Yearling bulls perform for Harris Farms

Yearling Angus bulls perform for Harris Farms at Gippsland

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FOCUSED ON PEDIGREE: Shane Harris and son Charlie, 4, pictured with some of his Angus bulls, including the two Coffin Creek sires he purchased as yearlings last year.

FOCUSED ON PEDIGREE: Shane Harris and son Charlie, 4, pictured with some of his Angus bulls, including the two Coffin Creek sires he purchased as yearlings last year.

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Victorian Angus breeders Shane and Claire Harris have been using yearling bulls for many years.

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VICTORIAN Angus breeders Shane and Claire Harris have been using yearling bulls for many years, focusing on mid-maturing bulls suitable for grass finishing, with strong pedigree behind them.

The Harris Farms operation in south Gippsland includes a 600-breeder commercial production, a flock of Coopworth sheep, and trade cattle, depending on the season and markets.

Mr Harris started breeding Angus cattle in 1998, beginning with a small herd, and now has a range of markets for his calves, with steers going to a local grass finisher, cull heifers sold as breeders or finished on farm for the supermarket trade, and bulls grown out to 18 months to service clients in the local region.

He's been using yearling bulls for many years, and after dropping into Coffin Creek Angus at Mudgee to inspect bulls for a friend, he's become a big supporter of the White family's breeding program.

He doesn't look too closely at estimated breeding values, instead placing emphasis on the cow families.

Both Coffin Creek bulls have N Bar Emulation EXT, who was one of the widest used artifical insemination sires in the Angus breed, and is considered by many as the most influential bull of the 20th century, in their pedigrees.

Emulation's son, Comfort Hill X293, a former supreme Angus exhibit and Hordern Trophy winner at Sydney Royal Easter Show, is known for his exceptional daughters.

"When you buy a bull you buy a breeding program, and the Whites are very strong on using their own genetics back in the herd," Mr Harris said.

"We used to buy on type, and now we buy on pedigree as well as type, which has been much more successful.

"Last year we bought a bull who was one of the smallest as a calf, only 27kg at birth, but his pedigree goes back to one of their best cows, Abigail C22, who's out of a Comfort Hill bull (Comfort Hill X293), that goes back to Emulation.

"I bought that bull off the strength of his pedigree, and to look at him now, you wouldn't realise he was a 27kg calf.

"The other bull I bought is a D17 calf, who also goes back to Emulation."

Longevity and good doing ability is a priority for Mr Harris.

"We feel that some two-year-old bulls can be way overfed, which leads to breakdowns and the inability to work, so we prefer bulls that are run in their natural environment and able to work straight away.

"With the two yearling bulls that we bought from Coffin Creek last year, which we purchased with our good friends, the Marriotts, they joined them in mobs of 30 heifers in October and at preg testing one had 100 per cent in calf, and the other got 28 out of 30.

"Then those bulls backed up for our cows in December. They're were only 18 months at their second joining."

Mr Harris plans to keep about 70pc of heifers this year as he looks to grow the breeding herd to make the most of pasture.

Heifers are joined at an average of 350 kilograms, to calve at two years of age.

"We're in a growth stage now because the trade cattle have got so dear; we're flexible numbers of breeders and trade cattle," he said.

"The cull heifers are occasionally sold as replacement breeders, or we can finish them ourselves on a grass-fed order."

Steers are sold at 12 months to a regular buyer, a grass finisher in the region.

"We have access to four abattoirs that run grass-fed orders, so they need to be finished at milk to two teeth, with over six millimetres of fat, and weighing 550kg to 600kg at 20 months," Mr Harris said.

"We're in a high rainfall area so we can achieve those results, but you do have to pick the right bulls to do it - mid-maturing bulls suitable for grass feeding that will produce cattle with very good fat."

The entire operation, including the bull production, is run under one commercial operation, meaning all cattle have to forage.

It's productive country, with mainly ryegrass and clover pastures, Mr Harris said.

"Feet and structure are very important, because if a bull can't walk, he's passing those traits on to the next generation."

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