Growing the steers out works well with our management and I would rather give the cattle the chance to show us their full genetic potential than get rid of them at feedlot age.
An investment in high-performing Angus genetics is paying dividends for King Island beef producers, the Harvey family, with their grass-fed steers consistently meeting the premium export market.
Josh Harvey, along with his brother Joel, sister Laura, and father Dave, made the switch to breeding pure Angus about 13 years ago in an effort to increase the marketing opportunities for their cattle.
Time spent working in the local abattoir after completing school also gave Mr Harvey an insight into the meat processing supply chain and he was impressed with how well the Angus breed performed over the hooks.
"I worked in the abattoir for about 18 months just so I could see how our cattle performed and what actually happens along the processing line," he said.
"It was really interesting to see how the pure Angus hung up, particularly in regards to their carcase quality grading and marbling.
With four properties spread across the centre of King Island, totalling about 1200 hectares, the Harvey family now look after 1000 Angus breeders.
The Harvey family sources bulls from the Moyle family's Pathfinder stud at Gazette, Vic, as well as the Archer family's Landfall stud, Launceston, Tasmania. They have also used bulls from Cluden Newry.
Bull selection is focused on structural soundness, temperament, fertility and growth rates, particularly 400 and 600-day weight. Mr Harvey likes to choose heifer bulls with a birthweight figure of less than +3.
"A high 400-day weight is a focus for the heifer bulls, and we also like a high 600-day weight, as it brings evenness to your herd," he said.
"We also select for positive rib and rump fat and moderate figures of between 15 to 20 for milk."
"The quality breeding that has been put into the bulls is showing through in our cattle now.
"I don't mind paying more than the average price for bulls, if a bull produces an average of 150 steers over five years, he has more than paid for himself.
"Bulls provide the biggest return per dollar and they can have a significant influence on the profitability of your enterprise from one year up to eight years."
Cows are joined on November 1 to start calving in early to mid August. A tight joining period of six weeks is maintained to produce a consistent, even line of steers.
"Calving at that time makes the most of the spring flush of growth and the calves boom off it."
All the bulls are semen-tested and given a veterinary check prior to joining to confirm their breeding soundness.
A ratio of one bull to 50 cows is used, which allows Mr Harvey to maintain detailed sire information and monitor bull performance.
The average calving percentage is between 80 to 90pc across the heifers and cows.
Mr Harvey prefers to provide minimal supplement of hay during calving which he believes has resulted in improved calving percentages.
"I think our calving percentages have increased by 10 to 12pc since we have reduced the amount of supplementary hay fed during calving.
"We supplement the young cattle and heifers with hay in autumn which takes the pressure off the paddocks in the lead-up to winter."
The calves are yard weaned in the following April, at about eight months of age.
Depending on the season, weaning may begin earlier, particularly for the heifers to maximise their recovery period before calving again.
"Yard weaning is an important part of our cattle management and it sets the weaners up for life.
"Every day we'll quietly move the calves through the race and make it a positive, low-stress experience, so when it comes to loading them on a truck we don't have any problems.
"If it is done properly, three days of yard weaning is all they need."
After weaning, the steers and any surplus heifers are moved onto better quality pastures with a high content of clovers in them.
Mr Harvey will start marketing the heavier rising two-year-old steers in August at an average liveweight of 620kg. The remaining steers are weighed and sold in November at about 650 to 750kg.
All the steers are sold directly over the hooks to HW Greenham & Sons and the Harvey family has gained accreditation through its Global Animal Partnership (GAP) quality assurance program.
"Being part of the GAP program works in your favour at certain times of the year. We sell through a contract in August, which is often 20 cents/kg in front of the current market price.
"Growing the steers out works well with our management and I would rather give the cattle the chance to show us their full genetic potential than get rid of them at feedlot age."
About 250 heifers are kept each year, with a focus on temperament, structure and frame size.
Mr Harvey aims to have the heifers at an average of 300 to 350kg at joining and is achieving that target weight comfortably.
"I'll always join more heifers than required and we generally calve down between 200 to 220. If we don't need that many heifers, I'll cull the older cows to keep fresh genetics coming through," he said.
"I like to select heifers which I call lean, mean breeding machines. You want a bit of height and leanness as we find they are the ones that do the best."
Animal health is also a key management factor as the farms are naturally deficient in copper and selenium. Prior to joining, all the heifers receive a long-acting selenium treatment which Mr Harvey said has helped with calving ease.
Trace element lick blocks are also used year-round, along with a targeted vaccination program, depending on cattle requirements.