Small Farms Magazine- Hanging around with some special Speckle Park- October 2018
Hanging Rock's favourite cow comes out on top- Stock & Land (Royal Melbourne Show edition)- September 2018
Supreme champion: Hanging Rock, Newham
Champion female: Hanging Rock
Reserve: Wellerlou, Berrigan, NSW
Champion bull: The Pines, Gunbower
Reserve: Black Diamond, Macorna
After almost 10 years breeding Speckle Park cattle, Hanging Rock’s favourite cow has taken out supreme exhibit of the breed at the 2018 Royal Melbourne Show.
Affectionately known as ‘Lavender’, the three year-old cow had a five month-old calf at foot.
The Newham stud’s Ann Ellis said the cow had been a standout member of the herd since she was a young heifer.
Ms Ellis said she was a lovely animal with great structure and disposition, and beautiful markings.
The senior cow was commended by judge Peter Collins, Merridale Angus, Tennyson, for doing a terrific job on her bull calf.
Mr Collins said she was a clear winner.
“She’s got a stack of milk, she’s alert, and she’s very well put together, with a terrific hindquarter,” he said.
Also from the stud, John Ellis, said their aim of showing at the Melbourne Royal was to draw attention to the breed and their operation, and to get supreme was “the perfect way to do it”.
When judging supreme, Mr Collins said if he and associate judge Dianna Branson, Banquet Angus, Mortlake, had done their job properly, the champion bull and female should have complimented each other.
“And they do,” he said.
“They both can work, and show that they have the capacity to do so in tough times.”
And it was a bull by The Pines Speckle Park, Gunbower, that took home the champion bull ribbon.
Mr Collins said while The Pines’ junior champion and the senior champion, by Black Diamond Speckle Park, Macorna, were both “beauties”, he couldn’t go past the junior.
“He’s good through the top and has a superb hindquarter, he’s just got a big future ahead of him,” he said.
Small Farms Magazine- Interview with John Ellis- December 2017
Scone Sale a Success for Hanging Rock Speckle Park
Hanging Rock part of syndicate purchase of bull Leander
2016 Royal Melbourne Show Results
For the 3rd year Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud has entered the Royal Melbourne Show. The results were as follows:
SP07 - Cow Or Heifer, 24 To 36 Months (Speckle Park\Ordinary)
Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud: HANGING ROCK HALINA, Reg: ASPA:HRSJ04, 8 Nov 2013, Tattoo: HRS J04, Sire: River Hill Traffic Jam (BED 26T), Dam: Six Star 82U Janette (SPC F126)
SP08 - Cow, Over 36 Months (Speckle Park\Ordinary)
Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud: HANGING ROCK MERCEDES, Reg: ASPA:HRSJ02, 7 Sep 2013, Tattoo: HRS JO2, Sire: Star Bank King George (GGG82U), Dam: Six Star 68L Karmen (SPC D42)
SP12 - Bull, 9 To 12 Months (Speckle Park\Ordinary)
Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud: HANGING ROCK HARPOON, Reg: ASPA:HRSL34, 28 Oct 2015, Tattoo: HRS L34, Sire: JKH 300X Spots 'N Sprouts Stands Alone, Dam: SPC F134 Six Star 82U Heartbreaker F134
Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud: HANGING ROCK HAROLD, Reg: ASPA:HRSL05, 17 Dec 2015, Tattoo: HRS L05, Sire: GGG 82U Star Bank King George 82U, Dam: HRS H05 Hanging Rock Micaela H05
We're also very excitied to announce that Hanging Rock Speckle Park have purchased AAA Lavender, who at this show was awarded Best Juniour Heifer and Champion Female!
Speckle Park- Land Line- ABC 10th September 2016
The highly regarded TV show Land Line has done a great piece on Speckle Park cattle. In the piece they talk about the breeds new found popularity, the extra tenderness of the breed and its commercial viability. To watch the full article please visit the ABC website.
(Speckle Park) Even fat and marbling for top carcases- The Land April 2016
THE Speckle Park breed’s ability to produce a high yielding carcase with good fat cover has been recognised in many carcase competitions and those meat qualities are becoming sought after in the food service industry.
The good meat quality comes down to a combination of yield, fat cover and marbling, according to stud and commercial producer Mark Constable, Tambar Springs.
“Speckle Park cattle have been doing well in carcase competitions but they’re also performing in feedlots as far as conversion rates go,” Mr Constable said.
