A decision to diversify commercial production at Yulgilbar Station is an exciting one for new manager Brett Ellem, who started here as a ringer 15 years ago and became head stockman four years later at the age of 24.
"The commercial component has always been the background of the operation," he says, admitting a love for crossbred cattle.
Hereford bulls over Santa Gertrudis females to produce first-cross progeny made the most sense, given the ready access to genetics from Yulgilbar's Santa Gertrudis stud and to Hereford bulls from Yarram Park at Willaura, Vic, owned by the Baillieu family and connected through marriage to the Myers, owners of historic Yulgilbar at Baryugil on the Clarence. The sires from Western Victoria took the transition to the Upper Clarence in their stride.
The commercial component has always been the background of our cattle operation.- Yulgilbar station manager Brett Ellem, Baryugil
"Treat them right the first season and they don't look back," Mr Ellem said. "They're fertile and the hybrid vigour created by crossing the two gene pools has already proven its worth."
Mr Ellem pointed to results in the RNA Paddock to Palate competition, where Yulgilbar won the overall pen of six (100 Day class) with Hereford/Santa recording an average daily weight gain of 3.262kg per day. They won highest individual weight gain with 3.59kg/day, and took top honours in the pen of six (70 Day class) with Santa Gertrudis recording an ADG of 3.186kg/day.
"It's important for us to be commercially relevant," he said. "It gives people a reason to buy our bulls. It makes me proud to be able to compete on the open market."
Mr Ellem said the 5000 head commercial operation worked well with the stud, with the latter demanding that the operation "keep pushing forward".
The Hereford/Santa cross performs across northern climates as their ability to put on weight comes back to natural doing. However, Mr Ellem says he believes there are new opportunities to come from southern buyers, with the cross able to produce winning domestic cuts, as shown in the recent Ekka results.
Steers are sold as growers or feeders with sales arranged out of the paddock through preferred agents George and Fuhrmann. "They're no trouble to sell and they go to good repeat clients and new buyers from Central Queensland to Victoria including local buyers," he said.
The first-cross females from a whiteface and Bos indicus are valued as "the ultimate mother", says Mr Ellem, exhibiting fertility and milk along with a strong maternal trait. Calves from this cross are very consistent in colour with a lack of hump to the point that Santa sires can be put to them effectively.
However, Yulgilbar plans to put Angus to its Hereford/Santa females to produce the "super baldy" with perhaps 10-12 per cent Bos indicus content; a black animal with broken white face that is adapted to fit anywhere in the market, from ideal feeders to terrific breeders.
"This program is opening the doors to something different for people to buy from Yulgilbar," Mr Ellem said.
The new venture will not take away focus from Yulgilbar stud, with 80 bulls offered this year while there remains a need for pure Santa Gertrudis blood to produce all the commercial crosses.
However, the reality is drought, fires and flood have reduced the herd from around 600 stud breeders five years ago to 400 today.
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During the 14 days in late 2019 that fires ringed the 14,000 hectare station (35,000 acres), 50 stud cows - all of them springing - succumbed and died leaving a hole in the genetic program.
"We need to get our numbers back up post fires and we need to focus on breeding cattle to suit the commercial market," Mr Ellem said.
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