Making money from cows that don’t produce you their calf

Embryo contract calf business transforms beef operation


Beef
John Lockwood and Jennie Coldham to Coldwood Pastoral Pty Ltd, Wellington Vale, run an embryo contract operation. Pictures: Lucy Kinbacher

John Lockwood and Jennie Coldham to Coldwood Pastoral Pty Ltd, Wellington Vale, run an embryo contract operation. Pictures: Lucy Kinbacher

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Couples transforms beef business by utilising their cows as recipients in embryo contract operation.

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THEY may have about 700 Angus breeders on their three properties but Wellington Vale’s John Lockwood and Jennie Coldham hardly get calves for themselves. 

For the past 14 years the couple have transformed their operation into an embryo contract business with all of their cows used as recipients for top genetics. 

Given the shortage of feed facing some producers and $50,000 Department of Primary Industry genetic banking grants, the pair have been inundated with recent requests from potential clients and they don’t expect it to stop.

“At the moment you can access low interest loans for genetic banking through rural assistance authority for the drought subsidies and I wonder whether there might be a bit of a spike in people wanting to flush and freeze,” Ms Coldham said.

“The people who have hung on and hung on and are now at the point where they can’t hang on any longer, it’s an option to keep their genetics by flushing and freezing and then it doesn’t matter what they buy back.

“They could buy some complete rubbish back, stick an embryo in it and they have got the genetics they have invested in developing.” 

Currently, about a dozen beef breeders from as far as Rockhampton and Wallumbilla in Queensland right down to Nundle use their females. The largely implant Speckle Park and Wagyu genetics during the September to January joining period.

“What’s a bit attractive to Wagyu breeders, with the recip job, is having a fullblood calf on an Angus cow, they grow so much quicker,” Ms Coldham said.

“If you look at a fullblood calf on a fullblood cow, it’s chalk and cheese.” 

Producers either transport their donor cows to the Wellington Vale property for fresh embryo collection, which has about a 70 to 80 per cent take rate, or provide frozen embryos averaging 50pc to 60pc depending on the quality.

It’s an attractive success rate for their clients, with some of their own previous attempts only reaching 25 to 30 per cent, particularly due to hot climates. 

Using Victorian technician Udo Mahne from Embryo Life, John and Jennie then take care of the preparation and care of the breeders until they provide their client with the embryo calves at 180 kilograms. 

The couple also run a small herd of about 40 Fullblood Wagyu breeders if people new to the industry are looking for cheap genetics to flush.

Angus bulls are put with all of the females after they’ve been implanted and any natural pregnancies are retained by the couple.

While they may not turn off cattle in the conventional way, Ms Coldham said it provided a security of income sometimes not always achievable in beef operations.

“While there might be a few unexpected losses along the way, you know what the end price is going to be,” she said. 

The couple have worked with clients from as far as the Mornington Peninsula and Victoria while also using other genetics like Blonde Acquataine and Charolais. 

They even attempted to flush a rodeo cow, but she failed to produce fertilised embryos. 

Unlike most producers, carrying clients genetics meant John and Jennie weren’t able to offload or reduce their herd numbers when dry conditions hit this year.

While they planted 250 acres of oats on their home block, Bellevue, it wasn’t until October that they put the first stock on it. 

Thankfully their Tenterfield property wasn’t as badly hit and they ran an increased load of 400 head, compared to their normal 250.  

“We had cattle out on the road for three months paying someone to look after them,” Ms Coldham said.

“We bought in hay and cottonseed and then custom mix when we early weaned lots of calves (about 100 kilograms) and fed them to get them up to weight.” 

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