Mr Constable had the champion export carcase at the 2016 Royal Canberra Show and was equal second in the carcase comp at EKKA last year.
Fellow stud and commercial producer Dennis Power, Minnamurra Pastoral Company, has had the top carcase in the Beef Spectacular Feedback Trial for the past two years.
“They’re consistently performing over the hook and it’s all being done with minimal numbers of Speckle Park cattle compared to other breeds,” Mr Constable said.
Mr Constable said the high consistency of fat cover was a big benefit of the Speckle Park breed.
“They don’t lay down a lot of fat, but it’s an even cover and they marble well with good intramuscular fat, which you gives you the flavour and juicyness of the meat,” he said.
Victor Churchill Meats head butcher Darren O’Rourke, Sydney, has just taken delivery of his first Speckle Park bodies in a few years, but he’s keen to see how they perform.
“I used a lot of Speckle Park meat at a restaurant in Melbourne and it’s really tender, especially considering it’s usually grass-fed,” Mr O’Rourke said.
“It’s got all the characteristics of grain-fed beef, with a pure, beefy flavour.
“Once people start eating Speckle Park beef there’s no reason why demand won’t increase.”
The even fat cover is a big advantage for Mr O’Rourke.
“We’ll dry age this meat for a minimum of three weeks but because it’s got such good coverage, we could extend that to four or five weeks.”
Beef Week: Day 4- Central Victoria- Stock & Land 2nd Feb 2016
The huge growth of the Speckle Park breed in Australia was evident at the Hanging Rock Speckle Park property Beef Week open day with the large number of visitors inquiring about female and stud bulls for sale. Stud principle John Ellis, pictured with visitor Tony Beckett, Riddells Creek, and daughter Ruth Ellis, said the popularity in the breed has led to repeat sell-out of their two year old beef brand Hanging Rock Beef. They are pictured with Hadrian, the 2014 Royal Melbourne Show Junior Champion Bull winner.
Beef Breed Proves Spot On- Stock & Land 14th Jan 2016 (Beef Week Preview)
Ann and John Ellis started breeding the Canadian beef breed Speckle Park in 2011 after being very impressed by exhibits at the Royal Melbourne Show. Last year they topped the breed at the same event with a junior bull Hanging Rock Haldor.
The Ellis family, Newham, have been buoyed by the success of their Speckle Park cattle in the show ring and in terms of meat production.
They have decided to open the gates on their stud and commercial beef operation Hanging Rock Speckle Park, that they run alongside their winery with the same prefix, as part of Beef Week for the first time.
Since Ann & John Ellis bought the 190-hectare property more than 30 years ago, they always had cattle as a land management strategy. Daughter Ruth suggested having the cattle add more value to the business by selling branded beef at the cellar door shop.
During their investigations into different beef breeds, they were impressed by the relatively new beef breed Speckle Park that they first saw at the Royal Melbourne Show.
The Canadian breed combines Red Roan Shorthorn, Angus and White Park, has only been in Australia for 8 years.
Not only did the breed’s distinctive appearance catch their eye, but they were also impressed by its easy care and carcase traits. Mr Ellis said Speckle Park meat was exceptionally tender, has great marbling as well as even fat cover.
They bought their first purebred Speckle Park bull in 2011. From there the herd had grown to 20 pure bred Speckle Park cattle with a number of cross bred cattle which are mostly to be sold as meat.
Mr Ellis said lot feeders and major cattle buyers were seeking out Speckle Park- Angus cross for their meat eating quality, high growth rates, good feed conversion and dressing out percentage.
He said the breed also had fantastic temperaments, and they were good mothers with calving easy and great milk production.
In only their second year showing cattle, Hanging Rock Speckle Park stud won the breed’s supreme exhibit at the Royal Melbourne Show with a junior bull Hanging Rock Haldor, beating exhibits from eight other Victorian and NSW studs.
Mr Ellis said the greatest part of competing was learning, preparing and showing it with 11 year-old grandson Jack. ‘To see him leading a heifer that went onto be reserve champion female, well I’d do it again,’ Mr Ellis said.
Artificial insemination has been used extensively in the stud and Mr Ellis said their investment in ‘tried and true’ genetics had proven worthwhile, for example global leading Speckle Park sire Star Bank Lacerta 68L features in the pedigree of Melbourne winner Hanging Rock Haldor. “He had a big influence and produces big, roomy animals,” Mr Ellis said.
