Market forces calf focus

Cropping offers Cleary Bros more agency in the cattle market

Beef
Cleary Brothers livestock manager Ash Mathie with their Angus and black baldy cows and calves. Cleary Brothers sold 168 mixed-sex weaners for an average of 532c/kg at last month's store sale at Yass.

Cleary Brothers livestock manager Ash Mathie with their Angus and black baldy cows and calves. Cleary Brothers sold 168 mixed-sex weaners for an average of 532c/kg at last month's store sale at Yass.

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Cattle are the icing on the cake for Cleary Bros.

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Cleary Brothers is one of the largest construction companies in NSW, but unbeknownst to most they've also run a successful cattle operation for the past 80 years.

The family-owned company have around 200 Angus and black baldy breeders on their 720 hectare Berry property on the South Coast.

Director and executive manager, Brett Cleary said although it wasn't a large part of their business, it was an interest that the family had wanted to retain since his grandfather purchased the property back in 1947.

Manager Ash Mathie said they turned over up to 400-head of cattle a year for feedlots when the season and market conditions allowed, but they have recently been concentrating on producing quality calves.

In August Cleary Brothers' Berry property received around 600mm of rain in a few days, flooding their flat country and forcing them to move stock to higher ground.

In August Cleary Brothers' Berry property received around 600mm of rain in a few days, flooding their flat country and forcing them to move stock to higher ground.

At last month's Yass store sale they sold a line of 168 mixed-sex weaners, weighing 232 kilograms for a huge average of 532 cents per kilogram.

"In the last few years with cattle prices making it hard to buy in, all our focus has been on our breeding stock and turning off good weaners at the eight to nine-month mark," Mr Mathie said.

He said retaining the weaners was probably not viable given the current market conditions favouring restocker cattle.

"We decided to offload now and get some feed in front of us ready to turn our cows and calves off to," Mr Mathie said.

But, they are committed to keeping their options open, starting a small cropping operation around four years ago to sure up feed, giving themselves more agency in the cattle market.

Weeks later the country had dried out, leaving a huge moisture profile that should mean their summer crops can forgo irrigation this season.

Weeks later the country had dried out, leaving a huge moisture profile that should mean their summer crops can forgo irrigation this season.

"We grow mainly oats through autumn and winter and then do summer crops of sorghum and millet," Mr Mathie said.

"It means that although we have the option to turn off our calves straight after weaning, we also have the facilities to hold onto them and take them on to feeder weights."

He said for the first time they would also look to start retaining their own heifers as future breeders.

"We haven't done that before, but will look at it now with the market conditions making it so hard to buy back in," Mr Mathie said.

"Our pasture and cropping programs will ensure when the opportunity becomes available we can buy in, or grow out our steers or retain our heifers for future breeders - it gives us more options."

A high rainfall zone 

The property is in a high-rainfall area, Berry receiving just under 1000 millimetres on average a year.

But, while this is usually a great positive - their summer crops barely have to be irrigated - it does mean their flat country is occasionally under water.

In the weeks before Cleary Brothers sold their run of weaners at Yass, they had around 600mm in a few days.

"The weaners were on oat crops until they all went under water," Mr Mathie said.

"We had to shuffle them off to our hill country pretty quick and they were supplemented with hay for three weeks until they went to sale."

Mr Mathie said last year they didn't need to irrigate their summer crops and with the huge moisture profile they've now built up, he didn't expect they would turn on the tap this season either.

"The moisture profile is going to be unbelievable, and we should end up with some storms over summer which will kick it along too."

Win-win with fertiliser partnership

A beneficial partnership with their neighbours, Loop Organics, a specialist in organic waste and biosolids, also gave the crops and pastures a boost.

Mr Mathie explained they used the plant's watered-down waste materials as a natural fertiliser.

"They supply the tractor and tank to direct drill the fertiliser into the paddocks, it works for them because they previously had to freight their waste to the Hunter Valley," he said.

Cleary Brothers are currently coming to the end of their calving period, which begins in August.

"We used to calve in autumn and spring to cover both ends of the market, but we think a spring calving works better for us, just with the weather conditions on the coast, our main bulk of feed grows through the spring and summer," he said.

Another transition they have made is from breeding Poll Herefords to Angus, now joining solely with Cascade Angus bulls.

"That decision was just because there was more demand for black cattle in the markets we sell to," Mr Mathie said.

Cleary Brothers sell into both the South Eastern Livestock Exchange (SELX) at Yass and on AuctionsPlus.

"I guess during this COVID period, you get the AuctionsPlus buyers plus the saleyard buyers as well, it opens us up to that broader market," Mr Mathie said.

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