Producing quality Angus feeder steers is the focus for Tooma Station in southern NSW, with their large-scale pasture and grain seed operation playing a key role in maximising weaner growth rates.
Owned by the Sutherland family, the Tooma Station enterprise covers six properties, totalling about 2377 hectares, in the valley of the Tooma River, not far from its junction with the Murray River.
Managed by Toby Jones, Tooma Station currently runs 1320 pure Angus breeders and grows 1200ha of canola, oats, wheat, barley, fescue, phalaris and ryegrass varieties, all for seed production.
"The Angus herd and the cropping enterprise complement each other really well," Mr Jones said.
"Many of the seed varieties we grow can be grazed which enables us to finish the steers as quickly as possible.
"We aim to breed an extremely fertile, functional Angus herd that is sustainable and fast growing. We want good cows that are going to last and which will produce calves that will grow."
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They plan on increasing numbers to 2000 cows over the next four years to improve the scale of the beef enterprise, with additional land being leased as required.
For ease of management, the cows and heifers are joined for a six-week period in mid-October and November to start calving from mid-July onwards. A ratio of one bull to 40 to 50 cows is used and after the first three-week cycle is finished, all the bulls will be rotated.
Tooma Station has been a long-time bull client of the Moore family's Weeran stud at Byaduk, Vic, as well as sourcing sires from Landfall Angus in Tasmania.
Mr Jones likes to use a combination of visual appraisal and estimated breeding values for his bull selection with a focus on structure and growth.
"The main trait I'm chasing at the moment is 400-day weight which I want to be +100, as the quicker we can turn our steers off, the more cows I can run.
"Our herd base is already very good for cow frame size and our fertility is pretty good. We're achieving an average of about 80-83 per cent from cows and heifers joined to calves weaned.
"We look for bulls with average birthweight figures between +4.2 and +4.8 for our cows and heifers.
"The heifers need to be challenged to increase fertility. We are calving down 300 to 400 heifers each year without any issues.
"Structure is also paramount, where the cattle run is hilly, wet and rocky, so feet and legs are very important."
All the breeders are pregnancy tested and any empty cows will be sold immediately which has helped to build overall herd fertility.
In the lead-up to calving, the cows get access to roughage, generally farm-produced ryegrass straw, and are also provided with a trace element lick block to prevent any pregnancy toxaemia problems.
"Normally we would be supplementary feeding bales of silage at this time of year but we have been unbelievably lucky with the season.
"We had a fantastic spring last year and an absolute cracker of an autumn so there is a fair bit of feed around at the moment."
Cows and calves are grazed on stubble paddocks before coming in for weaning from mid-February to March.
The calves are all weaned for one week in purpose-built yards with silage, hay and fresh, clean water. They are handled daily.
The weaners are then placed in holding paddocks and fed silage until the seed paddocks are ready.
The steers will then be moved to paddocks which have been sown for wheat seed production until about September and October, aiming to reach a target feedlot entry weight of 450 kilograms by 13 to 14 months of age.
"It works hand-in-hand with the cropping enterprise as a lot of the wheat seed varieties grown can be grazed.
"We have just finished our second grazing in some of the paddocks sown in February and March.
The weaners will also graze paddocks sown for annual and Italian ryegrass seed production in August and September.
"Even through the dead of winter our cattle are still putting on good weight in the wheat seed paddocks and then when they move onto the ryegrass crops.
"Several years ago, we had a dry autumn and had to irrigate our pasture seed paddocks.
"We had an average weight gain of 1.95kg/day for about three weeks, the cattle just boomed."
"The first B-double load of steers is generally ready to go in September and will be rising 13-and-a-half-months-old."
Last year the steers were mainly sold to the newly established Australian Food and Agricultural vendor-bred feedlot operation at Conargo, NSW. They have also sold to Rangers Valley feedlot at Glen Innes, NSW.
This season Tooma Station will turn off about 560 steers and is aiming to finish 630 steers next year.
To build numbers, about 80pc of the heifers are currently being kept as replacements with a focus on structurally sound, feminine and quiet females with plenty of growth.
After weaning they also graze the wheat and ryegrass seed paddocks which ensures they always hit more than 400kg by joining time.
Cows with young calves at foot will graze the pasture paddocks, which comprise a diverse mix of species including phalaris, summer- and winter-active fescue, perennial ryegrass and clovers.
"We will run big mobs of weaner steers and heifers and move them around the grazing crop paddocks, but the cows and calves will be run on our hilly, non-arable country to prevent any hypocalcaemia problems."
The seed paddocks are harvested through the summer with the first crop generally windrowed about November 25. Grass seed yields average about 1.5 tonnes/ha.
All the seed is cleaned and bagged in the station's cleaning plant, with the grass seed sold through the Sutherland's proprietary seed business, Upper Murray Seeds.
The canola seed is produced under contract for Nuseed Australia, while wheat seed is grown for Hart Bros Seeds, Junee, NSW.