He said he’d had a lot of interest from Qatar, and it would be on show during the Beef Week open day. Other young bulls, cows and calves (including purebred and cross bred units) and some ¾ Speckle Park steers would be on display. “Some of our crossbred beef will be on the BBQ and visitors can also try our Speckle Park pies, that we’ve had made with a joint venture with a local food provedore”, Mr Ellis said. “And if people want to stay a bit longer, we have a winery to visit!”.
"Spec-tacular Results'- Macedon Ranges Guardian 9th October 2015
Hanging Rock Has a ‘Spec-tacular’ Melbourne Show
Usually when you think of Hanging Rock, John Ellis and awards at the Royal Melbourne Show, you would assume we were talking about the Hanging Rock Winery. Although that is often the case, this time we are talking about John’s newest venture, Hanging Rock Speckle Park stud.
John is taking his new interest very seriously. He took 7 of his favourite cattle to the Royal Melbourne Show last week and all of his hard work was well rewarded. All of his cattle placed in their classes and a number of them went on to receive great awards in the Speckle Park category including: Most successful Exhibitor, Supreme Exhibit, Champion Bull, Champion Junior Bull, Reserve Champion Female, Best male and female pair, Best three head, Best male pair and many other 1,2 and 3 places in various categories.
The shining star on the day was Hanging Rock Haldor, a 10 month old bull, who really stole the spotlight. The judge said that he was ‘a breed changing animal’. Everyone was a little surprised and ecstatic when he was awarded Supreme Exhibit over his 1 tonne rival who had come all the way from NSW.
If you ask John though, his proudest moment was seeing his 10 year old grandson Jack Ellis showing his favourite heifer, Mercedes. Jack and Mercedes went on to win Reserve Champion Female. The judge couldn’t help but comment on how well Jack did and that ‘he showed confidence, letting me know with his body language that he had the best animal there’.
Although the Speckle Park breed is relatively rare and new to Australia it has an impressive pedigree. The breed was developed in Canada. It has a very high level of tenderness gene and the animals have a wonderful temperament. That along with their striking markings is why John and the family decided to get into the breed.
Along with the stud, Hanging Rock are also selling estate grown beef and small goods through their cellar door in Newham. Selling beef that shows provenance and is sustainable is something that is very important to them.
The Melbourne Show Wine Awards are coming up next week. Last year Hanging Rock very nearly took out the coveted ‘Provenance Award’ with their Heathcote Shiraz. The Ellis’s are hoping to do as well with their wine as they did with their cattle.
For more information visit the Hanging Rock website www.hangingrock.com.au or visit their Cellar Door at 88 Jim Rd, Newham.
Royal Melbourne Show Results- Stock & Land 8th October 2015
Speckle Park's growing popularity was evident with the breed's exhibitors at the Royal Melbourne Show spiking from three to nine, year-on-year.
The Canadian breed, which combines Red Roan Shorthorn, Angus and White Park, has only been in Australia for eight years and has been embrased for its carsase quality, including marbling, and skin quality, including a striking black and white freckled hide.
The supreme Speckle Park exhibit was awarded to the junior champion bull, Hanging Rock Haldor exhibited by Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud, Newham. Judge Erica Halliday, Ben Nevis Angus, Walcha, NSW, praised the quiet, 11 month-old bull calf as having the potential to impact the breed for the better. "He is an exceptional, breed changing animal with faultless structure," she said. Hanging Rock principle John Ellis said the young bull's wine highlighted the family had selected the right mixture of genetics since establishing the stud in 2011. "They are certianly nice to look at but the big interest in their marbling, tenderness combines with the physical attributes of the animals and their docility- they do so well," he said.
It topped of a stellat performance by Hanging Rock, whose run of broad ribbons earned the, the most successful exhibitor award. Almarlea F156 Lacerta, was sashed senior champion bull. Denis and Theresa Robert, AAA Speckle Park, Oberon, NSW, were awarded grand champion female for their 16 month-old heifer, Checked Karla, daughter of Six Star Front page out of Checked Flower.
The heifer beat senior champion cow, The Pines Harriet, exhibited by the Hare Family, The Pines Speckle Park, Gunbower. While moninating her for a weight loss program, judge Erica Halliday, Ben Nevis Angus, Walcha, NSW called the heifer a faultless animal. "She is spectacular in the way she combines her structure ans natural thickness," Ms Halliday said. "she is a showy animal with a lof of appeal, balance and will provide something special for the breed."
