Using Angus genetics in a crossbreeding operation has improved carcase quality and given Queensland beef producers Peter and Vicki Howard increased marketing options.
The couple manage Nogoa Pastoral, running about 800 breeders on the 6900-hectare property near Emerald, comprising 100 pure Brahmans, 200 Charbray cows and 500 Angus/Charbray-cross females.
Starting with a herd of pure Brahman cows, they began using Angus genetics about 10 years ago to help achieve the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grading specifications and open up more market opportunities for their cattle.
"We decided to trial the Angus bulls and I was surprised by how well they handled the climate," Mr Howard said.
"Initially we used the Angus bulls as a terminal sire over our Charbray cows but we decided it was a waste of some really nice crossbred females, which were being sold as cull heifers.
"The Angus/Charbray-cross has been terrific for us. We've kept the weight of the Charbray and added in the finishing and carcase quality attributes of the Angus."
Bulls are sourced from several studs throughout Australia, including Murdeduke, Clunie Range, Banquet and Sandon Glenoch, with a focus on temperament, structural soundness, particularly feet, growth and carcase quality.
"They need plenty of length, good bone and preferably a short-haired, cleaner-coated Angus bull as they seem to handle the heat better."
Mr Howard also uses estimated breeding values selecting moderate to low birthweight bulls with good calving ease.
"But we still want them to reach a decent 600 day-weight so growth rates are important, along with higher figures for eye muscle area and lean meat yield."
Another benefit of the Angus breed for the Howard family has been the boost to herd fertility with conception rates for the past five years averaging about 92 per cent, despite some dry times.
Cows are joined for a four-month period from November 1 until the end of February to start calving from late August until the start of December.
Regardless of the seasonal conditions, breeders are supplemented from July onwards using a SweetPro lick block. This ensures they are in peak condition for milking and helps get them back in calf as early as possible.
The calves are all yard-weaned for a week and kept in holding paddocks for a further two weeks. They are handled extensively on foot, horseback and with motorbikes. During the process, the weaners are fed lucerne hay to maintain their condition and are introduced to a SweetPro lick block supplement.
"We think yard-weaning is a great investment of our time and it sets them up for life," Mr Howard said.
"If they do have to enter a feedlot because it is dry they will go straight onto feed and trucking them to the meatworks doesn't bother them as they have been educated in the yards, so we don't have any bruising or dark cutting issues."
All the steers are grown out and sold over the hooks to Teys Australia in Rockhampton, Qld, between 18 to 22 months of age at an average of 620 to 650 kilograms, dressing at 330 to 340kg.
The steers are eligible for the Teys Australia grassland branded beef program and the Howards have also gained European Union accreditation.
"Between Teys and the EU accreditation it has been very profitable for us.
"Since we've been using the Angus, our MSA grading and eating quality has improved significantly, we are averaging an MSA index value of about 59 to 60.
"But our lean meat yield index value is about 54 to 55 and we'd like to try and get that up to more than 56.
"We are trying to breed a quality animal that fits the Teys specifications for weight, grade, fat depth, eye muscle area and eating quality, but we are paid in cents per kg so there's still no substitute for weight.
"All our steers need to be gone by the time they are 24 months of age. The quicker we can turn them off, the more we can afford to breed."
Generally the steers are all grass-fed, but due to the drought last year, the Howards put 200 steers through a feedlot to fill a special 100-day grain-fed order for Teys.
The main pastures are buffel grass but 730ha of the forage shrub Leucaena has been planted which is used to finish the steers from 12 to 15 months of age.
"The Leucaena is a magnificent feed. We work on an average weight gain of 1kg/day year-round and can run a beast to three acres (1.2ha) on it.
"This is compared with our buffel grass pastures which averages 0.6kg/day weight gain and can only run one beast to 10 acres (4ha)."
This year the Howards kept 200 replacement heifers, selecting for temperament, structure, bone and weight.
"All the heifers are mated as yearlings, which isn't common in this area, but we found our heifers got too big and fat if we left them until they were two years old.
"Our 21-month-old yearling heifers that we have just pregnancy tested averaged 550kg and their conception rate was 96pc.
"They are mature enough, so why not get an extra calf out of them."