Alison Napier is a woman with a plan.
And having set strategies in place has helped her endure some tough times.
The Angus breeder, “Millbrook”, St Marys, Tasmania, is used to up to 1000 millimetres of rain annually on some parts of her 3000 hectares, which spans over three properties. In the last year, she has only received 370mm, and is in the grips of a very dry period.
But thanks to her drought strategies, as well as a very level-headed approach, her Angus herd is thriving.
Mrs Napier has had sole responsibility for managing the properties as well as bringing up her three children since her husband passed away nine years ago.
Taking it all in her stride, she is determined to continue to improve the property and has long-term plans in place to increase the stock numbers. She currently runs about 1000 Angus breeders, and practises low-stress stock management.
Bulls are sourced from two studs – Landfall stud, Tamar Valley, and Cluden Newry stud, Launceston.
Mrs Napier said they both supply excellent genetics, and are innovative people, as well as offering excellent after-sale service.
“They are passionate about seeing their genetics out there,” she said. “They are genuinely interested that the people who sought their genetics are getting great outcomes.”
Mrs Napier is adamant about the kind of bulls she needs.
“One of the key profit drivers in a beef breeding business is kilograms of beef weaned,” she said. “Therefore naturally one of our focuses is getting cows back in calf and calves on the ground.”
The cooler climate - a relatively short growing period with long, cold winters – plays a part in bull selection.
“It is important that our genetics can handle a hard winter and achieve our targets,” she said. “It is about getting a good balance of traits.”
Cows are joined for eight weeks and heifers for six, with calving taking place in September. Heifers are retained to build the herd numbers, while steers are kept for 12 to 18 months and grown out on high quality pastures until they weigh around 450 kilograms. They are either sold to the local feedlot or into the premium meat market.
But the dry season has meant some changes to the running of the properties.
“It is certainly giving our drought management strategy a good test,” Mrs Napier said.
The strategy has included selling steers lighter than usual, having some cattle on agistment and hand feeding cattle remaining on farm, which is something Mrs Napier usually doesn’t do.
“But it is working. The cattle are in good condition, the calves look good, and the pastures are in good condition,” she said. “We are managing the dry season really well.”
A project Mrs Napier is very excited about is the redevelopment of a blue gum plantation back to pasture.
Recently 500ha of blue gum plantation has been harvested on her property, and Mrs Napier says the dry conditions have been perfect for harvesting, clearing the stumps and preparing it to be returned back to pasture.
“This dry period has been a great opportunity to see how it can get and to make sure our development plans ensure that stock water won’t be a problem in the future, even in seasons like we are currently experiencing,” she said.
Game fences are being built, laneways constructed, and reticulated water systems being installed. Turnips and swedes have been planted and oats will be sown in a few weeks. “We have a blank canvas,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s expensive but it’s exciting.”
Mrs Napier is a strong believer in having plans and strategies in place for a range of situations and seasons.
Due to the high rainfall area, her flood strategy helps prevent dramas.
“We enjoy a good flood,” she said. “But we have to be proactive. With a rainfall pattern like this, you can be in trouble overnight.”
Mrs Napier is very dedicated to getting advice to help her manage the properties.
“Due to the nature of the business, I do work with consultants and agronomists. I’m not an expert in all areas, and I don’t need to be,” she said. “Communication is really important to me, and having various people involved in my business, including two staff members, everyone needs to be on the same page.
“People are a really important part of the business, and communication skills are as important as knowing the kind of bull you want to buy at a sale.”
But she said focusing on specific goals helps her decide what is best for her situation.
“Having clear goals and objectives helps me to process any information. My formal plans and goals act as a blueprint,” she said.
Mrs Napier says she has quite a strategic approach to running the properties, but it is paying off.
“Life has its twists and turns,” she said. “A difficult season can seem like a hurdle. But having strategies and goals can help you navigate around adversity.
“For me, it helps to keep all the balls in the air.”