Spec-tacular results at the 2015 Royal Melbourne Show
The Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud team, led by John Ellis, have done it again! The 2015 Royal Melbourne Show was the best result for the team yet. Hanging Rock had 7 of the 30 Speckle Park exhibits, the largest showing of the breed yet.
Hanging Rock picked up the following awards:
-Most successful Exhibitor
-Supreme Exhibit (Haldor)
-Champion Bull (Haldor)
-Champion Junior Bull (Haldor)
-Reserve Champion Senior Female (Mercedes) (Led by 10 yr old Jack Ellis)
-Best male and female pair (Haldor & Mercedes)
-Best three head (Haldor, Mercedes & Hannah)
-Best male pair (Haldor & Hadrian)
-Many other 1,2 and 3 places in various categories
-Jack Ellis came 2nd in the 10-5 yr old handlers competition leading his favourite heifer Mercedes
What an amazing show. it will take John, Jack and the team a while to come down from this one. For photos and more results please see our Royal Melbourne Show Photo Gallery
Hanging Rock Stud does it again in Lancefield Oct 2014
Great results again from the 2014 Lancefield Show. Once again our wonderful team took our 4 champion animals: Haley, Helina, Mercedes and Hadrian to the show. They picked up the following awards:
INTERBRED SUPREME CHAMPION GROUP: Hanging Rock Beef (HR Hadrian, HR Helina, HR Mercedes)
INTERBRED RESERVE CHAMPION BULL:
Hanging Rock Hadrian
CLASS 89: SPECKLE PARK BULL UNDER 12 MONTHS:
1st prize (HR Hadrian)
CLASS 94: SPECKLE PARK FEMALE UNDER 12 MONTHS:
1st prize (HR Helina)
2nd prize (HR Haley)
CLASS 95: SPECKLE PARK FEMALE 12 TO 16 MONTHS:
1st prize (HR Mercedes)
Also a big congratulations to Jack Ellis who came first in his age group for the Junior Cattle Handlers Class, and Paris & Mia Hourn who came 2nd and 3rd in their age groups!
Hanging Rock Speckle Park Clean up at 2014 Royal Melbourne Show
The Ellis family couldn't be happier with the results from their first cattle show- The Royal Melbourne Show 2014. We took 4 head of cattle- 3 11 month hold heifers and 1 10 month old bull. The results were as follows:
SPA01 - HEIFER, BORN ON OR BETWEEN 1ST AUGUST 2008
AND 31ST DECEMBER 2008 (9 TO 14 MONTHS)
1st- Hanging Rock Haley
2nd- Hanging Rock Helena
3rd- Hanging Rock Mercedes
SPA01S - JUNIOR CHAMPION HEIFER
Hanging Rock Haley
SPA02S - RESERVE JUNIOR CHAMPION HEIFER
Hanging Rock Helena
SPA05S - GRAND CHAMPION FEMALE
Hanging Rock Haley SPA05 - BULL, 9 TO 14 MONTHS
1st- Hanging Rock Hadrian SPA06S - JUNIOR CHAMPION BULL
Hanging Rock Hadrian GROUPS- SPA09 - JUNIOR PAIR, BULL AND HEIFER, UNDER 20 MONTHS
Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud SPA11 - BEST THREE HEAD
Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud BEST SPECKLE PARK EXHIBITOR
Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud
Speckle Park Cattle Special Focus- Small Farms Magazine October 2014
John and Ann Ellis selected their 100 hectare property at Hanging Rock in the Macedon Ranges in 1982- to plant vines for sparkling wine. The vineyard and winery only occupy about 20 percent of the property so cattle have always been a part of the farming enterprise.
After years of visiting The Royal Melbourne Show the attraction of the Speckle Park breed for meat quality, temperament and visual impact led to a number of purchases', says John.
With King George heifers, a Lacerta bull and an A1 program, the Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud came into existence.'
With help from John's cousin, David Ross, a commercial breeding program is also producing a steady supply of Speckle Park cross animals for the Hanging Rock Beef project- which markets fresh and frozen meat and the breeds spectacular hides.
Contact John or Ruth or (03)54 270 542.
-The cow and calf on the front cover of this magazine are part of the Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud
Gearing Up For A Spec-tacular Show Debut- Stock & Land 11th September 2014
THE journey to producing beef and breeding stud cattle has been a family affair for the team behind Hanging Rock Winery.
This year the Ellis family will take a team of Speckle Park cattle to the Royal Melbourne Show (RMS) for the first time.
When Ann and John Ellis bought the 190-hectare property at Newham more than 30 years ago, only about 32ha were cleared.
