How drought helped achieve 98 per cent preg test

Bugaldie cropping and beef operation back in the game as hard work during drought pays off

Elliot Shannon (right) and his daughter Molly of Tiona, Bugaldie, are seeing the benefits of their hard work in the drought.

Elliot Shannon (right) and his daughter Molly of Tiona, Bugaldie, are seeing the benefits of their hard work in the drought.


Those hardest hit by drought are right back in the breeding game.


Many livestock operations across the state are showing little signs of the impacts of longstanding drought thanks to the implementation of early weaning and confinement feeding tactics.

Despite the difficult conditions beef herds and sheep flocks faced last year, recent scanning rates of breeders have put those hardest hit by drought right back in the breeding game as cattle prices continue to soar.

The decision to early wean calves down to 40 kilograms paid off for Bugaldie's Shannon family who are enjoying one of their strongest seasonal starts for some time.

The Central West cropping and beef operation run by Elliot and Kate Shannon along with their children Annabelle, Molly, Reuben and Maggie is off to a flying start; winter sowing has taken place and pregnancy testing results have come back at close to 100 per cent.

A 200 head breeder herd of predominantly Angus or black baldy are run alongside a herd of 230 buy-in trade cattle for feedlot markets, down from the normal 400, on an aggregation totally 1100 hectares across the properties Tiona and Levuka.

It was 2002 when the Shannons early weaned calves for the first time and have utilised the management approach when required ever since.

Last year calves were weaned and placed into three weight categories to be fed for three months accordingly; under 80 kilograms, 80kg to 120kg and 120kg and over.

A handful of calves were down to 40 kilograms but the effort paid off when recent pregnancy testing results came back at about 98 per cent in calf.

The benefits on the calves are also evident with handful of weaners that weren't pulled off early noticeably behind those in the mob.

"The big win is on the cows," Mr Shannon said.

"Our second calf heifers were 100 per cent in calf, it was the older cows that let us down. I think there were 140 cows and we had two empty and they were out of the 40 old cows.

"It takes work, don't worry it's not for the faint hearted and once you start you are committed."

LLS senior land service officer for livestock, Dr Sue Street, said producers were seeing improvements to reproduction and scanning rates thanks to early weaning, containment feeding and joining in confinement.

Molly and Elliot Shannon

Molly and Elliot Shannon

Techniques like early weaning could reduce feeding costs by 30 to 40 per cent and allow females to build condition ready for joining.

"A lot of producers have tried or are using new management practices that I think they will continue to use in the future especially in terms of nutrition," she said.

"I think the drought has allowed them to really nail nutrition and I think people have actually realised just how much feed needs to go into those animals at certain periods of the year and how much that affects joining and reproduction rates.

"I think there are a lot of positives that have come out of the drought.

"Reproductive rates are going to be so important in the next few years because of the price of livestock and the amount of livestock that had been sold."

Elliot and Molly Shannon.

Elliot and Molly Shannon.

The Shannon family hadn't sold any of their grain for the last two years, opting to take their own wheat to a Baradine feed mill and returning with a full ration supplemented with bought in hay.

It roughly cost about $100/calf/month to feed through early weaning, a cost that Mr Shannon said paid off for an extra 10 to 20 per cent joining rate.

"We carried close to 70 to 75 per cent of our stock up until this year when I sold some heavier weaners because the prices were good...and older cows that were in good nick and thought we will cash them in," he said.

"It paid to feed them last year, the money was there. It was just a matter of keeping the wheels turning but doing it knowing you are making money."

CopRice nutritionist Nicole Logg said early weaning was now becoming a regular management tactic as producers saw the benefits to both breeder conception and progeny growing quicker.

"Customers and clients have said to me they will continue to do it every year because they see the improvements and growth rates for the calves in particular and conception too if they have done it right," she said.

"I think it (this drought) was a second phase.

"We saw it earlier on in the millennium drought where people started lot feeding and containment feeding and learnt how to feed sheep and we are at the next level now where they have got all those basics and now they are starting to ask those questions does it have organic minerals."

At the Shannon's property cows are joined for three months from October while heifers are given six weeks from August to allow another month or two after they have calved to rejoin.

"I guess you could say lack of production there, you should be joining them a little earlier but my key objective is to have a calf on the ground," he said.

"I generally don't breed heifers but the last few years I have been just because it's too hard to replace cows so the breeding operation is pretty simple; if a cow has teeth she stays and if she is in calf she stays if not she goes."

Since rain relief finally arrived on January 17 the family has recorded 400 millimetres for the year, compared with 260mm the year before in what is normally a 650mm average annual rainfall area.

Currently 150 hectares of grazing and grain oats is in the ground along with 100 hectares of grazing wheat, 100 hectares of canola, 100 hectares of early bread wheat, 10 hectares of lupins for seed and 200 hectares of main season wheat.

While they had sacrificed some paddocks and tried to maintain ground cover, Mr Shannon predicted it would take four to six weeks for feed to grow. But three weeks after rain, they had cattle feed.

"Instead of bleeding money on fodder I am bleeding money on fertiliser and chemical; it's exceptional," Mr Shannon said.

"It was pretty magic," Ms Shannon added.

As trade cattle are bought in at around 200kg and sold at 450kg, the Shannons aim to offload every 10 months.

"If we can average around that 1kg a day by the time we buy them from the time they go or anywhere from 0.8kg to 1kg is realistic because it's a balance between looking after my country and livestock performance," he said.

"The tropical grasses they have all gone to head, I've let them go rank so it's not good weaner feed but the cattle are still doing about 0.7kg a day.

"From an animal production point of view the feed is at that wrong stage but from a land management stage it's excellent, it's just all rank, it's all falling back over; it's great ground cover.

"I kept banging on during the drought; know yourself, know your business and do what works on your place.

"It's just managing your land. Trying to get that balance between production, performance and land management."


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