SELECTING genetics for carcase traits is paying off for Middlebrook Park manager Pete Stevenson, who's refining a well-established herd at Garoo, between Tamworth and Nundle.
Mr Stevenson is a long-time purchaser of Ben Nevis Angus bulls, having used their genetics for the previous decade on another property.
While he started with a good base, with the herd being based around the Zeal Angus stud, there were issues with temperament, softness, doability and early weight gain, which he's addressing with Ben Nevis bulls.
"The property was previously owned by overseas investors and it had an Angus stud that had been commercialised into the main herd when they purchased the property," Mr Stevenson said.
"When we took over there were 2200 cows and we were able to select 100 aged stud cows for our own stud program.
"We now have 2200 commercial Angus cows and heifers plus 1000 fullblood Wagyu cows."
Among the considerations for genetics coming into the herd are low birthweight, early growth, and carcase traits like intramuscular fat (IMF).
"I look at IMF, growth and skin type, because I think there's a correlation there with skin type and IMF and eating quality," Mr Stevenson said.
"It was a beautiful line of cattle that we stepped into, but we're refining it.
"We recently got data back on 500 steers which had average marble scores of 3 with some even scoring 6."
Calves are yard weaned on farm in a feedlot, spending up to two weeks in and around the yards and holding paddocks to get them bunker trained before being transported to the company's Ben Lomond property where they're carried through to feeder weights.
Having feedback through the feedlot, as well as the processor, is giving Mr Stevenson valuable data to help with bull selection.
"We measure everything, right from pasture and soils on the ground to using the kill data," he said.
"With the way the world is going, IMF is very important but at this stage we're not getting paid for it - we're paid per kilogram.
"We're focused on quality over quantity and want to keep producing cattle with carcase traits, because for us it's about repeat buying from the processor.
"When you have cattle with the right carcase, you can demand the premium as well as the sale."
All steers go to the Ben Lomond property, along with the classed-out heifers.
"Those heifers are grown out and put into a feedlot or joined and sold as PTIC (pregnancy-tested-in-calf) depending on the market and season conditions," Mr Stevenson said.
"We keep the top 40 per cent of heifers down here and we've got another two classes before we join them, down to about 20pc.
"The first class is purely on weight, except for the calves out of heifers which we give leniency to.
"When we wean we process the steers and then the average from each herd creates the cut off for our heifers, then we're classing on structure, skin and hair, and overall type."
With the way the world is going, IMF is very important but at this stage we're not getting paid for it - we're paid per kilogram. We're focused on quality over quantity and want to keep producing cattle with carcase traits, because for us it's about repeat buying from the processor.- Angus breeder Pete Stevenson, Middlebrook Park, Garoo
All replacement heifers are artificially inseminated for their first calf, which Mr Stevenson said has been the most affordable and efficient way to get the biggest bang for his buck.
"We like to AI, as we can increase our genetic gains on a certain trait really quickly and you don't always get longevity with heifer bulls.
"We try to get one really good bull each year and that bull will cover 200 heifers, which means you've got 200 calves on the ground by one bull, leaving a huge impact in our herd's genetics.
"That makes for a very consistent line of cattle and a lot of people comment on that as they're driving through this area."
It's been a busy three years since taking on Middlebrook Park, with about 40 kilometres of new fencing, 20km of water infrastructure and a new set of yards at the centre of the property with laneways connecting paddocks to the yards.
Rotational grazing is already resulting in good pasture growth, with paddocks that were almost all couch grass now producing digit grass and phalaris that were sown in the past.
"We knew there was some really good country because the cattle were always heavy," Mr Stevenson said.
"Some paddocks are getting 150 to 180 days' rest and we want them to go to seed at least once a year.
"We're also growing multi-species fodder crops with oats, ryegrass, brassicas and radish, with the heifers on these salad crops averaging 1.7kg per day from weaning to joining."
Mr Stevenson is focused on maintaining healthy soil and pastures, with pelletised chicken manure and cow manure from the feedlots used instead of artificial fertilisers.
"Our goal is to make our soils and plants work for us," he said.
"We don't feed in droughts. We prefer to unload cattle and look after our asset.
"That's what's good about having the country at Ben Lomond.
"We're trading a few thousand steers up there so have the flexibility to drop trading numbers and take some of our breeders."
That focus on regenerative agriculture was a key element in creating the team which includes five full time employees and Mr Stevenson's wife Anna.
"Teamwork makes the dreamwork and we have an amazing team," he said.
"Because it is not a standard breeding program and the property is run on a regenerative system, we don't use artificial fertilisers and we're minimising our chemical load, we didn't focus completely on experience when building our team.
"We went looking for people with the right attitude that are willing to have a shift in their mindset.
"This is far more important to us, and I guess, is one reason why our relationship with Ben Nevis Angus has worked so well."