"Cattle were always part of the strategy for the property but it was more for lawn-mowing than producing beef," Mr Ellis said.
Daughter Ruth, who is the sales and marketing manager, suggested having the cattle add more value to the business by marketing branded beef beside the wine at the cellar door.
They investigated different beef breeds, and at the RMS five years ago they were "wowed" by a Speckle Park bull, exhibited by Julie Knight, Major Plains.
Speckle Parks were introduced to the RMS in 2009.
The Ellises were impressed not only by the appearance and temperament of the Speckle Park but also by its meat, which has been recognised in its country of origin, Canada, with successive wins in the Calgary Stampede Quality Beef Competition.
"The breed had to have enterprise value," Mr Ellis said.
"It had to offer the prospect of producing beef for our cellar door - in a popular food and wine region our customers are looking for something different, and you can taste the difference with Speckle Park beef."
Mr Ellis' cousin David Ross, who runs cattle at Warrenbayne, helped turn the idea into reality by introducing the couple to livestock agent Butch McKenna, Schubert Boers, Albury, NSW, and having him organise a visit to Six Star Speckle Park, Holbrook, NSW.
Under Mr McKenna's guidance, Mr Ellis bought Six Star Go Hard.
"He was a terrific bull - a working bull but he looked the part too," Mr Ellis said.
The bull was initially put over Angus cattle at Mr Ross' and Mr Ellis' son David's farms, with some crossbred progeny being taken to the Hanging Rock Winery to grow out and be processed for fresh and frozen meat and smallgoods to sell at its cellar door.
"Our daughter Ruth's husband David Malaspina is a restaurateur in Melbourne and he and his family thought the crossbreeding operation was pretty good but asked 'Why not purebreds?'," Mr Ellis said.
Cattle are sent to Hartwicks at Kyneton and cut and cryovac-packed at Central Victorian Meats at Bendigo.
Secondary cuts are turned into sausages, and some silverside cuts are cured as bresaola. Chuck steak is put into pies and the Malaspina family get mince to use at their well-known Italian restaurant Spaghetti Tree.
Hanging Rock Winery has bought seven purebred females from Six Star to grow their stud herd.
Hanging Rock Speckle Park stud was established late in 2013 and to help promote it Mr Ellis is taking a team of four cattle for the first time this year to the RMS, where their interest in the breed began.
He will be helped by nine-year-old grandson Jack, who completed a three-day cattle handlers' camp in July.
Farm Magazine: Logo Design- How to get the best design for your farm August 14
A great logo will make your product stand out from the crowd. But how to you get the perfect image to clearly represent your business? Tony Fawcett goes in search for the answer.
Hanging Rock Beef and Speckle Park Stud
Owners: John, Ann, Ruth & Robert Ellis
Desiger: Symon McVilly, Jones & Moriarty Design, Melbourne.
Cost: About $2500
Design Feature: With two illustrations it covers both sides of the company's operation- beef and stud breeding. 'The beef industry is the last bastion of marketing and there's so much more that can be done with it," says sales and marketing manager Ruth Ellis.
Why it works: 'It is both consumer friendly and appeals to other farmers. It's our beef branding and our stud branding, Fascinatingly, Symon the graphic designer who did it is a vegetarian. I specifically didn't want a designer who did stud branding but someone from the consumer side who could think outside the squre. It covers both aspects of the business and is working a treat."
John and Jack go to Cattle Handlers Camp and win their first sashes!
July 2014 John and his grandson Jack (pictured) went to Cattle Handlers Camp to learn how to show our beautiful Speckle Park pure breeds. Everyone stayed in one of the pavilions at the Melbourne Show Grounds for 5 days. Can you imagine 45 9-12 yr olds, 35 13-18 yr olds and 10 adults along with their 100 calves all staying at the show grounds for 5 days!!! Lets just say that everyone came home very excited and totally exhausted... including the calves.
One of our bulls came second and a heifer came third in their classes and Jack came second for his cattle handling skills in the juniors. Congratulations to them both
Wine maker John Ellis has turned his passion for cattle into a business- Weekly Times 'Farm' Magazine 8th May 2014
MANY around Hanging Rock reckon wine flows through John Ellis’ veins. Over three decades, he and his wife, Ann, have transformed a bare block into one of Australia’s best small wineries, producing award-winning cool-climate wines of exquisite depth and flavour.
So why, given his gift of the grape, has this guru of the fermented fluid suddenly turned his attention to cattle?
