East Gippsland cattle recover

East Gippsland cattle recover


Overcoming the triple impacts of drought, fires and Covid-19 has tested the planning and resolve of producers.


Cattle producers in east Gippsland have been steadily working through three major events - drought, bushfires and now coronavirus.

Herd and marketing management has been an ongoing challenge for all producers in the region, with each producer taking their own path.

Two producers have a common end goals - preserving their herds and producing cattle for traditional spring feature sales.

The Bill Wyndham special spring cattle sale has been beacon that is the end game among loyal producers.

Chris and Mary Wheeler, Buchan South, who breed Hereford and Angus cattle, along with manager Geoff Cameron, have brought the herd through the drought and fires.

Mr Cameron said up until a couple of weeks ago the property received around 50mm of rain, falls had only been coming in small amounts.

Mr Cameron said the business had been involved in the spring sale "since day one".

"It's always been a good outlet that suited the operation," he said.

"The calves are weaned in the autumn and brought through. We've always done as good a job as the season will let us."

He said the drought meant that when the fires hit in January the paddocks were bare and the cattle were huddled around the dam banks which "provided a good buffer between the cattle and danger".

There was no long feed there to burn. He said around 240 to 320 hectares of pasture was scorched, but had recovered well with some February rain that helped.

Mr Cameron said they were able to hold the young and adult stock due to generous provision donations of hay.

He said the previous hay season was the third year in a row when no hay was made. They had fed out 200 to 300 round bales as well as lucerne hay from a production block they owned near Bairnsdale that was also utilised. The Hereford portion also got the benefit of agistment near Bairnsdale where more rain was recorded.

"We look at the longer term and prefer to shift cattle around rather than be forced to offload cattle. What you breed you can't go out and buy," he said.

He said they had to think on their feet and if it didn't rain you had to have another strategy.

Mr Cameron said the cattle would weigh a bit lighter than normal although the Herefords could be up to 350 kilograms and the balance 280-320kg.

The Wheelers run a split program - 200 Angus and 200 Hereford - as well as a prime lamb enterprise. The Herefords were based on Nunniong, Karoonda and Valley Vista bloodlines, and the Angus from Banquet and Fernleigh.

Mr Cameron said the calves were May, June, July calves, or 12 to 14 months old and weaned in the first week of April.

Buchan Station delivers

Buchan Station owner Bryan Hayden said the main strategy was based on preserving the 600 cow herd.

Mr Hayden said the recovery process was "never going to be less than a two year program".

He said this year the business was hit by drought, fires and now the coronavirus.

He said that because of the fires and drought they had sold cattle "under duress".

He said manager Richard McAuliffe had been selling stock depending on the feed available, with hay donations were "remarkably generous".

The herd was based mainly on Milwillah and Merridale bloodlines.

Mr Hayden said they spent a lot of money on genetics and Mr McAuliffe had done a great job of retaining the breeding herd.

He said the farm had received enough rain "just to survive" but not enough runoff to fill dams.

Mr Hayden said the management systems they ran were based around the special sales and in turn the sales reflected that supply of progeny.

"You breed according to when you are going to get the most for your cattle. However this year's sale consignment to the special sale would be reduced from normal," he said.

He said 90 per cent of the property's pastures were lost in the fires.

"You can't operate without fencing. We did the boundary fencing first and now we are doing internal fencing," he said.

The property has irrigation that is sown to sorghum and pastures of mainly annual ryegrass.

Mr Hayden said the steer portion for sale were spring 2019-drop by Milwillah Lanister L20. The season had meant the calves were weaned earlier than normal and meant they had not been able to get as much weight into the calves. The weaned calves went into the first paddocks newly fenced.

"We have had repeat buyers year after year and the market will again depend on south Gippsland buyers. It's all in the breeding. We spend a fortune on breeding."


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