MARKETING Angus weaners online helps Brett and Marissa Woods spread market risk, and it’s paying off, with top prices for their weaners in the past two years.
The family, with the help of Brett’s mother Marie Woods, has used Booragul bulls in their Angus herd for more than 15 years, running 250 breeders over 1100 hectares at “Wy-Wurrie” and “Lor Eden”, Watsons Creek.
It’s not a huge production, but it’s well-run, focusing on a good quality purebred Angus weaner production.
“We like to get them to between 300 and 350 kilograms and sell them through AuctionsPlus because we can set a reserve and we feel we’ve got a broader market online,” Mr Woods said.
“The weaners stay in the paddock until they’re sold which is less cost for us and we always seem to do well out of it. We’re not left at the mercy of selling through the saleyards and then getting the phone call to say whether the market was up or down.
“That’s our annual income for the year other than selling off surplus cows, so we want to get the best price possible.”
Bulls are vetchecked and vaccinated with Multimin before the eight-week joining.
“We record any issues during joining, to make sure that if there are cows not in calf we can work out why.
“We’ll go into the paddock and a bull may be showing slight sign of a limp, but if it’s not really bad, we’ll leave him and just observe him, but we’ll record it. We’re very serious about our record keeping because you can only remember so much."
The extra diligence is paying off, with an average 95 per cent conception rate, Mr Woods said.
That also comes back to the type of bull used in the operation – moderate framed bulls with good muscle.
“I like to go to a bull sale, look at bulls in the pens, and walk through without looking at EBVs (estimated breeding values) initially, so I’m just looking at depth of body and length – bulls that stand out to us.
“Then I look back at EBVs to make sure there’s no traits there that might pull our herd back like poor milking.
“We want a good eye muscle area and good figures for 200- and 400-day weights to make sure it’s a bull that's going to perform.”
Temperament is the final check.
“We wait for bulls to come through the selling ring, and if they get flustered or show aggression, we don’t want that bull. We want them to be docile and easy to handle, because that’s the bull that’s going to bring a good temperament into our herd.
“If we brought in one bad bull, it could be years before you get those bloodlines out of your herd. Buyers love to have weaners that aren’t hard on infrastructure, and we want our customers to keep coming back every year.”
All cattle are yard weaned, a factor which creates a premium for the weaners, Mr Woods said.
“Some producers talk about weaning cattle and say there’s a setback in weight if you wean before selling, but I'm happy to carry that setback, because as long as they’re performing when they leave our property, I’m happy – I’m looking after the people who are buying my cattle.
“I stipulate on AuctionsPlus that they’ve been weaned for four to six weeks, so the bidders know they’re going to be putting on weight from day one, whether they’re in a feedlot or in a paddock.
“With the money buyers are paying now, they want to be seeing results and making money on these weaners from day one, so it’s a good investment for them.”
The calves are yard weaned for seven days then let out during the day and put back in for two nights to get them used to being handled.
“We like to educate them then because what happens at weaning will dictate how those animals are going to be for the rest of their lives.”
Cattle are worm tested each year, but rotational grazing has meant there’s been little need for drenching over the past decade.
Worm test results keep improving each year.
“We’ve got away with giving cattle backliners for 10 years – the only thing we’d treat them for was low range liver fluke,” Mr Woods said.
“At any time 60pc of the country is being spelled, which is what we think is contributing to the low count.
“Last year was the first year for 10 years that we had to drench cattle because of the extremely wet winter – we had upwards of 1100 millimetres.
“That set us up for a superb spring with clover – it seemed to hang on for a month or two longer than normal.”
The country, of mainly native grasses, is topdressed with single superphosphate every year.
“Years ago I wanted all improved pastures but with the changing climate and extremely hot summers I was losing a lot of pasture to the heat and dry.
“The native grasses recover much faster from dry weather at no cost to me and I get the same benefit of an improved pasture from top dressing – the more we put in, the country seems to give back.”
Mr Woods said he had learnt to work with native grasses, treating them as assets.
“The native pastures can handle the grazing pressure so we don’t need to worry about overgrazing.
“We still have 100 acres (40ha) of improved pastures which we can lock up and spell and work on those few paddocks as a option to grow out young cattle or calve heifers onto 50 to 80 acres (20ha to 30ha) of forage oats then pastures.”
Giving pastures a break has helped with animal health as well as market options.
“We don’t want to push the country to the limit,” Mr Woods said.
“With the varying seasons we need that country to fall back on, which gives us good marketing options in hanging on to cattle when others are having to offload.
“I don’t think having a paddock with grass in it is losing country – that could be the paddock that gets you through the next drought, and we want to be able to choose when we’re selling.
“I’d rather have some grass in the paddock than have hay in the shed for when it gets dry.”
Breeders start calving in August, with calves weaned in April.
Mr Woods keeps the best 40 to 50 heifers each year, growing them out at “Lor Eden”, but most weaners are sold from eight to 10 months, depending on the market.
“I look at the season and the weaner market – if everyone’s pulling calves off cows and selling them earlier, it’s a positive for me,” Mr Woods said.
“I’ll hang onto them when there’s a shortage later on which allows more people to sow crops.
"We wait until those people have got crops up and going and they’re ready to take on weaners and grow them out through winter."
The weaners usually come off the oats crop, and Mr Woods tries to have all his weaners within a 50-kilogram weight range.
“Buyers on AuctionsPlus want consistent lines and if we can get it down to a 25kg to 30kg weight range, that's even better, he said.
“That allows the person to buy them in as one draft.
“I want every single customer to come back and be bidding on my cattle.”