DEALING with the current drought has led to a shift in focus for the Peatfield family from Uralla, NSW.
The Peatfields have been breeding Angus cattle for about 20 years, building a 650-head herd based on Glenavon and Wattletop bloodlines.
They've used about 20 bulls from Guyra stud Bridgewater for the past five years.
"They've been very sound and performed well," John Peatfield said.
"The heifer bulls have done the job without any problems and heavier bulls performed well with the progeny getting to feedlot weight and performing well in the feedlot."
Mr Peatfield studies EBVs, looking for high 600-day weight and the best possible intramuscular fat value.
"Then I look for reasonable birthweight and mark off the bulls that meet that criteria before I visually assess them," he said.
"For the heifers we focus on low birthweight because it's so important to get a calf on the ground."
Most calves are grown out to feeder weights but Mr Peatfield is flexible with his markets, particularly in dry times.
He had plans to build his numbers, but that's changed following this drought.
"We were striving for 750 cows but I've completely changed my view on that," Mr Peatfield said.
"Keeping it at 650 gives us the flexibility of either selling weaners if the season is bad or keeping the whole lot through to replacement and feeder market.
"We grow them out almost entirely off grass. We have improved native pasture where the cows are run and some sown pastures."
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This year almost all calves were sold as weaners after a three-day weaning program and supplementary feeding with weaner pellets in the paddock.
"Three days is enough because it's often wet at weaning which increases the chance of health issues.
"We get them in the paddock as quickly as we can and then bring the steers back in the spring when it's warm, where they're in the yard or a week to give them the yard-weaning experience. We send them at 15 to 18 months, and try to get as close to 500 kilograms as we can, but they end up averaging about 440kg. They're born from August to October and the first lot go in December, and the rest by the end of February to give the place a bit of a spell before the next weaners go out again."
Mr Peatfield is now considering his options for when the season turns around.
"We're staying at 650 breeders, but I'm also thinking about setting up a feed-assist grain program to get the majority of the steers closer to that 500kg mark."