Breeding back out of drought

Bingara producers turn to embryos to breed back out of drought

Beef
Bingara producer Rhonda King. Photo: Laura Lockhart

Bingara producer Rhonda King. Photo: Laura Lockhart

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Would you use your lifetime travel savings to rebuild your herd?

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Bingara producer Rhonda King and her 86-year-old father Alf were steaming ahead with their Speckle Park herd when back-to-back droughts crippled their momentum.

In January they had made the decision to sell the final remnants of their 300-head herd at Doctors Creek when rain came not long after and saved them from the decision.

With cattle prices soaring to record levels Ms King opted to use her lifetime travel savings to purchase embryos rather than replacement livestock and is hoping to breed her way back into business.

Their herd currently consists of about 90 Speckle Park including cows, heifers and bulls with an additional 11 Angus recipients purchased from another stud.

Photo: Laura Lockhart

Photo: Laura Lockhart

Ms King began her cattle holdings with 150 Angus females and crossed half to Angus and the other half to Charolais bulls for the beef market but in 2010 she saw Speckle Park cattle in Australia and a year later had purchased a new sire.

His semen was used in three AI programs before returning as a mop up bull and Ms King continued building the Speckle Park influence, reaching as high as fourth cross before settling for second and third cross.

Her pregnancy-tested-in-calf commercial heifers were selling for up to $3200 before drought arrived and the offload began with older Angus cows selling for $600 in calf to Speckle Park bulls.

Eventually Ms King noticed a market for her cattle with hobby or first-time breeders

"It was that grim on the farm I couldn't allow my cows to calve because they would take twice the feed," she said.

Photo: Laura Lockhart

Photo: Laura Lockhart

"I sacrificed a lot but in saying that I got very good prices for my Speckles and being in calf I was able to sell them just privately through Facebook through my site because at that stage there was increased demand. People in the drought were saying maybe I might be able to afford one of these pretty cows.

"That's when I saw the whole market open up with the interest and a lot of people wanted purebred at the same time which I didn't have any of the purebreds for sale."

Financially depleted from the cost of feeding in drought, Ms King decided to put her savings intended for a South American trip of a lifetime to buy embryos.

"I thought how am I going to be able to come back from this? I won't be able to buy cattle, they will be too expensive," she said.

Photo: Laura Lockhart

Photo: Laura Lockhart

"So I started to buy some embryos and put them in the tank. I thought I can either start up with these or if worst comes to worst I can come back and offer them for sale."

While last year many artificial breeding programs were left on ice due to the dry conditions, AI technicians and embryologists are now reporting an increase in work with many producers returning after a few years absence.

Specking to The Land recently Geoff Steinbeck of Excel Genetics at Dungowan said he had noticed a rise in programs, including more autumn schedules, and bull semen collection for those wanting to retain their own genetics.

A month ago Ms King had embryos implanted into a small team of 11 recipient females with one of her own females preparing to be flushed soon.

While her heifers will calve in July, Ms King opted to undertake an embryo program as soon as possible to speed up her herd rebuild.

"It was just too long to wait to let them have a calf and wait the three months and start from there," she said.

"Now I'm 12 months in front of myself."

In 2018 Ms King's father made global headlines when a photograph of him praying in a bone-dry dam went viral.

They admit they won't have enough time to rebuild their herd to what it once was but hope to run their operation smarter rather than harder.

Photo: Laura Lockhart

Photo: Laura Lockhart

Moving towards a purebred business is among the plans.

"I'm 61 and it took me 20 years to build up my Angus herd and really I haven't got 20 years left or if I do I don't think I'll be out in the paddock running around too much," Ms King said.

"I had to think how can I do things a little smarter where I don't have a lot of numbers on farm but I could get the same income.

"If I start a purebred side and run alongside my commercial...I probably would still get the same income.

"If you are looking at selling a cow and calf or PTIC heifer for $3000 commercially then good genetics in a purebred heifer of 12 months are bringing around $9000 at the moment."

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