All roads lead to Coonamble

Coonamble cattle trader buys in heifers to minimise risk

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Coonamble cattle trader Adam MacRae's children George, 8, Barney, 3, Audrey, 5, Oscar, 12, and Isobel, 10, with the weaner heifers they recently bought from Kempsey. Mr MacRae said they were buying in heifers to minimise risk. Photo supplied.

Coonamble cattle trader Adam MacRae's children George, 8, Barney, 3, Audrey, 5, Oscar, 12, and Isobel, 10, with the weaner heifers they recently bought from Kempsey. Mr MacRae said they were buying in heifers to minimise risk. Photo supplied.

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Cattle pour into the Central West.

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Coonamble is experiencing one of its best seasons on record, and after two years of drought an influx of cattle are entering the district.

AuctionsPlus reported of the 3507 weaner cattle offered last week, the Central West was the top purchasing area with 771 weaners heading that way.

The Northern Tablelands was next with 586 head, followed by the North West Slopes and Plains with 421.

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Halcroft and Bennett director, David Thompson, Coonamble, said the business had been busy purchasing stock from saleyards from Ballarat, Victoria, to Julia Creek, Queensland.

In recent weeks, a lot of cattle had also been sourced from coastal centres like Grafton, Casino and Kempsey.

"We've been purchasing everything from a 200 kilogram heifer up to a $2000 cow and calf," Mr Thompson said.

He said the cattle were either going to traders taking advantage of the remarkable season, or breeders restocking after the drought.

First cattle store to be held in three years

With such large numbers of cattle entering the district, Coonamble Associated Agents is also planning its first fat and store cattle sale in three years.

"It will be held on June 11 or 12 and we hope to continue it monthly from then on," Mr Thompson said.

AJF Brien and Sons director David Chadwick, Coonamble, said the agency was buying in less cattle than it would have liked due to tight margins.

"When your restockers are making almost what the finished product is worth you have to question the mathematics and tread a little cautiously," Mr Chadwick said.

"We've just got to trade around the madness and try to reduce exposure to these exorbitant prices."

Trading around the madness 

He said with the drought breaking in many places at once, they were seeing more competition than normal.

"The pasture season here is marvellous, it's one of the best I've seen in my lifetime, but in saying that some commonsense must prevail," Mr Chadwick said.

"Up to 600c/kg for restocker steers is record money so let's hope the other end can support that sort of buy price.

"Last week's announcement by China highlights how things can change quickly."

Coonamble cattle trader, Adam MacRae, said one way he was minimising risk was to focus on buying weaner heifers instead of steers.

"Obviously the buy in is lower for heifers and it provides flexibility for us if we need to change the game plan," Mr MacRae said.

"At the moment it's just purely to get the dollars per head down, but we have the option to go for high-value cows and calves if we need to."

Weaner heifers give flexibility 

Mr MacRae said they luckily had finished cattle ready to sell when the market sky-rocketed earlier this year, having hand-fed cows and calves in containment lots over summer.

"It rained just as the cows were ready, they did quite nicely, allowing us to step in and play ball at this new level of prices," Mr MacRae said.

He said they were purchasing weaner heifers with mob averages of 200-230kg and hoped to sell the tops as feeders by August.

"A few weeks ago we sold feeder heifers for 400c/kg, so if you're buying under that on a cents per kilo basis, which we're able to do at the moment, then I think you've got a margin that gives you some cash flow," Mr MacRae said.

"With light cattle and zero in the feed column there's plenty of upside in the trading game, we like to think we have a chance at doubling our money. We're just having to search far and wide to find the value we're after."

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