The best way to build up your herd after destocking because of drought is by starting with weaner heifers.
That’s according to Holmes & Co agriculture consultant Phil Holmes, who said weaner heifers will provide the best financial outcome for your farm, as opposed to stocking up on cows and calves, or yearling heifers.
Mr Holmes said this might clash with advice to restock as soon as possible, as weaner sales are months away, but that it’s something worth thinking about.
But Mecardo managing director Robert Herrmann said getting productivity back on farm after drought should be your top priority.
Mr Herrmann said there are risks in the current market but also plenty of opportunities.
“What we know from history is when the recovery comes, the market recovers strongly too,” Mr Herrmann said.
“And females in the market will recover well as well because people are holding them back or are looking to buy females to restock.”
He said this means you can be as aggressive in your restocking ability as you’d like.
Mr Holmes said recovery is the hardest part of any drought, and can take up to three years.
“The drought year itself isn’t the most intense, because although you’re sending cash out the gate to feed stock, often the sell-down revenue compensates that,” he said.
“But to get your balance sheets right again, and your herd back to where it was, that can take three years.”
So during the good years, you have to prepare for this as much as possible.
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And one important part of this is figuring out how far you can sell down.
“With cattle, the point that you stop selling down is dependent on the reproductive rate of the herd, the mortality rate and the herd age structure,” he said.
“A broad rule of thumb for most of southern Australia would be that if you’re going to dip into your breeders, you can’t go much past 20 per cent before you’re prolonging your recovery period.”
With sheep, he said you need a buffer of wethers of multiple age groups, so you don’t have to sell your ewes.
“It’s too risky buying sheep,” he said.
Mr Holmes said the bulk of the damage done to pastures happens during a drought.
To attempt to minimise this, he recommends locking up paddocks.
“Feeding is cheaper and more efficient because they walk less to get it,” he said.
But it’s during weaning that these paddocks will be required again.
“So we need to make sure there’s plenty of bulk there, it might be lower in digestibility because you’ve left it, but there’ll be enough for them to get through weaning,” he said.
He said it takes six weeks for livestock to be able to adjust from grain to pasture.
“You have to gradually get them accustomed to green feed, never let them straight out to green feed after grain,” he said.