MAKING nutrition a priority at an early stage and focusing on high quality genetics, means David Lonergan's Angus cattle are thriving, despite poor seasonal conditions over the past five years.
Mr Lonergan and his partner Helen Walker run about 250 breeders across 4050 hectares at Zahlee, Bundarra, and Burraweeda and Tildon at Mungindi.
Mr Lonergan has been breeding Angus cattle for three decades and has used genetics from Warialda stud Texas Angus for more than 20 years.
"We've been selling to a lot of feedlots over the years and we've always had a very saleable article because of the Texas bloodlines, and there's good demand for weaners through saleyards," he said.
"The bulls have fantastic temperament, they're big, free-flowing bulls with strong frames and they can travel in the Mungindi country.
Mr Lonergan focuses on carcase characteristics such as intramuscular fat and eye muscle area and he's been selecting low birthweight bulls for the past few years.
"We bought a beautiful Discovery (Matauri Discovery 839) bull there last year that was 900kg but with a very low birthweight EBV so we're very interested to see his progeny this year.
We also like to watch the female lines, the dominant cows in the stud, to see if we can pick something up from a proven breeder in the stud, because you're almost guaranteed that those genetics will flow right through your herd.
"We bought a Texas Stud Muffin bull the year before and he has a frame score of seven, but he's throwing small calves, which is exactly what we were after with our genetics.
"We also like to watch the female lines, the dominant cows in the stud, to see if we can pick something up from a proven breeder in the stud, because you're almost guaranteed that those genetics will flow right through your herd."
Steers are finished to a minimum of 360 kilograms and sold to NH Foods Whyalla feedlot near Texas.
"We set up our own feedlot at Mungindi and we were selling straight to the supermarket, but at this stage we're concentrating on Whyalla.
"They'll take them from 360kg, but we're hoping to get to 450kg within 12 to 14 months."
The key to achieving that quick growth is nutrition, and by using an automatic feed mixer, along with recommendations from livestock nutritionist Ross Gibson. Using a ration of rolled wheat or barley, soybean meal and hay, along with a Rumenworks supplement in a long trough has allowed Mr Lonergan to finish cattle despite the drought.
The properties have a pasture mix of mainly native grasses and he's planted ryegrass, serradella and oats, as well as clovers in country that was burnt out on the Bundarra property a few years ago.
"This year is the first year we've got oats in at Mungindi in five years, so we've been feeding weaners and getting fantastic results," he said.
"We've been using the mixer through the drought and that helped us get last year's heifer calves to breeding weight, and turn the steers off a lot quicker, for minimal feed."
The higher level of nutrition begins at weaning.
"We yard wean for at least a fortnight onto grain and the rumen lick, which gets their rumen working, and those cows' rumens will be fully developed to set them up for the rest of their lives, so they should be able to adapt a lot quicker to changing conditions," Mr Lonergan said.
"They also get A, D, E and B12 vitamins at weaning, and they're not losing any weight.
"Last year we weaned early, at 120kg, and even with the drought, the tops were putting on 2kg a day, and they averaged around 1.5kg.
"The year before, we were handfeeding cottonseed out of the back of a ute, putting hay out, and using a wet lick, but we were still going backwards, and we had a very low conception rate. This year, with the mixer, we're at 94pc conception and everything looks so well."
Investing in the feed mixer and nutrition advice has paid off in increased weight gains, as well as business resilience.
The couple was able to finish cattle when many producers were struggling to keep their operations going.
"With Ross's help we feel confident for the future, because another drought is bound to happen," Ms Walker said.
"As painful as it was paying for the feed and feeding through drought, we had an item, and we were moving forward through the drought.
"It was expensive with the price of soyabean through the roof, but when we can lock them up to give them 10kg a day of the mix and a bale of hay, and they're putting on weight, it's very uplifting. We weren't going out every day just feeding cattle to keep them alive, but we were managing to get some sort of production."
Heifers are also on a RumenWorks lick to help get them up to breeding weight, about 310kg, and they have access to a RumenWorks lick at calving.
"We believe that helps them recover from calving and get back into calf down the track," Ms Walker said.
"We're constantly changing the ration with Ross Gibson's recommendations, to keep the cows in good condition."
The couple plans to retain 80pc of the heifer calves while rebuilding herd numbers, with a goal of 400 to 450 cows, Mr Lonergan said.
"We've bought in a few heifers in this year and bought one lot of Texas heifers from the Mayne family to try to keep the bloodlines as pure as possible. We hope to calve 280 this year with the heifers we've just purchased and the ones we've kept."