And not just any cattle, but a comparatively unknown Canadian white, black, grey spotted and patched breed from Saskatchewan called Speckle Park.
John, ever the passionate rural producer, puts it down to a simple urge, a desire to have a go at something different, maybe creating a new income stream while maintaining Hanging Rock Winery’s emphasis on prestigious wine.
“I have always hankered after cattle,” he admits, revealing that originally he studied veterinary science with the idea of becoming a vet before being sidetracked into viticulture.
“We have run cattle here from the beginning, from 30 years ago, but it was always about mowing lawn rather than doing something serious.”
And why Speckle Parks?
“We’ve got a lovely 250-acre (101-hectare) property here and the tasting notes for Speckle Park are a good match for our wines.”
Despite the apparent speed of the move, it’s something John and Ann and their children, Robert (general manager and chief wine maker) and Ruth (general manager and sales and marketing manager), confess they have been working toward for about eight years.
That’s from back when John and Ann, regular visitors to the Royal Melbourne Show, first set eyes on Speckle Park cattle.
“We always wondered if we ever did make the move, which breed would we go for?” John says. “We vacillated all over the place. We did Shorthorn and Angus and Hereford, we found British White and then we found Speckle Park.
“The story that the Speckle Park breeders were telling us was that it was special. It’s a Canadian breed that is now 30 years old. For 18 of the past 30 years, it has won the carcass section in the Calgary Stampede so as a breed it has great credentials.
“And the guys who were promoting the breed in Australia had done a fair bit of smart legwork. They had chefs Neil Perry and Tetsuya (Tetsuya Wakuda of Sydney restaurant Tetsuya’s) endorsing the breed and they had signed up Emirates Airline to take all of the beef it could.
“They had it vertically integrated with the retail and the wholesale and the butchering and the slaughtering and the growing and the breeding.
“We were impressed with the story, so we struck up a friendship with one of the growers up in Holbrook and, urged on by my cousin from Benalla who’s got about 200 head of mostly Angus, we made a move.”
Initially it was just a bull. Next came a few Speckle Park crossbreds.
From barrels to prime beef
Then the Ellis' got more serious. “We recognised that you can’t breed up to purebred,” John says. “You have to start with purebreds. So we said, ‘well, we’ve got a bull. How about we get into some purebreds as well. So Ruth and her husband bought five pure-bred heifers and I bought a cow with a calf and she has since had twin females so we got a pretty good buy. Now we’ve got quite a nice little breeding group.”
Late last year the family launched a modest operation, Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud and Beef, based squarely on Speckle Park beef’s exceptional taste and tenderness. Available only at the Hanging Rock Winery cellar door in still extremely limited quantities, it’s being sold with the sort of tasting notes previously reserved for wine.
For CEO John, the foray into Speckle Park cattle came as the perfect opportunity to release the reins of Hanging Rock Winery a little more so Robert and Ruth could assume greater control.
“I used to be the full-time wine maker around here with the “lawn mowers” (cattle) out there just needing to be rounded up every six months, that sort of thing. It didn’t take a lot of time.
“Now Rob is the wine maker. I remember when I was his age I didn’t need anyone else looking over my shoulder. I needed to do my thing - and he’s a very talented wine maker so I support him totally.
“Yes, it is hard stepping back, but it’s much easier now that I have this cattle project. It’s all part of the rationale. We wanted to do something different and it gets me out of the winery and provides room for Rob and Ruth.
“So I’m now ‘Dad the farmer’, whose job it is to supply the meat.”
While so far there has been minimal Speckle Park beef released, John reports what they have “tasted off the barbecue and out of the oven has been phenomenally good”.
Why so special
Ruth says apart from their good looks, Speckle Park cattle are docile, easily moved and great foragers in hilly country.
“They will happily go up into the hills and graze among the trees, whereas not all breeds are that resilient,” Ruth says.
But it’s their tender, well-marbled meat that draws most praise. “The day that the first two (butchered) animals arrived we got all the staff together and we had a barbecue, a taste-off with different cuts and our reds,” Ruth says.
“It was just awesome. We decided that the fillet steak and pinot noir is the ultimate. And the eye fillet is so tender and juicy with quite an elegant flavour, whereas the porterhouse can handle our big Heathcote Shiraz.”
It’s this easy affinity with the company’s wines that Ruth, the family’s marketing brains, sees as the clincher in getting Speckle Park better known.
“People like to know what cuts they are eating,” she says, explaining their grass-fed animals are two-and-a-half years old when sold as meat and every piece comes with tasting notes and suggested wine matches.
