It’s time for a Mid-Western NSW producer to reap the rewards of his 25-year long dedication to selecting genetic traits that suit the region’s climate.
Greg Rafferty, Fernside Pastoral Company, manages three properties totalling 20,200 hectares at Rylstone, Cassilis and Nundle, and has committed to a 100 per cent grass-fed herd.
Over a 30-year period, the cattle base at Fernside Pastoral has expanded from a select group of commercial females purchased from a range of studs across NSW, to an established herd of close to 2000 breeders.
Mr Rafferty said when the company became serious about entering the Angus breed 30 years ago, it elected for the female base to remain as the foundation and simply build the herd from there.
“When we went into Angus and decided we were going to get serious about it, I spent a long time looking at females in studs – this led me to viewing the best line of females at Guyra Angus stud’s, Wattletop and Bald Blair Angus,” he said.
This ultimately led Fernside to purchase bulls from these notable studs for the past 30 years.
“They’re a similar bloodline and we were influenced by their female herds – on these bloodlines the cattle have performed exceptionally; especially in our climate,” Mr Rafferty said.
More recently, the herd based on about 90pc Wattle Top genetics has had Eaglehawk Angus, Glen Innes, bulls introduced to continue the strong focus on calving ease and other maternal traits.
Selecting moderate bulls and “not big thumpers”, Mr Rafferty said quality muscle and softness was high on the list of trait selection, however bulls also needed to present estimated breeding values (EBVs) that demonstrated traits that would not create unnecessary work.
“As a commercial producer we need to focus on our role as an ongoing breeding operation therefore we want the traits coming through of good milkers, mature cow weights lower than the 600-day growth weights and calving ease to ensure we have the right article coming out to perform well in the feedlots, as well getting calves on the ground easily and off to a good start,” he said.
As a commercial producer we need to focus on our role as an ongoing breeding operation, therefore we want the traits coming through of good milkers, mature cow weights lower than the 600-day growth weights and definitely calving ease to ensure we have the right article coming out to perform well in the feedlots, as well getting calves on the ground easily and off to a good start.
Heifers are joined for their first calf at 14 months old, so they are calving as they hit two years old, and the general practice at Fernside is a September join for a June to July calf.
Weaning practices vary with each season, however once the calves are ready they are transferred onto pasture at the Cassilis property towards the end of February.
With an overriding philosophy of remaining a low-input company, unnecessary work is not introduced at Fernside and therefore the decision to remain a grass-fed-only enterprise was simple.
Cattle are grown out on a combination of native and improved pastures, with the system maintained on a grazing management plan.
“We reach our target weights because of the quality breeding cows we have but we are also time-controlled rotational graziers – so they are always eating the prawns off the smorgasbord if you like and not the corned beef basically,” Mr Rafferty said.
“I prefer the taste of grass-fed beef and there is also a trend towards it with society turning to a more natural lifestyle which supports the raising of livestock on pastures and not grain,” he said.
Calling Rylstone and Nundle properties “breeding factories only”, steers and heifers which are not being kept as replacements or breeders are sent to Cassillis where they reach their required weight.
Through the nutrition process progeny are able to reach the desired 500 kilograms, with steers sold into the feedlot market and cattle which exceed the weight going over the hook.
Mr Rafferty believes the benefit of the Angus breed for producers is the continuing premium in the market.
“They are always in demand – when things tighten up and markets for other breeds fall over we still have the market for Angus, which is what it’s all about,” Mr Rafferty said.
Supporting this was his over-the-hook returns for finished heifers which didn’t get in calf, which fetched about $1760 per head.
“I think the history of the breed contributes to its popularity as well,” he said.
“The estimated breeding values go back so far you can put a lot of faith in them when purchasing a bull, knowing that it has 30-plus years of history behind it can only be a positive.”
Mr Rafferty said with the cost of red meat on the increase, consumers were looking for a premium product, and the Angus breed matched their expectations easily.
“The market says as producers we need to put a top-notch quality product on the table and that’s where as a company we want to be,” he said. “We need to consistently deliver premium material for the beef market and not a second-rate product.”