleman,\" Dennis said.  \"It would be easier to sell a steer into a feedlot at 350kg live for 280c/kg. Value adding doubles your workload and triples the brain space required.  \"It costs us $500-$600 to kill and vacuum pack an animal, and we receive a gross revenue of $3000 (excluding travel, labour and marketing costs).  \"Our eye fillet sells for $51/kg and sausages for $17/kg.

Dennis and Gail use bulls from Victorian Wagyu studs, Moyhu and Goshu, and choose a mix of marbling, weight and carcass genetics. Joined females are agisted nearby and brought home on the point of calving.

Heifers are joined over 12 weeks at 14-15 months.  The split calvings in autumn and spring gets the best value from the bulls, and spreads the calf crop over the year. 

 \"We are both foodies and quite enjoy meeting people at farmers markets,\" Dennis said.

\"All of this has happened since last November and we were caught off guard by its success.

\"We have been absolutely flat out.

\"Though we knew about cattle, and Gail was a good cook, we have learnt a lot about beef cuts like chuck, oyster blade, and brisket, processing, cryovaccing and the management of stock.\"

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