“We are able to say to people, ‘here’s the cattle standing in the paddock - and here is the bottle of wine that goes with it’.
“With wine, people want to know more and more about it, yet with beef you’re lucky to know what sort of cut it is. Even in restaurants in Melbourne, they talk about how long it is hung but they never talk about how old the animal was. It’s very rare that you will get to eat two-and-a-half-year-olds. Most butchers won’t take them because they’re too big and too heavy.
“We were lucky we found an old-school butcher in Bendigo who would handle them for us. Your average beef carcass is about 170kg. Our last two weighed 340kg and 350kg each, so although we only have five head this first season, they’re more like 10.”
Another major selling point for Ruth is the lengths they go to ensure their cattle are as stress-free as possible. “You can have the happiest, most content animal on the planet but if, in those last 24 hours, it becomes really stressed out, or if it’s a beautiful grass-fed animal and it’s put in feedlots and being fed grain, it can really stuff things up.”
Moving in to the beef business created a steep learning curve for the family, admits Ruth. “We have always grown our own animals but to go from that to selling them is something else.
“And when the butcher says to you something like, ‘now, how would you like these 400kg cut up’, I wouldn’t have a clue ... I mean, what do people want to buy, how thick should the steaks be, how much should they weigh, which bits should be cut into steaks and which into roasts? I had no idea.”
Then came the panicky day when Ruth and her wine maker brother found themselves home alone just when a cow was about to calf. “We didn’t know what we were doing so we literally had to YouTube, ‘how to pull a calf’.
Likewise, finding an abattoir and a butcher able and prepared to handle a miniscule number of 350kg animals was challenging.
“That was the hardest task we had by a long stretch,” Ruth says. “You only find these things out once you are in the middle of everything. And if you don’t get it right that’s two-and-a-half years of work wasted.
“It’s really a lot like wine, in that you have to be thinking years in advance. You have just got to go with your gut and think ‘I’m not going to try to do this for commercial reasons but for what I think is going to give the best result’.”
This is a philosophy she learned from her parents. “We make a sparkling wine that spends 15 years on yeast lees. If this place was run by accountants it wouldn’t happen. But we happen to like really, really old sparkling wine.”
Cattle in the genes
While John Ellis set out in life to become a vet, it is wife Ann, from the Tyrell wine family, who claims the greatest cattle links.
Despite being a pioneer of the wine industry in the Hunter Valley, running Australia’s 20th biggest winery, Ann’s father, Murray Tyrell, always referred to himself as a cattle man.
“Eating this Speckle Park reminded me of my father,” says Ann. “He was quite a character and was always out counting his cattle ... and he refused to eat beef that was under two years old.”
HANGING ROCK SPECKLE PARK
Stud And Beef, Newham
Wine maker John Ellis, his wife, Ann, and children Robert and Ruth, run Hanging Rock Speckle Park Stud and Beef, centred on the 101-hectare “Jim Jim” property, home of the Hanging Rock Winery (about six hectares is under grapes) at Newham near Woodend.
Currently about 20 purebred and 40 cross-breed cattle are run at Hanging Rock, with a small number on properties owned by John and Ann’s children, Robert and Ruth, and a cousin in Benalla.
When the first season ended in February, the family had produced just five half-breed Speckle Park cattle for meat sales. It’s hoped this will rise to 10 next season, with progressively more and more three-quarter breed animals being offered.
Animals are processed when two-and-a-half years old at Hardwick’s abattoir in nearby Kyneton and butchered in Bendigo.
Beef is sold via the cellar door at Hanging Rock Winery.
Speckle Park beef is sold in cryovac packs, typically as steaks, roasts and sausages, with a fillet steak costing about $15.
The Ellis family hopes it might one day produce enough Speckle Park beef to supply local restaurants but doesn’t expect to produce enough to supply wholesale or export markets.
Earlier this year, the Ellis family celebrated 30 years as wine makers. It was an occasion for much celebrating, yarning and laughter and, for John, an opportunity to look back at the highs and lows of an amazing business and to share some advice.
John on a thirty-year celebration:
There’s a lot of pride. When we bought this place it was just a bare paddock. It had no fences ... just a mixture of kangaroos, wild horses, wombats, echidnas and a few koalas. Nothing else ... no roads, no fences, no telephone, no electricity, no buildings, no grapevines - none of that. So in 30 years we can tangibly see what we have achieved and there’s a lot of pride in that.
