TIME and labour spent on yard weaning is returned many times over in the way of building a reputation for cattle that perform in the feedlot and creating repeat custom.
That is what progressive Central Western NSW steer producers Betrola Investments have found.
Manager Trevor Nash says cattle that are well conditioned for feedlot life get on with the job of making money from the first day they are inducted.
But that’s only one part of the equation.
“Animal welfare will be our biggest issue going forward with the feedlot business,” he said.
“The more we can do on farm to ensure they don’t get sick and they are comfortable improves the whole job.”
The O’Brien family owned Betrola, which runs the breeding property “Yarralee” and growing property “Old Turee” across 11500 hectares near Cassilis, collected the animal health award at the 2017 Elders Killara Feedlot supplier of the year awards.
The focus was on Killara’s largest program - Angus steers fed for 150 days, with all steers being hormone growth replacement free.
Four key categories of excellence were awarded.
The Hanigan family of Coonamble collected the growth award and Paraway Pastoral Company’s Burindi operation at Barraba won the marbling award before going on to be named overall supplier of the year.
For Betrola, the recognition was a bonus for an investment which simply makes good sense.
All Betrola feedlot steers are yard weaned, a process which generally takes ten to 14 days and involves daily handling, bunk training and full vaccination.
Mr Nash is conscious of the established links between disease and stressors in cattle not prepared for feedlot life.
“One advantage we have is that we handle big mobs and so we can fill a pen so cattle are not going in with strange animals,” he said.
“They go in as mates, there is no sorting out a pecking order.”
Betrola steers are turned off at 16 to 20 months at 450 kilograms direct to northern NSW and southern Queensland feedlots.
It runs a straight Angus self-replacing European Union-accredited herd.
The majority of “Old Turee” is improved to perennial pasture and oats and wheat are grown every winter for grazing.
Burindi breeding for feedlot job
Burindi Station in the NSW North West slopes operates under the same philosophy of supplying steers pre-conditioned to feedlot life.
That includes yard weaning, full vaccination and producing the sort of numbers that allow a b-double load to be sent in one go.
Macquarie Group’s Paraway Pastoral Company, one of the largest cattle and sheep land owner and operators in Australia, took ownership of Burindi at Barraba in 2008.
Paraway took the opportunity to stock Burindi with a high quality Angus herd.
Today, Burindi calves down 3000 Angus cows, producing both straight Angus and F1 Wagyu feedlot cattle.
Killara Feedlot is one of the operation’s preferred customers, receiving steers at 14 to 18 months, targeting the heavy end of the 400 to 500 kilogram grid.
Burindi’s manager Richard Puddicombe said the operation had always targeted good carcase cattle in any of the cow purchases.
Bulls were sourced for high intramuscular fat estimated breeding values (EBVs), along with other traits including growth and birth weight, he said.
“Feedlot steers are our target market and we breed cattle specifically for that job,” he said.
Feedback was a critical component to assist decision making and allows for a producer to really tailor the article they are turning off, he said.
Angus offers diversity of markets
FOR Brian and Kerry Hanigan, who won the Killara award for growth, breeding principles focus on fertility and resilience for central west NSW conditions.
The fact they’ve been able to pick up recognition for average daily growth along the way was reflective of the vast improvements Angus genetics have made across the whole host of commercially-relevant traits in recent decades, according to Mr Hanigan.
The couple run 500 Angus breeders on the 5200 hectare “Benah”, Coonamble, sending 15 to 18 month old steers to feedlots at 400 to 500 kilograms in an average-to-good season.
It’s a self-replacing herd with excess heifers sold as future breeders, often pregnancy-tested-in-calf but at times as weaners for others to join.
“Benah” steers at Killara this season gained an average 1.62kg per day on over 150 days.
Mr Hanigan said he doesn’t target one particular EBV but rather works on a policy of building a genetic base capable of keeping the number of calves on the ground coming.
“The main thing for us the fertility because at the end of the day, there are many markets we can choose to supply,” he said.
“The Angus breed has come so far since the 1990s - it has kept moving ahead and we have one of most progressive societies.
“What that has meant is we now have very, very good market diversity on the back of everything from pushing up growth figures to meat eating quality.
“Angus will sell as bullocks if you’re a fattener, they are great off their mothers as vealers or, what we are doing, yearling cattle into feedlot.”
Killara’s innovative feedback and benchmarking
ANGUS steers fed for 150 days, hormone growth replacement free, is now the largest of the five programs run at Elders’ Killara Feed west of Quirindi.
It delivers more than 600 Angus steers per week.
For that reason, Elders have introduced annual supplier awards, with cattle producers sending Angus animals to the mid fed program recognised across the four key categories of growth, health, marbling and overall supplier of the year.
More than 120 producers attended the 2017 awards event, the second of its kind, which also included an information day to demonstrate new systems set to benefit suppliers.
The results that feed into the awards are gathered through a new IT system which provides feedback and benchmarks more than 80,000 cattle annually.
Killara Feedlot trading manager Andrew Talbot said the system was an important tool for management of the feedlot to best understand how cattle were performing and in particular whose cattle were providing the best results for the feedlot.
“The new system tracks vendors, as well as individual animals and groups of cattle,” he said. The information gathered provides data on weight gain, feed conversion, health, market suitability, Meat Standards Australia (MSA), marbling and yield.
“The new benchmarking system provides a point of difference against many other feedlots, with combined MSA and abattoir data,” Mr Talbot said.
“Most producers appreciate feedback on their cattle and the new feedback and benchmarking system enables this, providing current and useful data the producer can use to better select genetics.
“For backgrounders of cattle, the feedback system allows suppliers to track back cattle to point of breeding to see how different groups of cattle have performed.”
This mid fed Angus program, which was launched at Killara in 2012 from a small base, had grown into the largest programme, Mr Talbot said.
“To run a data set for feedback and benchmarking, you get to see the performance gains made over the last few years,” he said.
“The results of the cattle were outstanding with Angus steers regularly exiting the feedlot around 650 to 700kg after 150 days on feed.
“The remarkable thing is most of the cattle are still only 20 months of age and under. That says a lot for the Angus breed and genetic improvements made in recent years.”
This year, most of the supply was sourced straight from the paddock, with the assistance of the national Elders network.
Supply from the paddock has lifted from 50 per cent ten years ago, to 96pc today.
These cattle had arrived in large lines from many repeat vendors, according to Mr Talbot. “Relationships are everything - being able to secure the good lines of cattle, providing a competitive price that reflects how the cattle perform and identifying market signals and feedback to suppliers, we believe, are the pillars to a repeatable supplier base,” he said.
This year’s awards were sponsored by Killara’s largest customer, Jack’s Creek, well-known throughout the beef industry for their accolades – including recently winning the prestigious World Steak Challenge for the second year in a row.