The long haul at Trangie

How the Chase family of Waitara Angus are managing the drought

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Water availability and the feedlot are key factors, but keeping up relationships is of utmost importance to Steve Chase and his family.

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Steve Chase and son, Patrick, 3, rest between feeding their Angus breeders at Waitara, Trangie.

Steve Chase and son, Patrick, 3, rest between feeding their Angus breeders at Waitara, Trangie.

WATER, a feedlot and relationships have been the key factors holding the Chase family and their Waitara aggregation at Trangie together in this drought.

Without water, Steve Chase says there would be no stock on the 6073 hectare aggregation which is without a crop this winter for the first time, ever.

The Angus stud, commercial cattle and broadacre cropping enterprise is operated by Mr Chase and his wife, Amity, and his father, Geoff.

By keeping cows with their calves in a feedlot on Waitara, the Chases have been able to keep their breeding herd of 475 females intact.

Relationships with suppliers and buyers is just as important.

"Also regular contact with our Local Lands Services district veterinarian, has been vital," Mr Chase said.

Water

Water security is assured at Waitara since the family and other property-holders along the open drain system relinquished their irrigation licences and joined the stock and domestic water scheme provided by the revamped Trangie Nevertire Co-operative Limited.

The Chases put in more than $200,000 worth of infrastructure to have water availability throughout their properties in the Trangie district.

There are 30 concrete water troughs on "Waitara" alone, all fitted with a cattle stopper frame to stop cattle walking over it and potentially harming the animal and damaging the trough.

The watering system provides each trough with a back-up water storage tank of 22,500 litres fed from three main reservoir tanks on each property. These tanks hold 286,000 litres, pumped by solar power.

Saltbush

Every year Waitara-bred calves are weaned in January and run on winter crop stubbles, then moved to another property and moved around paddocks - except this year.

Mr Chase said when cows got closer to calving, they were put into a series of 10ha saltbush blocks which feed upwards of 500 cows for three-and-a-half days in each block.

"It's important to graze saltbush every year otherwise it builds-up salt levels and becomes unpalatable and feed quality lessens.

"It's an important management tool for us because while the cows are in it, all our paddocks are being given a period to rejuvenate.

"But it's not strictly a drought tool. I know I have that feed source every year in autumn."

But this year and more than likely next year, there hasn't been any grass underneath the bushes for extra roughage as saltbush can't be 100 per cent of the diet.

Feedlot

The biggest advantage for the family during this dry time has been the on-property feedlot.

"We'll calve 475 stud and commercial females this year including 145 heifers," Mr Chase said.

"Joining was for nine weeks and later calvers were the first to sell off the property. Some of the heifers will be the next to go, but we haven't really chopped into core numbers as yet.

"I'm pretty bullish about rain, but bearish about when it is going to rain."

They have stored feed to get their stock through to December at this stage.

The tactic is to AI in September and pregnancy test 30 to 60 days after.

One of their biggest drought management tools is fetal aging and having those cows calving at exactly the right time.

The Waitara herd is a cooperator herd for the Angus Sire Benchmarking Program with commercial cows AI'd to some of the breed's elite bulls with progeny measured for every possible trait to provide valuable data used in identifying top performing sires and also Breedplan.

This is the fifth joining in the Benchmark program and all AI'd females are fetal aged.

Mr Chase knows the cows' megajoule intake will rise from 80MJ to 130MJ fairly quickly.

"Up to calving they're at 80MJ, but six weeks later they are right up to their requirements."

Calving is over six weeks and there are different groups drafted on predicted calving dates.

This is where fetal aging becomes very important. This year calves will be creep fed as well and will not be weaned as early as last year.

Benchmark calves last year weighed an average of 118 kilograms at weaning at 90 days and averaged just under 1kg weight gain per day."

Relationships

Relationships have been of utmost importance.

"The one thing that has been important in this time has been our relationship with suppliers, advisors and our lotfeeder," he said.

"We've been able to get grape marc because we have used the same supplier for a long time. It's a low-value, low quality feed, but it's a really good filler.

"We've also been able to continue a strong relationship with our grain suppliers who have stuck with us and we need to repay the favour when it rains.

"Kerwee feedlot and Stockyard Beef have been tremendous partners in purchasing our steers and returning great feedback data.

"It's because of these relationships we have been able to keep going on this present track, and we are so fortunate and thankful for them.

"Nyngan-based LLS district veterinarian, Erica Kennedy, has also been tremendous with her advice."

Cropping

This year is the first, ever, the Chases haven't sown a winter crop.

"We had a harvest last year after 125mm of rain in October/November enabling us to pull off 800 tonnes of grain," Steve Chase said.

"So this is the second year in a row we have had to feed our cows through calving. We've never had to do that before either."

Mr Chase said without the stock and domestic water they wouldn't have a single beast on the property.

"I guess there would probably be only 15 to 20 per cent of cattle numbers left in this district."

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