Cow herd health and nutrition is a top priority for Fergus and Chris Cameron, whose Angus cattle thrive in the harsh environment of Phillip Island in Victoria.
Mr Cameron, who is also the managing director of the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit and a former livestock agent, has been running Angus breeders on his family property, Wild Dog, for the past 10 years, starting his herd with 30 cows.
The Camerons now run 250 Angus cows, plus about 40 replacement heifers, on their 100-hectare home farm, named after a coastal bluff on the island, as well as leasing a further 300ha.
According to Mr Cameron, the south-west coast of Phillip Island is an extreme environment, with an annual average rainfall of 700 millimetres, making it a challenge to work in.
“It is a bleak, wet place in the winter and as it doesn’t support a lot of shade or shelter it can also get pretty hot in summer,” he said.
“The cattle we breed and introduce to the market come from a very tough background.”
The Cameron family have been sourcing bulls from Yancowinna at Inverloch, Vic, for many years, but with the stud’s recent dispersal, they will have to look elsewhere for their future sires.
“The Yancowinna bulls have proven their worth.
“They are from a similar location and have been very hardy, we have just started looking for a new source of bulls.”
Mr Cameron likes to use a combination of visual appraisal and estimated breeding values for his bull selection.
“I like to keep it simple, focusing on easy calving and good growth rates. I aim to select low to moderate birth weight bulls, particularly for the first calvers.”
‘The cows are joined in May to start calving the following February. Mr Cameron moved the calving time back from mid-January to reduce the time spent supplementary feeding.
“It can dry off quickly here in summer and we just found with an earlier calving in January we were supplementary feeding the cattle from when the calves were born through until September, which is a long time.”
Mr Cameron tries to avoid overfeeding in the lead-up to calving, but as soon as the cows calve, they are drafted off into selected paddocks with shade protection and better quality pastures.
The first and second calving mobs will be supplemented with both silage and hay, while the mature cows will just receive hay.
The Camerons produce all their own hay, averaging about 30ha of pasture hay for round bales and 20ha of silage.
“Our heifer management is vital. We ensure they are in the right condition to join and keep the feed up to them until they are close to calving and as soon as the calf hits the ground we lift the nutrition straight away.
“I think the key to success is keeping your females in good order. You can have all the breeding you like but the nutrition is the most important factor in terms of keeping the herd producing good calves each year, re-joining with ease and being healthy.”
Mr Cameron employs a set stocking rate for the cow and calf mobs, rotating them through three to four paddocks, depending on the mob size, paddock size and feed quality.
“It is very important to maintain a rolling 12-month plan, so you can see what is in front of you in terms of being able to manage your herd’s nutritional requirements.
“We always make sure we have stocks of hay and silage in front of us and we will always lock up the paddocks we are going to put the cows and calves on. Although it is a tough environment, our reasonably reliable rainfall allows us to be able to ride through any bumps to a large degree, which we are fortunate to be able to do.”
The calves are paddock-weaned in the middle of December and supplementary fed good quality pasture hay to ensure they have settled down properly before being sold. The calves are also vaccinated against pinkeye to ensure they have are no setbacks during weaning.
“When I used to be a stock agent, I would see evidence of a lot of people just pulling their weaners straight off the cows and they were very unsettled in the yards,” he said.
“We wean them in the paddock next to their mothers and have found it to be a very natural process.”
The annual draft of 90 Angus weaner steers and 50 heifers are marketed during the January weaner sales at the Koonwarra sale complex at Leongatha.
Read the full Summer Angus publication here.
Mr Cameron aims to sell the weaners at more than 380 to 400 kilograms liveweight and has been pleased with the prices, with the top lines of calves achieving about the $1000-a-head mark.
“Our calves are well recognised and generally sought-after by repeat buyers, which is nice to know as it tells us we are on the right track.”
About 40 heifers are kept each year, with a focus on temperament, frame size and structural soundness, particularly feet.
“We pride ourselves on the temperament of our cattle and it has paid dividends for us in terms of ease of management and at weaning time.
“When we feed out, we are quite often off the tractor and walking among the cattle keeping them quiet.”
The pastures at Wild Dog comprise a mix of ryegrass and clovers along with the spreading weed kikuyu.
“But I don’t think it is too much of a curse, if we get summer rains, the kikuyu freshens up very quickly and it is part of the cattle’s diet.”