A difficult decision to keep feeding breeders including replacement heifers through last year's drought is now paying dividends for Buckandor's Sally and Gordon Wollen.
That decision, combined with a timely opportunity for agistment with water - more important than feed - has borne fruit and a quality lineage is intact.
It came at a great cost. About 15 per cent of cows were culled and all the steers were sold early into a poor market, a fortnight before water holes evaporated. The very day replacement heifers were sent away for safe keeping it began to rain.
The investment was worthwhile. In the four years the Wollens have marketed Angus calves as weaners, they've been judged best at their annual Glen Innes sale three years in a row.
Buckandor first started breeding black Angus cattle when Gordon and Sally returned home in 1988.
"It was the market," Mr Wollen recalled. "You could see it." At the time they grew out their calves into the second year, or around 600 kilograms, before consigning for sale to Lee Pratt Meats and killed at Casino.
However, restocker demand began to tip the scale in favour of younger cattle. The ordinary dollar return from maintaining milk and two tooth steers through a second winter, combined with new and intruding summer challenges like buffalo fly, made them change market focus.
"The seasons lately don't allow you to grow out calves on this country," Mr Wollen said. "You need to supplement feed and that cuts into profit. If you're out of spec the price per kilo comes back. We were getting then what we get now for a mud fat weaner."
With 300 breeders split into six separate mobs, each with their own bull - Dulverton or Eaglehawk - it has been a straight-forward process to monitor genetic progression in their herd.
Weaning protocol a winner
A full 42-day program for educating weaned calves at Buckandor can be shown to keep young calves on a rising plane of nutrition and weight gain, but the key to its success is a calm yard weaning at the start.
The couple studied The Elms protocol of weaning, using barley, cotton seed meal and weaner nuts - depending on the season - to help develop the rumen, taking advice from David Ginter at Animal Innovations along with their daughter Emma who was working for Mr Ginter at the time as an animal nutritionist.
The first year on that protocol showed a huge difference in feed utilisation.
"The calves just went ahead," said Mr Wollen.
At Buckandor calves are split and put in the yards with cows adjacent for only one and a half of the four day initiation. Moving mums away early - nice and easy and only if they are willing - has made a monumental difference to the speed with which weaners recover and move on.
"In the early days we used to paddock wean with cows on the other side of the fence. It was supposed to be a help but in fact it was more stress for everybody," Mr Wollen said. "Now, the calves stop bellowing and focus on eating."
After yard training the new calves are fed 1.5kg of supplementary grain every day of the ELM protocol before they are turned out on good autumn pasture with access to creep feed. Their weight gain at 1kg/day more than pays for the investment.