Princess goes all the way

Supreme Senior Champion cow at the Winter Fair, Eclipse Alltheway Princess, owned by Stephen and Leanne Coombes from Tamworth and led by Glen Bawden.

Stephen Coombes is still processing his success at this year’s National Herd Development Winter Fair, after Eclipse Alltheway Princess was crowned Supreme Senior Champion.

This is the first year Tamworth’s Kalulla Park Holsteins family — Stephen, wife Leanne and children Hayden and Lara — have ventured further afield than their local shows, despite showing cattle for the past 20 years.

Stephen has always been a regular spectator at the Winter Fair in Bendigo, and he was ecstatic to take out the win in his first year participating in the competition.

“We sent Princess down to Daniel Bacon in early June and he did such a great job of preparing and getting her ready for us.”

The family did take Princess to the Sydney Royal Show earlier this year, where she received Honourable Mention Champion Cow.

“She is such a non-fuss cow. We are hoping she is in calf and if so we should be able to turn her around for Sydney again next year. If she is not in calf we will just have to see what happens,” Stephen said.

He bought the now five-year old from an online sale back in 2020.

At the time Princess was fresh after a second calving and, despite not being among his early picks, when she came into the ring, she immediately caught his attention.

“When she hit the ring she was reasonably priced so I thought why not. There was no real theory behind the purchase and now she has turned out to be a pretty cheap buy.”

The Coombes farm at Tamworth, in north-east NSW, where they milk a predominantly Holstein herd with around 50 Jerseys thrown in to up the fat and protein test.

“My mum’s family were successful Jersey breeders and I still like to play about with them, although over the last few years we have focused more on our Holsteins for showing purposes,” Stephen said.

They currently farm on 283ha, which includes 202ha of irrigation, although they have recently sold their farm and purchased a new one.

The new farm is slightly smaller at 133ha but does include two lease blocks which brings the total area up to 243 irrigatable hectares. The infrastructure includes a 15-a-side rapid exit dairy, self-locking feedpad, undercover cow yard, quality cattle yards and good irrigation infrastructure.

With the milk pool shrinking in NSW, Stephen said there were only about nine dairy farmers left in the Tamworth region.

About five years ago Lactalis came into the region looking to secure milk supply to Queensland, so the business jumped on board and has been supplying the company ever since.

“We get paid the Queensland price for milk, which is about three to four cents above NSW, so we are pretty happy where we are at price-wise, which always helps.”

He said the biggest threat to the future of the industry in Tamworth was water security.

“Our irrigation comes from the Chaffey Dam, which is also the main supplier of water to Tamworth. The previous government had committed to another dam but that has been scrapped now.

“Water never used to be a problem but in 2018-19 our irrigation supply was cut off and it was a pretty hard time for us.”

Largely self-sufficient for fodder except for grain, Stephen said that period emphasised the importance of establishing a feed bank — he currently has 12 months’ worth of hay and silage on hand.

‘’We try and grow as much feed as possible, which includes lucerne and annuals for hay.

“Weather conditions over the last couple of years have been pretty good so we have been able to cut and chop a fair bit of feed off our dryland country to put in the bunkers as well.

“Having hay and pit silage put away gives us confidence for the years ahead, particularly when it comes in dry and we face restrictions again.”