FOCUSING on maternal traits is allowing NSW weaner producers Rob Toole and Amanda Harris to improve genetics in their breeders, while turning weaner steers off as early as possible.
The couple runs about 170 breeders at Ardcheil, near Gloucester, and they've been using the Laurie family's Knowla genetics for the past eight years, after shifting to Angus from Hereford cattle about 20 years ago to maximise marketing opportunities with weaners.
Selecting bulls based on maternal traits of fertility and milk is particularly important as Mr Toole rebuilds his herd following four years of drought.
"We're looking for milk because we continue to raise our heifers as future breeders, and we hope to keep 70 per cent of the heifers to rebuild this year," Mr Toole said.
"We normally run 140 cows and calves and around 35 replacement heifers, and we're retaining heifers every year to keep the herd predominantly young, with cows no more than eight years of age. Because I'm away from the farm so often we've tended to push for better fertility in our cattle."
Genetics plays a part, along with management.
"We join the heifers for six weeks only and preg test, then sell the empties, which makes everything more efficient. Once they've had their first calf they'll be with the rest of the herd for an eight-week joining period.
"We run the operation that way to minimise the amount of time we're mustering cattle. They're in single-sire mobs of 35 cows, with one third joined on the June 1 and the rest joined on October 1, just to keep the options open for markets that may be available at different times of the year."
If you don't police the measures of fertility and milk you're letting your herd down, and I feel that semen testing is the safest form of insurance of fertility that I can get. With what we're getting for weaners, it makes the semen testing a pretty cheap insurance policy
All replacement heifers are yard weaned and trained through the crush.
"To get to the feed they have to go through the crush which gives them a temperament check," Mr Toole said.
"Those heifers then go on to the better feed that's available on the property through joining and for the first six months of their pregnancy.
"Then in the last few months they're in a tighter paddock where they have to walk so as to reduce pelvic fat and prepare them for an easy calving.
"We need to make sure our cattle can calve, and we have a very low percentage of assisted calving."
Focusing on maternal characteristics, along with semen testing every bull prior to joining, has helped with long-term fertility across the herd, Mr Toole said.
"If you don't police the measures of fertility and milk you're letting your herd down, and I feel that semen testing is the safest form of insurance of fertility that I can get.
"If he's going out with 35 cows, in today's market, with what we're getting for weaners, it makes the semen testing a pretty cheap insurance policy."
The pasture mix includes setaria, kikuyu, and haifa and strawberry clovers, and paspalum, with oats and ryegrass sown each year.
"We bale pasture hay and for the paddocks we've stripped we'll go back in with a light Roundup to retard the growth and direct drill into that chicory, oats and ryegrass," Mr Toole said.
"That gives us an opportunity to either feed heifers up or cell graze the cattle that might need better nutrition.
"We rotate cattle every 10 days, seasons prevailing, so they're going on to fresh feed all the time.
Both steers and heifers are sold through the local Gloucester store sale, weighing from 230 to 250 kilograms, with many of the heifers going to local restockers.
"Farmers know I have a strict regime on the fertility with these heifers, so they're buying them as breeders, and having them used to going in a new paddock every 10 days helps them when they go to a new property."
Knowla Livestock principals James and Ted Laurie have also purchased Mr Toole's steers.
Having a close relationship with the Lauries has allowed him to select bulls based on their guidance, with consideration for market returns.
"I've been happy with prices through the saleyards, and I use the steer weaner market as a guide on what I need to pay for my bulls.
"I think if you sell 10 good quality steers, what you get for those, is what you can afford to pay for a bull."