His best and worst decisions:
At one point we consciously decided we didn’t want to work for anyone else. It was the best decision but it was also the worst really, because it coincided precisely with the share market crash in 1987. We bought this property and realised we had to get outsider funds to create the core business. We had that all lined up when the share market crashed. We ended up in a whole stack of debt and have been wallowing in that ever since. But we’re climbing our way out of it slowly.
The rocky wine road:
As an industry to work in and succeed in, it is a struggle, particularly the past six or seven years that have been awful with oversupply keeping prices depressed. That’s testing everybody’s bottom line and their ability to go on funding their business. We have been up and down in models of size and scope with our products. We have now settled on a smaller model with nine employees instead of 25, with a $2 million turnover instead of $5 million. That’s working a lot better.
Chinese wine market (about a third of their wine goes to China):
One of the issues with the Chinese is that they have no issue with drinking. We have an anti-alcohol lobby in Australia. But they have a culture of drinking. It’s about celebrating. And they have been drinking this incredible stuff. They call it white wine, but it’s actually rice spirit and it’s 50 per cent alcohol and it’s rocket fuel. I really don’t enjoy it at all. So it’s pretty easy to transit them from that to something that’s much better.
Starting a new farm venture:
Either you have the capital to do it or you don’t really. The best advice is that if you rely on borrowed money, (be aware) the next thing could be the interest rate. (It could be) 22 per cent or something like that.
And if you have to find a partner to help you achieve that aim, be very careful about who your partner is. We’ve had the best and the worst partners.
Handing over company reins:
I have put pressure on Rob and Ruth to come up with the plans, all the budgeting and things that you have to do in business. Otherwise you’re flying by the seat of your pants and that’s very dangerous. I’d love to see a space where either Ruth or Rob could go away and do an MBA and come back with more (knowledge) than I’ve got. That’s what Rob has done as a wine maker. He has come back into the business with more than I had to offer. Working around the world in other wineries and having a pretty clear picture of what he wants to do. I’ve never had the experience Ruthie’s had in sales and marketing. I’ve had Annie instead and she’s a natural at that.
Nearly going broke:
We were at the point where I had to get advice as to whether I was solvent or not. That’s how close it was. The answer was, ‘well, as long as the people you’re owing money to are happy not to be paid now, you’re still solvent. So go talk to them. And it mustn’t get any worse’. I had to do that twice in the life of the winery. And both times we put ourselves into virtual administration - but we were the administrators. And that meant we weren’t paying anyone to be the administrator. And we came out the other end of that.
Business and family:
What we’re really celebrating after 30 years is that we have created an ongoing formula and it’s about our family. That’s the best bit. But it’s still definitely a business because it’s got a lot of mouths to feed. The annual payroll is huge. You have got to keep it ticking over.
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A Beautiful tasting and tender beef- Small Farms Mag Oct 2013
The fabulous eating quality of Speckle Park beef will soon become part of a coordinated food and wine offer for John & Ruth Ellis of Hanging Rock Winery in Victoria. John and Ruth are already conversant with the marketing process of sophisticated products because they have a cellar door outlet on the property through which they sell wine from their own vineyard- Hanging Rock Winery.
‘Since we have become aware of the beautiful taste and tenderness of Speckle Park beef, we have seen that there is an opportunity for us to sell it as an elite quality food alongside our elite quality wine,’ says Ruth Ellis.
‘The two great products compliment each other perfectly and we will be bringing our experience in marketing wine to the way we will be marketing our beef. We intend to focus clearly on the brand itself, much in the same way as a bottle of wine is not just sold as generic wine but is sold as a specific variety of grape from a specific region and a specific vineyard. We will be doing the same with our beef and giving the potential customer a large amount of information about the beef. This will include the breed, where the animal was grown, its feeding history, and tasting notes as to which type of wine might be suitable to consume with the meal in which the Speckle Park is being consumed’.
‘For us it also represents a way of making the best use of our land. At the moment the family owns 80 hectares here but we only use eight hectares for the vineyard. This is the part of the farm that produces the highest value of family revenue.
‘In the past we have run some other cattle on the other 70 hectares but have not ever really maximized the cattle enterprise into a major profit driver for the farm. With the Speckle Parks we see the opportunity to lift the grazing area of the farm to a much higher level of profitability. The Speckle Parks and Speckle Park crosses will be used in our co-ordinated marketing plan direct to the public and the stud Speckle Park animals will supply the growing market for stud and commercial animals,’ says Ruth.