Paddock to Bakers beef plate plan: fills pies

RIGHT, LIVIN’ HIS DREAM: Brad Steele at home on the property he owns with partner Gail.
RIGHT, LIVIN’ HIS DREAM: Brad Steele at home on the property he owns with partner Gail. Toni Somes

BAKER Brad Steele leans across the rail and asks with a grin whether his pose resembles that of a seasoned sheep bloke, with half a lifetime's experience in the stockyards.

Fact is, this likeable Warwick local is more accustomed to leaning on kitchen countertops and kneading bread into ovens than urging sheep into a woolshed.

We'll have the freezer full and vegies in the garden, so we can just lock the gate and grow our hair long.

But that's not to say he doesn't love the latter.

"I am living the dream," he laughed when the Bush Tele visited the property he owns with his long-time partner Gail.

The couple purchased their 100ha holding, Strathspey, at the back of Leslie Dam four years ago.

Originally part of Glenvale Station, the holding was one of four similar sized blocks divided and sold off the historic property almost a decade ago.

For the Steeles, the purchase was the realisation of a dream and represents "retirement" and a day when they finally wind up the long hours at their Fitzroy St business.

"I love the bakery and the day I stop enjoying and getting satisfaction from going to work will be the day we get out, but I can't see it happening too soon," Brad explained.

"Yet that's not to say I don't think about retirement."

He jokes about how when the time comes: "We'll have the freezer full and vegies in the garden, so we can just lock the gate and grow our hair long".

Both admit they love the land: For Brad it's about sheep and turning off prime lambs, while Gail loves gardening and runs a small mob of Dexter breeders.

"My father managed Ashgrove, at Karara, when I was a young child. I was actually christened in the woolshed there so maybe that was where it all started.

"We lived out there until I was about eight and then we shifted into Warwick."

It was in Warwick that he did his bakery apprenticeship and started the early morning life of a baker.

"Gail and I managed a bakery in Maryborough and then we went to Quilpie for nine years."

The couple then bought a bakery at Maryborough, before shifting back to Warwick.

"I enjoy Warwick, it is a good place to live," Brad explained.

What he doesn't add is it's even better when you live out of town.

He doesn't mind that the 17km trip to town means his morning starts shortly after midnight.

"I get up at 12.45am each day and it's straight into the bakery, where I work until about 11am."

Of course, he has been known to run a little late when the ewes are lambing and the threat of foxes has him ushering newborns into the safety of the shed before he leaves for town.

"We do have a major problem with foxes out here and it sounds a little crazy but we do tend to keep the ewes near the house and then lock them up at night once they have lambed."

Gail doesn't have the same hassle with her Dexter breeders which, despite many of the cows standing "just four foot tall", have yet to be affected by predators.

"We had one of the smallest calves ever born a fortnight ago. I think the calf was about 18 inches tall," Brad said.

"Dexters are usually black or red and this year we had a dun-coloured calf born, which is pretty rare."

The breeders were sourced from Gail's son, who runs high grade Dexters at Woodford, on the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

The beef herd is part of a longer term plan to supply some meat for the pies in their bakery operation.

"We actually killed three steers, aged from 24-36 months, about six weeks ago and put the beef through the bakery and I really thought you could taste the difference.

"It was very different flavour."

Next on the paddock-to-plate agenda are some of the couple's Dorset-cross lambs, which they finish on a feedlot ration and sell through the local saleyards at between 38-44kg.

But the Steeles' operation isn't limited to prime lambs. They also run Merino ewes in what Brad refers to as a "bit of a trial" before he decides whether meat or sheep are more feasible financially.

Shearing was under way last week and the wool, estimated to be around 24 micron, will be sold locally through Warwick's Rose Wool business.

"Our philosophy is deal locally wherever we can," Brad explained.

"If you don't deal locally, how can you expect locals to support you?"

And there will be a bit more local dealing - although the shearing shed and new fences are now completed - before the couple opt to become full-time farmers.

"I think about it like this: having the bakery means we can have this lifestyle."

So, yes, he agrees there is a bit more baking ahead before they can sleep in and let their hair grow long.

Topics:  bakery business rural lifestyle tree change

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