Cattleman in sheep country

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BULLOCK FATTENER: John Dynan is making a go of what's traditionally a Gippsland beef operation - bullock fattening - in the granite country, around Pyalong.

BULLOCK FATTENER: John Dynan is making a go of what's traditionally a Gippsland beef operation - bullock fattening - in the granite country, around Pyalong.

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North of the Great Dividing Range, one couple is successfully fattening bullocks.

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The granite outcrop strewn country around Pyalong, north of Lancefield, has a reputation as wool country, rather than a region suitable to bullock fattening.

But don't tell John Dynan and his wife Loretta - because that's exactly what they do.

"There are very few bullock fatteners in our area of north-central Victoria," Mr Dynan said. "There's a perception in the industry that one can't 'do' big steers, north of the Great Dividing Range."

But Mr Dynan said with the proper use of fertilisers and improved pastures, steers could be fattened very successfully.

"Is it profitable? When you combine my management fee and Loretta's profit, the family return is $350/hectare," he said.

On the past five years of data, for the JBS Farm Assurance program, the Dynans are in the top 11 per cent of all suppliers.

"Some 50 years ago, the Pyalong area was essentially Merino wether wool country," he said.

"It's not perceived to be the right place, because the season is generally not quite as long as in Gippsland, maybe by four or six weeks, on average.

He said succeeding in a shorter season depended on the right timing.

"At this time of the year I buy heavier stock, because I have to get them off by the first half of January, that's the challenge."

Mr Dynan says Loretta owns the two properties, Tullamore, 123 hectares, and The Hill, 58ha.

Ms Dynan's parents ran Merino wethers on 650ha from the late 1930's to 1989, and she inherited 30pc of the land from her father, when he died.

Mr Dynan said he was in a marketing role at heavy machinery manufacturer and supplier Caterpillar, for 37 years, before retiring at 60.

"In the first year of our marriage, we did a little bit of farming, but I didn't learn anything, because I was preoccupied with my main job," he said.

"Loretta's father did the 'doing'; when he died, in 1985, the decision, was 'what do we do now?'

"We said we would hang on and a veteran stock and station agent, Bill McNamara, said 'why don't you just buy some steers, and in 12 months time, they will be double the value?,

"Loretta went up to Euroa with Bill, it was a wet, wet day and they came home smelling like cattle."

They bought stock that day, despite Mr Dynan admitting they knew nothing about cattle.

"We just did things gradually, and through training courses I developed a keen interest in improving pasture and other aspects of farming."

Useful courses

Mr Dynan joked he had done "100 days" of courses since coming back to the farm, citing them as extremely valuable for his operation.

"I get the scientific part out of it and learn from other people's experiences, around the table," he said.

He said it was then up to him to take the risks on what to put in the paddock and other aspects of farming.

"I have $350,000 in the paddock, in purchases," he said.

"A breeder doesn't have that annual outlay, so that's the risk.

"Then you say, what's the spring going to be like, will I be worrying about how I am going to get these stock off by January?

"People saw this as traditional Merino weaner country and to go up here they think you're mad - but my results are okay."

Mr Dynan said the operation wasn't labour-intensive, as he didn't have to assist at calving.

Mr Dynan said he and Mr Hornsby, or Keiran McGrath, McGrath Rodwells, looked for well-bred, quiet cattle.

"I can buy in smaller lots at Kyneton," he said.

He bought another 19 steers at the July Kyneton store sale, through agent Mick Hornsby.

They averaged 457kilograms and $1675 a head or 366 cents/kilogram.

Kyneton buyer

Mr Dynan said since January, he'd bought 152 cattle, or nearly 60 per cent of all this year's 259 steers, at the monthly store market, or privately from Kyneton breeders.

On average, the Dynans handle between 260 and 280 steers a year, rising to 330, in a good season, and dropping back as low as 197 in dry times.

"Generally we buy at around 340/360 kgs empty but as the season progresses will buy at over 400 kgs," he said.

"Our target is to get to 650 kgs paddock weight and start selling in late October. Our selling season generally ends in January."

He said target paddock weights slipped to around 600kg, by January.

All finished cattle went to JBS' Brooklyn under the Farm Assurance program.

"You know what you are up for, and their prices are up with the highest," Mr Dynan said.

One of the key measures of the FA program was Meat Standards Australia compliance and non-compliance.

"Now my figure is about two per cent, while the national average for grass-fed animals is about nine pc.

"Most failures are due to ph being too high (above 5.71).

"In the industry, these failed carcasses are known as "dark cutters" and once you are non-compliant on a given steer then a discount applies."

He said he only went into the market to buy cattle when there was feed on the ground.

"I don't cut hay and do not buy it in," he said.

"Phalaris is the one to have, you must have phalaris, if you want an enduring pasture.

"I have been putting down phalaris for 20 years."

He said he had started work on some of his more marginal land, while getting rid of the "crab holes," and the was pleased with the results.

For 15 years the Dynans have agisted 15 per cent of their steers with neighbour Rob Williams who has the ideal pasture set up - 30 one-hectare phalaris based paddocks.

"A full rotation takes 12 weeks," Mr Dynan said.

Based on soil tests taken every three years, the Dynans aim to get Olsen P (the measure of phosphorus generaly used in grazing systems) to the 15/20 range.

"Every eight to 10 years, lime is applied," Mr Dynan said.

"Only in the last three years have we applied urea and then only on 10pc of the farm."

Mr Dynan said for the first decade, he had been sending cattle to feedlots, but was advised to trying fattening stock.

"I was a bit nervous about it, because you don't fatten cattle in Pyalong," he said.

"So, I tried it, it's worked out, and it's been good."

He said he didn't want to go to breeding, but he and Loretta were 'getting the best' out of their "modest" farm.

Passionate producer

Chris Stanley, Chris Stanley Livestock, Don Valley, said Mr Dynan was "very passionate" about his beef operation.

He said that was evident in the fact Mr Dynan was at the top-end of the curve, when it came to producing grass fed animals.

"It's not regarded as high level fattening country, but he doesn't overstock and he has good inputs, in terms of fertiliser and pasture," Mr Stanley said.

"He has targeted the Angus grass-fed market, he handles his cattle very quietly, in a low stress environment."

Mr Dynan was self-taught, not having a background in the industry.

"There have been a few pitfalls, along the way, " Mr Stanley said.

"But he knows the right animals from the wrong animals, and that's important, because what you start with is what you finish with."

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