David and Roy Reeves of Bia-Grab Pastoral Company, Grabben Gullen picked up ribbons for the best presented steers and best presented heifers during the Yass Autumn weaner sales this year, despite doing minimal hand-feeding during a tough season.
The brothers, who are fourth generation farmers, run 170 Angus breeders, but they haven't held onto the heifers they produce for the last 10 years.
Instead they buy in cows and calves or pregnancy-tested-in-calf (PTIC) females, usually guaranteeing a quality progeny and fast-tracking their program.
"We sell an eighth-month-old heifer and then buy cows with a calf at foot or first calvers preg tested, so you're saving 12-months basically," David said.
The calves bought in (either with cows or progeny of PTIC females) make up 10 to 20 per cent of their total calf numbers each year.
"It also allows us to replace older stock, anything that scans dry is gone and anything that's a little long in the tooth," Roy said.
Roy said they joined their cows to Rennylea bulls, which they liked for their fast growth rates and good temperaments.
While, they looked for known bloodlines, length and thick legs, in the cows they bought in.
"They've got to be good livestock, we're not just trying to pick up something cheap to make money on, it's got to be something that will be here and be productive for its life-span," Roy said.
"We're constantly scanning AuctionsPlus for the right articles.
"It's better when we have the calf on the ground because then we can match re-joining them with the others, whereas if you buy something preg-tested it might not suit your timing."
The Reeves' said their low-stocking rates, recent pasture improvement and winter cropping program enables them to have cattle in good condition to sell throughout the year.
"The stock are primed and are ready for sale whenever the markets are up, instead of feeding them up, getting them fat and the market's not there," David said.
They started their winter cropping program around 20 years ago, sowing mostly black bud oats, with triticale and wheat also in the mix.
"Some cattle will come off the crops in September so the crops can be harvested, others will stay on to chew them out, right up until Christmas," Roy said.
In the past five years they have had a focus on pasture improvement, putting out 800 tonnes of lime a year across 160 hectares to correct the soil's aluminum and acidic levels.
"We're also moving from predominantly cocksfoot to rye grass and clover, in order to give us more quality feed during winter," David said.
Running less stock to increase productivity
He said their operation ran on the philosophy of running less stock to increase productivity.
"We tried it the other way, we were running more stock, but we made about the same amount of money."
They have now reduced their numbers, despite buying more farmland, and said they are producing better quality, healthier cattle.
They said they aim to buy and sell in the same market but said swings in prices during the season didn't panic them.
"If we can't get what we want we just run less stock, we're not relying on keeping our numbers up," David said.
"We like to keep dropping the age of the older cows by buying in more but if it doesn't happen we run the older ones for another season."
Roy said it also helped that cattle wasn't their only operation, the family also runs 3500 Merinos.
"We can hold or we can sell, we can lose a few dollars here and there on cows because the fat lamb market or wool market can prop us up."
The Reeves said their main aim was to improve their country and business for the next generation.
"Ninety per cent of what we do is for the next generation, so they're not walking into a run down farm they can't make a living from," David said.