QUICK growing, yard-weaned cattle are fetching premiums for Victorian Angus weaner producer Ian Wiley at Mt Mercer.
Mr Wiley runs 250 breeders on about 465 hectares, with a strong focus on breeding weaners that will finish quickly for backgrounders and lotfeeders.
Mr Wiley has been breeding Angus cattle for about 35 years, and after also growing superfine wool, made the switch to all cattle a few years ago.
Merridale Angus genetics have played a big role in the herd’s development for the past 20 years.
Mr Wiley said growth rates and calving ease were among his main criteria when selecting a bull.
“Back then the heaviest Angus we had would be about 550 kilograms for a cow, and now I’m looking at 800kg to 850kg,” he said.
“A bull has got to be well built. I like a bull that’s like a brick – he’s got to have good legs to be able to hold his weight when he gets older. And we want cattle that will gain weight at a fast rate.”
I like a bull that’s like a brick – he’s got to have good legs to be able to hold his weight when he gets older.
A small portion of heifers is retained, with the remaining sold as weaners, along with all the steers.
“I try to keep about 50 to 60 in the first year and put a bull with them at 14 months, then when they’re closer to calving, I’ll pick out the best 40 for myself and sell the rest in the special store sale at Ballarat,” Mr Wiley said.
Heifers that don’t make the breeding program are sold with the steers in August or September, in the monthly Ballarat store sale.
“It’s one of the best store sales around and it’s been growing for years now. They usually get about 3000 head.”
It’s been a great run for Mr Wiley over the past few years, with the steers, up to 11 months of age and usually weighing an average of 400kg, reaching a top of $1460 a head last year and $1390 in 2016.
“They really surprised me this year because it’d been a cold winter, but they averaged 470kg,” he said.
“Only two or three years ago we were getting $650 or $700 for our top weaners.”
One of the reasons backgrounders and lotfeeders are so keen to take on Mr Wiley’s steers is their preparation, and he believes his work is resulting in a significant premium for his cattle.
The cattle are yard-weaned on hay for five to six weeks.
“I grow oats, barley and wheat – usually about 120 acres (48ha) – which is enough for me to wean the cattle and have hay in storage for dry times,” Mr Wiley said.
“Sometimes I’ll start them on pellets, because it’s what the lotfeeders want. If they’ve already been on pellets, it's easier for the buyer.
“They’re also much quieter because if you handle your weaners, it gets them used to people and the yards, which limits stress in the saleyards.”
Organic approach for Vic producer
THE next focus for Victorian weaner producer Ian Wiley will be improving farming practices to have a more organic approach.
Mr Wiley also leases country to a woolgrower and free-range business Western Plains Pork.
“That’s been a big benefit, because we haven’t had to fertilise the ground for six years – it’s the perfect ground preparation,” he said.
“I’m really striving to get into organic markets.
“I don’t spray, but I put out a small amount of fertiliser with crops – that’s something I’m going to look at.
“I already use organic principles – I haven’t drenched cattle for four years – but I would like to get certified.
“I think chemicals are very harmful for our health and with a lot of these sprays and fungicides, many people don’t realise what they’re also doing to the bee population.”
Mr Wiley eats organic food himself, and said there’s a strong market for organic beef.
“I’ve tasted my own beef and it’s beautiful,” he said.