NEARLY 12 months ago, James and Georgie Knight returned to her family property, “Dornoch”, Mortlake with the support of her father Bruce Allen, and they were eager to learn as much as possible about the beef industry.
James had a successful career with an Australian corporate agricultural business, and he and Georgie were keen to relate that experience to the operation of their family farm.
“Georgie and I are new to the beef business at Mortlake,” he said.
“As the next generation coming through and needing to learn as much as we can from Bruce and others, we needed to have a benchmark to see how we are going and we knew this feedback trial would give us the information we required.”
On returning to the farm, Mr Knight had seen an advertisement for trial, and he and his wife thought it a fantastic opportunity to enter some steers.
“They weren’t necessarily our best but a representative team,” Mr Knight said.
“Our team was consistent and they all performed well.”
The decision by the couple to enter the competition was endorsed by her father.
“I think James’ and Georgie’s outlook is terrific with the selection of the steers for the competition,” Bruce Allen said.
“They were just a draft of steers, and I think they were a true average of our herd.
“We will learn more about our breeding program than if we had deliberately selected the tops of our draft.”
When they were awarded the grand champion pen of five steers entered in the 2017 Beef Spectacular Feedback Trial, Mr Knight noted their success was completely unexpected, as they only thought to take part in order to understand the relevance of their breeding program.
“To be able to enter the competition was appealing because we knew it would be comprehensive and we would receive feedback which would further our business,” he said.
Referencing beef benchmarks at Mortlake
BENCHMARKING allows the Knight family to set goals and produce the best quality cattle for their target market.
“At the end of the day, we can’t manage our business effectively without having benchmarks to refer to and know where we are in comparison to industry performance,” James Knight said.
“It is pretty clear to me the key economic driver for our operation is kilograms of beef produced per hectare, and kilograms of beef out the front gate.”
Mr Knight said the family operation was intensive at “reasonable stocking rates”.
“All the animals have to pull their weight and I also believe it is very important to look past the front gate and make sure those animals are performing in the feedlot which is our end market,” he said.
“This trial is going a long way in helping Georgie and I produce better cattle for our target market.”
On the 1220-hectare aggregation, approximately 850 females are joined annually, with a split calving – 80 percent to calve during the autumn and the balance in spring.
The business aims at having steers going into the feedlot at 16 to 19 months weighing between 460 and 500 kilograms.
The feeder steer market has been developed through a long-term relationship between Mr Allen and the cattle buyer.
While acknowledging the opportunity her father has given herself and James in taking the reins at “Dornoch” to see what they can do, Mrs Knight recognised the quality of the herd in which Mr Allen has invested a lifetime in.
“He has set a pretty high benchmark,” Mrs Knight said when referring to their success in the 2017 Beef Spectacular Feedback Trial.
“Angus suits our direction to maintain focus on producing a beast which meets market specifications.”
The Allen family has held “Dornoch”, in the western districts of Victoria, since the early 1930s when it was purchased by Bruce Allen’s grandfather W.T Allen.
“My father was a Hereford breeder and did a lot of bullock finishing, selling through the old Newmarket sale yards,” Mr Allen said.
“He then introduced Beefmaker bulls from the New England in a crossbreeding program.
“When I assumed the management of the stock and property, I bought a B-double load of straight Angus heifers from Guyra and now have approximately an 85 per cent Angus herd.
“It was an opportunity that presented itself and a little foresight as to where the industry was headed.”
Angus bulls have been sourced from Wattletop Angus stud, Guyra, and Murdeduke Angus stud, Winchelsea, Victoria.
Mr Allen said he also likes the blue roans in the herd.
“I have a great respect for the Shorthorn breed, and they make up probably 25 percent of my genetic base,” he said.
“I also consider the females are the most important part of our herd, with steers simply a by-product. Females are the backbone of the operation. It’s their genetics that carry the herd from year to year, and we ensure we are retaining consistent lines of heifers as replacements.”
Mr Allen processed his own cattle in the early 1990s, supplying top restaurants in Melbourne and hotels throughout western Victoria.
“I learnt a lot about carcase, yield and meat quality,” he said.
“The experience enabled me to benchmark my beef breeding program, and I am pleased James and Georgie are able to build upon my knowledge.”
Mr Knight acknowledged the foresight of his father-in-law in establishing an outstanding herd, sourcing suitable genetics to meet industry demand and applying strict selection criteria to the replacement females.
“When you put together a team like we have here, you focus on your strengths and Bruce has established a strong genetic base,” he said.
“It is obvious to Georgie and I to keep following his example and producing beef cost effectively.”
All the animals have to pull their weight and I also believe it is very important to look past the front gate and make sure those animals are performing in the feedlot which is our end market
Mr Allen agreed.
“It is important to be ‘cost effective’,” he said. “I’m thrilled to see the next generation carrying on from here.
“James is keen on pasture production and how cheaply we can produce our beef which is crucial if we are to stay in business.”
As he and his wife move forward, Mr Knight recognised the genetic strength of the herd, and said improving soil fertility and lifting pasture production will be the immediate focus.
“Without low cost production of pasture, we would not be cost-effective, even if we had the best genetics,” he said.