FOR 50 years, Riga Angus has been a trusted name in the breed and the wider seedstock industry, and the Finger family will mark the milestone with a special sale in 2022.
The Mansfield-based stud was founded by Juris (George) and Irina Kakis at Healesville in June 1971, with the first progeny registered in autumn 1972.
Bloodlines at the start included Kahlua, Barwidgee, Tivoli and Wambanumba, and the stud has added genetics over the years through embryos and dispersal sales, with some of the impact females being Victoree Opera, Blackmore Desire, Irelands Eclypta, Landfall Joyle and KO Dream, who bred many successful show cattle over the decades.
The Kakis family retired to the property at Mansfield in 1982, and by the mid-1990s the stud was expanding under their daughter Vera and her husband Ian Finger at its current location, Nillahcootie Park.
The stud herd now includes 300 beeders, with 250 autumn calving cows and 50 spring calving cows.
Angus cattle were the breed of choice for Riga as cost efficiency has been a big focus from the start.
"George had observed the doing ability and foraging ability of Angus cattle back in the 1960s," Mrs Finger said.
"He identified early on, the value of producing beef at minimum cost, particularly during times of stress, such as droughts.
"The importance of cost efficiency in the production system has remained a guiding philosophy in the genetic choices made over time."
Now, 50 years on, the family is reaping the rewards of George's careful decision making.
"The cow herd had to perform from the start with the mantra becoming, 'Profitability lies in the performance and efficiency of the cow herd'," Mrs Finger said.
"Our breeding program aims to breed females with a moderate frame and fertility that exhibit a good balance of growth, fat and muscle development while maintaining calving ease.
"Sire lines continue to be selected to meet our breeding objective of producing sound, functional cattle in a thick but moderate frame with excellent fertility and temperament; adequate milk; calving ease, with an emphasis on gestation length and structure; and plenty of growth in combination with good carcase and IMF.
"In recent years more attention is being placed on net feed intake EBVs which predicts the progeny's feed efficiency."
EBVs and visual assessment are used in bull and female selection to ensure that the overall structure of the animal is functional, efficient and commercially viable.
"Riga was also an early adopter of genomic testing allowing us to make informed decisions around selection," Mrs Finger said.
"Our raw data collection is extensive and can be seen in the traits observed in the bulls' EBVs, with key weights, scan data and docility recording paired with structural and genomic evaluation.
"Phenotypic evaluation is provided in a genetic type summary score supplied by Dick Whale at Independent Breeding and Marketing Services which importantly provides an independent description and incorporates frame score."
Among the big changes over the years has been the evolution of technology to support performance recording and data collection including tissue sampling which not only evaluates difficult to measure traits, but gives more insight into genetic information including genetic disorders and diseases.
"Following from this, the ability to use the search tools available on the Angus Australia website, which incorporates all these inputs to refine beef production for both stud and commercial producers, is truly exciting."
The biggest challenge facing Riga today is the increase in extreme climatic events and climate variability, but the stud is fortunate to have family members working in this space.
"Our operation is continuing to adapt so that it can continue to be resilient and sustainable into the future," Mrs Finger said.
"Apart from genetic selection and management of the maternal component of the herd, we are committing to predominantly selling progeny as yearlings which allows us to move our emissions off farm sooner, into another system within the supply chain which hopefully has its own set of strategies to mitigate farm emissions.
"On farm, more trees are being planted and pastures renovated to deep-rooted perennial species and legumes."
The family-run operation also includes the next generation - the Fingers' children Kate and Tim who have pursued careers in agriculture.
Kate, after graduating from Melbourne University, works as a project research and extension officer with the Birchip Cropping Group, working on a range of projects including the COALA Project which aims to improve nutrient and water usage for sustainable agricultural systems.
After graduating from Marcus Oldham, Tim, who was part of the 2021 GenAngus Future Leaders Program, returned to the family farm to assist with day to day operations, working on genetic selection and pasture improvement to better match the changing climate.
"Achieving 50 years is also not possible without strong family relationships all sharing a collective vision, passion and direction," Mrs Finger said.
"As a family we are passionate about what we do and look forward to building further relationships with our clients, following the performance of our genetics in their herds.
"The loyal client support over the years has been gratifying with some relationships ongoing for over 30 years, transcending generational changes.
"We aim to produce bulls that go onto to produce progeny that meet the targets of each client's individual operation and breeding objectives.
"These relationships are built on trust, attention to detail and transparency of production, and without our valued clients we would not be celebrating 50 years of breeding."
An exceptional draft at Riga
RIGA Angus females will be available for the first time alongside the stud's bull draft, in a special sale that gives breeders the opportunity to secure sought-after genetics in the Angus breed.
On offer on April 13 will be 50 bulls, including 10 18-month-olds and 40 13-month-olds, along with 15 18-month-old pregnancy-tested-in-calf heifers and 15 13-month-olds.
The PTIC heifers are due to calve from mid-August and the 13-month-old heifers are suitable for an autumn or spring joining.
"We are very proud to offer an exceptional line of bulls and females which are among the best we have produced, with the latest genetics used over proven females that perform, year in, year out," Mrs Finger said.
Among the sire lines with bigger numbers of progeny in the sale are Sydgen Enhance, Musgrave 316 Exclusive and Lawsons Momentous.
"All three were used in 2020 and are strongly represented in this catalogue with several standout progeny," Mrs Finger said.
"Last year's sale topper, Riga Rain R45, by Exclusive out of a young Hallmark/Te Mania Estate daughter, has a full brother in the sale who is looking equally as impressive, VKR21S149 (lot 3).
"VKR21S159 (lot 6), is another exciting Exclusive son out of a young Loch Up/Eclypta daughter."
Some of the newer genetics introduced, include Glenoch Makahu, Chiltern Park Moe, Baldridge Compass and Rennylea Prospect.
"Glenoch Makahu progeny are displaying a slightly larger frame with plenty of stretch and growth. Several of his sons, including VKR21S139 and VKR21S64, impressed visitors at Beef Week."
Some of the heaviest bulls in the draft are by Sydgen Enhance who also has some very feminine heifers on offer, Mrs Finger said.
"One of our favourites is VKR21S79 out of an old Sitz 458N G-year female."
The PTIC heifers carry EF Complement and Landfall Joyle genetics with the AI joining sires being Murdeduke Quarterback and Millah Murrah Paratrooper.
"We decided to offer females as part of our 50 years of breeding celebration and all heifers have been carefully selected to represent our breeding type, which on the new index scale is best represented by the Angus Breeding Index ($A)," Mrs Finger said.
"These are females that we would consider to be excellent future breeders and if they do not meet reserve they will remain in our herd.
"This is a good opportunity for producers looking for registered females with the latest genetics that we would normally never consider offering for sale.
"It's a rare opportunity for producers to purchase females selected from the top performers in our herd."
The Riga Angus bull and female is sale is on Wednesday, April 13, beginning at 1pm, with bidding available in-person and online through AuctionsPlus.
Prospective buyers will have the opportunity to inspect cattle prior to the sale, with an open day on March 30 from 10am to 4pm.