Milkers switch to beef trading

Torrumbarry dairy farmers make successful switch to beef trading

Beef
Barry Ashwin and Sally Mitchell, Wattle Creek, Torrumbarry, pictured last year with a load of mixed sex cattle, predominantly Angus sourced from Carcoar/Black Springs/Barnawatha. Photo: Rachael Webb

Barry Ashwin and Sally Mitchell, Wattle Creek, Torrumbarry, pictured last year with a load of mixed sex cattle, predominantly Angus sourced from Carcoar/Black Springs/Barnawatha. Photo: Rachael Webb

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The couple were trading up to 750 beef cattle at any one time.

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Torrumbarry's Sally Mitchell and Barry Ashwin had been dairy farmers for some 30 years when they made the decision to sell their 500 milkers.

That was 13 months ago now and the couple went on to trade about 4000 head of cattle in 2019, sometimes 750 at one time, by utilising their dairy system and learning new practices too.

The decision to switch to a beef enterprise was purely water driven. Their lactating milkers required nearly twice as much water as a dry cow and proved a large expense as flood irrigation private diverters to the Murray.

Not only did they get the benefits of a new flexible sleep in but they were able to trade their beef stock within 90 days.

"We had all the crops in and we cut those crops for silage so the majority of the feed for the beef cows was silage and we supplemented that with grain that we brought in," Ms Mitchell said.

A load of mixed sex cattle, predominantly Angus sourced from Carcoar/Black Springs/Barnawatha last year. Photo: Rachael Webb

A load of mixed sex cattle, predominantly Angus sourced from Carcoar/Black Springs/Barnawatha last year. Photo: Rachael Webb

"We had a mixer wagon and we would mix it in the mixer wagon so there would be silage, straw, and grain.

"It was all about throughput really. They weren't in a feedlot situation, they were all in paddocks, and we had concrete troughs in paddocks and we put the feed into the concrete troughs and we had straw in hay rigs.

"It was a good system for us but probably someone who has never been tied to a dairy situation and just had beef grazing, they would find it quite difficult to do (labour intensive)."

They worked with a stock agent to source and sell their trade animals which included everything from feeder steers to store cattle or abattoir kill cows.

"We bought cattle for particular markets and buyers," Ms Mitchell said.

"We didn't go and purchased any ourselves from the saleyards. The agent just put the orders in to different agents and those network and that's how it happened."

Their lives are also set to take another turn this year after selling their 526 hectare (1300 acre) property and purchasing 105 hectares (260 acres) of grazing country at Samaria, Vic. They will move in May.

"It's a climate change driven move - we want to get into higher rainfall area," Ms Mitchell said.

In the meantime they currently have about 450 trade cattle spread across their new property and two other agistment properties where the producers are either feeding a keep-on heifer ration or a fattening ration.

"We are paying for the feed and we are paying them a set fee for every animal," Ms Mitchell said.

The biggest differences between their dairy and beef operation were handling skills and ease of calving.

"Because a lot of the cows were from drought areas and were not quiet we had to learn a whole lot of skills dealing with them in the yards," Ms Mitchell said.

"We kept some and calved them down and they calved like nothing.

"Often dairy cows you have to assist in the calving but the beef cows and calves...seem to survive a bit more. A dairy cows an athlete...the beef cows just eat and sleep."

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