A FOCUS on easy calving, quiet and productive Angus cattle is paying dividends for the Paton family, “Ardonachie”, Macarthur, with their quality lines of weaners keenly sought by local buyers.
Knox and Sarah Jane Paton, with their children Archie, 13, and Sophie, 11, made the switch to breeding pure Angus more than 10 years ago in an effort to increase marketing opportunities for their cattle.
They now have 600 Angus breeders, including first calvers, on their 1300-hectare property.
The family also run 1600 crossbred ewes joined to Southdown rams and as an additional on-farm venture own a limestone pit which produces agricultural and road lime, operating during summer.
The Patons have been buying Angus bulls and semen from the Te Mania stud, Hexham, for the past eight years, with the focus on strong growth estimated breeding values (EBVs), structural soundness and performance.
‘What has drawn us to Te Mania is the depth and transparency of information on the commercially relevant traits that are important to allow us to improve the “Ardonachie” herd,” he said.
“We are looking for bulls with medium birthweight, high 400- and 600-day weight, intramuscular fat and eye muscle area as well as other performance indicators such as rib and rump fat, which we are aiming to keep positive.
“I look for bulls with figures of +80 or more for their 400-day weight and +110 or more for the 600-day weight.
“The structural correctness and soundness of the bull is also important – the genotype and phenotype have to marry up.”
The breeding program is split between artificial insemination (AI) which is used to join 120 heifers in early October to calve in July, and 240 cows in two mobs, joined to start calving in August.
“We split them up in the smaller mobs of 120 for AI due to ease of management and handling and the practicalities of yard space,” Mr Paton said.
The remainder of the herd is naturally mated and calves from mid-August through to the end of September.
“This helps with the simplicity of calving, it coincides with the start of the spring flush, so generally the calves are on the ground and the cows are milking when the season changes,” he said.
Bulls chosen for the AI program have included high performance Te Mania bulls as well as collections from their own purchased bulls.
“Birthweight is also a consideration, I want a +3 to +4 birthweight EBV for bulls to be joined to the heifers and the cows can have up to +7 birthweight EBV bulls,” Mr Paton said
Weight and structure is the basis of heifer selection and they need to average more than 400 kilograms at joining.
“They have to be structurally correct, feminine, and have a good temperament,” he said.
“The aim is to continually improve our female selection by ensuring the heifer weight average is not too broad. I think you have to put some challenges in front of your heifers to ensure their progeny can handle bigger calves in the future. I also don’t want big frame score +9 cows in the paddock because they cost too much to run and are still only going to have one calf.”
All the calves are yard-weaned in March at six to eight months of age on vetch hay before being split into two single sex mobs rotating through the paddocks.
“Handling is the main objective of the yard-weaning, we want to get them used to moving through gates from water to feed and having people around them,” Mr Paton said.
“I like to use low-stress stock handling principles, there are no dogs, no poly-pipe and no yelling, we like to keep everything as calm as possible and the cattle respond accordingly.”
The Paton’s breeding focus has paid off with increased weight gain and strong interest from buyers.
The weaners are sold between 330kg and 350kg in the saleyards or on AuctionsPlus and last year averaged a high of $1237 a head. Half of the steer portion is sold in spring at heavier weights of 400kg to 450kg.
Heifers not retained for breeding are marketed to local, repeat buyers.
The Paton family have also carried out significant on-farm improvements and now employ a high density rotational grazing system. Paddock sizes have been reduced and cattle are moved every four to five days followed by a long rest period.
Paddocks are only set stocked during calving. The improved pasture comprises a mix of ryegrass, clover, cocksfoot and fescue.
Stock water is pumped from a bore to two 30,00- litre tanks which gravity feed water to tanks and troughs installed in each paddock.
“The rotational grazing ensures we have the best available feed for our cattle and it is also great for their temperament, the cattle get very used to being handled by people and moving through gates.”
The Paton family plans to continue improving the quality of the cow herd and join more heifers to bring the herd age down and increase production.