ANGUS cattle have been part of the breeding operation at Jeogla and Wallamumbi stations for the past 20 years, and the breed’s strong growth rates are behind the next step for the New England business.
EU-accredited Angus/Shorthorn cattle are now being grain-fed at Jeogla Station to target the domestic and export markets, a shift from 30 years of on-property feeder and weaner sales.
The feeding system was set up last year to deal with difficult seasonal conditions, particularly the lack of winter pastures on the 13350-hectare operation.
Station manager Richard Braham said Angus bulls had been used with heifers for the past 20 years but had been going over the whole herd for the past six years.
“We wanted to use a breed with good carcase qualities and the grids now favour Angus over other breeds.”
Mr Braham buys heifer bulls from Guyra studs Eastern Plains Angus and Bald Blair Angus, and bulls for the cows come from DSK Angus at Coonabarabran.
The business turns off 5800 head a year, with most cattle in the past being sold through the annual sales.
The introduction of grain feeding is a completely different direction for the property, but it’s spreading market risk, Mr Braham said.
“We’re not saying we’ll never have on-property sales again,” he said.
“In some years it might be the way to go, but by supplementary feeding cattle, we can take them all the way through to domestic or export weights, depending on the market at the time.
“With our five-month winters we were finding it hard to get hold of them until the sale date, or get all cattle to killable weights, so having these feeding pens means we can get them up to the weights we want.”
Last year’s sale achieved records, with Angus-cross steers reaching $1730, more than double the top price of $860 at the previous sale in 2014.
The 2016 female sale reached a high of $1640 for Angus pregnancy-tested-in-calf (PTIC) heifers.
“The sales have worked well in the past, but it’s a risk selling the majority of the progeny on two days of the year,” Mr Braham said.
“Feeding cattle on grain enables us to offload cattle every week, which helps with cashflow, and with the management of the property.
"Our biggest variation each year is the feed price, but if feed prices jump and cattle prices drop, we're not tied to this system.
“It just gives us more options.”
Finishing cattle on pasture has proven difficult with the New England climate.
Mr Braham aims to go into winter with about 3000 kilograms of dry matter.
“As soon as the frost hits, we have the quantity but the quality of feed drops, so we lose protein,” he said.
“We supplement them on canola meal and hominy meal, limiting them to half a kilogram each day.
“Over four or five months at the end of the winter, we can have them 70kg to 80kg heavier.”
Mr Braham said all cattle would be backgrounded on the property before entering the feedlot at 400kg.
Cattle will be processed at an average of 550kg.
“If we get them in at 400kg, they’re only in there for 60 or 70 days, but that’s 1500 cattle off pasture, which will enable us to increase cow numbers.”
The main priority when choosing bulls is birthweight, especially for the 1500 heifers joined each year.
Mr Braham also looks for good 200- and 400-day weight estimated breeding values (EBVs)
“At the end of the day I want a live calf out of a heifer,” Mr Braham said.
“With the cows, the bulls from DSK, especially with the framey Shorthorn cows, produce calves that have the capacity to go domestic or export markets.”
Sending cattle direct to the processor means the business will have a stronger focus on carcase characteristics. Birthweight will still be the focus for heifer bulls, but for the cows we need moderate, but thick bulls with the good carcase qualities.”
There’s been no trouble with weight gain in the feedlot, with the Angus-cross showing good feed conversion.
“They’re eating 12.5kg to 13.5kg a day and putting on more than the purebred Shorthorns we used to have.”
The move has certainly paid off this year, thanks to low feed costs and high returns for heavy cattle.
“At the moment feed prices are so low,” Mr Braham said.
“Our feedlot rations are at similar prices to those in 2002.
“We were probably getting 200c/kg back then, but now it’s closer to 380c/kg, so we’re doubling our costs at the end.”
Not having to buy cattle is a big bonus, Mr Braham said.
“We’re not having to budget the purchase of steers into our returns.
“We’re just finishing what we’ve got, value adding to the cattle we’re breeding.”
The feedlot will also pay off with the sale of 1200 cull cows each year.
We’re not having to budget the purchase of steers into our returns. We’re just finishing what we’ve got, value adding to the cattle we’re breeding.
Cull heifers will also go through the feedlot, with only the top 50 per cent kept as replacement breeders.
“At the moment we sell cows at any weight, so a lot of them would be killed when they could have added another 40kg to 100kg,” Mr Braham said.
“If we can hold them and give them feedlot type ration that could be a jump of 20 cents on the grid.
“When cows get heavier, the grid price goes with them, they’re easy to feed, and they don’t seem to get sick in the yard.”