Beef revival at Narran Lake

Beef revival at Narran Lake

Beef
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Breeding is back on the table at Narran Lake after more than 300 millimetres of rain revived the beef operation.

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Kevin Keech with heifers at Narran Lake, Walgett, where the herd is rebuilding to 3000 breeders. Photo: Kim Keech

Kevin Keech with heifers at Narran Lake, Walgett, where the herd is rebuilding to 3000 breeders. Photo: Kim Keech

The Keech and McKenzie families at Narran Lake, halfway between Walgett and Brewarrina, are taking the opportunity to make the most of grass on their country that has been in drought for at least seven years.

Trading as Narran Lake Pastoral Company, Kevin and Kim Keech with Kim's brother, Colin McKenzie and his two sons are working hard to rebuild their cattle herd back to 3000 breeders, like it was during the 2009 to 2013 years, and aim at supplying the domestic beef trade market.

Some of the Angus and Charolais/Angus-cross heifers.

Some of the Angus and Charolais/Angus-cross heifers.

While rain since January has been patchy with falls totalling from 125mm to 300mm within the 52,632 hectare aggregation of four properties, it has brought new hope with renewed pasture and grasses.

"There wasn't a blade of grass out here up to the January rain. You wouldn't believe the country could respond like this," Kevin Keech said.

"We have a buyer scouting saleyards in the North West and Central West for Angus heifers to rebuild numbers."

The Keech family moved to the region in the 1960s when Kevin's father, Dudley, purchased Kia-Ora for sheep breeding.

Kevin started the Kia-Ora feedlot in 1984 and later sold the property with two others in 2009 after purchasing Narran Lake in 2001.

With Narran Lake more suited for breeding than backgrounding, they built up the herd to 3000, but the extending long dry years forced destocking down to 1000 head.

"We fed for a big part of the drought and we did have 1000 breeders away on agistment at Inverell for more than six months," Mr Keech said.

"Now we can get back to breeding steers to grow out to the 350 to 400 kilogram range at 14 to 18 months and sell to the Kia-Ora feedlot for finishing for the domestic market."

He likes the Angus which do the job, but is also keen on crossing with Charolais.

"They also go okay into the domestic market with the Angus and I think we just get them off a little bit quicker than the straight Angus," he said.

"No doubt hybrid vigour has a lot to do with it, but the crosses produce a pretty good boned animal too, and they still seem to finish quite well for the domestic market."

Mr Keech now gets around the countryside in his helicopter, having obtained a fixed-wing license in the mid-1970s.

Last Thursday he flew into the Outwest Angus bull sale at Quambone and flew out after buying nine bulls.

Only a fortnight before, he did the same, parked the helicopter in the paddock next to the stockyards, inspected the couple of dozen-plus bulls, selected 24 and flew off.

"This is hard country so we like to buy bulls bred in the local area," Mr Keech said.

"In these big acreages out here we don't buy the higher-priced bulls because out here when you are joining in mobs of 500 females we might get quite a few injuries.

"So I try to stick with the $5000 bulls if I can."

Mr Keech said he needed that many bulls this year as he hadn't bought many for a few years during the drought and female numbers were down.

We have a buyer scouting saleyards in the North West and Central West for Angus heifers to rebuild numbers. - Kevin Keech, Narran Lake, Walgett

"But all our bulls are now getting a bit old, so to breed up from 1000 and try to get 3000 I wanted some good young bulls to get back into production as quickly as possible."

The property is named after the lake located on the Narran River towards the bottom of the Condamine-Balonne river system and water currently covers 6075ha of the 24,300ha property. The lakebed lends itself to cropping as water recedes.

"It doesn't need a lot of rain to keep it going," he said.

"On the lakebed itself couch grass grows, especially as the water recedes, but Japanese millet grows abundantly and I reckon it's probably our best feed."

The millet has never been sown by the family, but has been brought down by water over past weather events.

"A lot of clovers also come through, even in the lake bed where you'd think the seed would rot under the water, but they grow well. As the water dries up we'll put in a summer crop of sorghum and then winter cereals the following year."

There's a lot to do at Narran Lake and as Mr Keech says, "if you sit around the next thing we'll be caught back in another drought".

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