MOLONG beef producer James Morse isn’t afraid to make bold decisions when dry times strike.
From December to March he destocked in excess of 1600 head from his 1450 hectares and early weaned 250 calves at four to five months old weighing between 120 and 220 kilograms.
While it’s meant his Wongalee operation of Angus composite cattle is at 25 to 30 per cent of normal capacity, Mr Morse has been able to retain ground cover on his property while boosting his breeding females to a body score four.
The weaners, which were pulled off their mothers three months early, were divided into three weight ranges to avoid issues of bullying and fed a hay and pellet ration daily.
Evidence of success came when the top end of the steers were recently let onto oats averaging 380 kilograms while the heifers were around the 300 to 320 kilogram mark.
Mr Morse grew up watching his own parents utilise an early weaning approach, something he implemented just five or six years ago.
He budgeted his feeding supply through until August and benefited from rain in the last six weeks.
But, with his cows just finishing calving, early weaning may again be an option from February, Mr Morse said.
“My wife and I obviously we would have been willing to sell down to nothing but we made the call to do this and nearly 90 per cent of our feed requirements, we secured at the time we decided to feed,” he said.
“We knew exactly what our costs were, we didn’t get stuck with the inflated hay prices at the moment.
“If you decided to go and feed something you have got to say, at this point I can’t afford to feed it.
“If it keeps dragging on and on it just cost you more and more money. At some point you end up owning a very expensive animal regardless of what the market does, you won’t get your money back.”
Even if they did need to sell off more cattle, Mr Morse said their condition would be supported by market prices.
Mr Morse sought assistance from Central Tablelands Local Land Services Senior Livestock Officer Brett Littler.
Mr Littler said a lactating cow required approximately 60 per cent more feed, particularly of higher quality, than a dry cow.
“Weaning calves early when feed is short, will also improve cow fertility, increasing her likelihood of getting back in calf at joining,” he said.
“Whichever way you calculate it, it’s very inefficient to try to feed a calf through a cow and it is always cheaper and better to feed them separately rather than together.”