Giving an enterprise the edge

Location: Bundaberg, Queensland

Enterprise: Beef production, turning off Brahman Limousin-cross steers at 0-2 teeth, 300-330kg dressed weight and spayed heifers

Producer: Rob and Melinee Leather

When central Queensland producer Melinee Leather signed up for an MLA Breeding EDGE workshop, she was looking for options to improve profit on her family's properties.

Top of Melinee’s list was to identify the best way to move their herd from year-round to controlled mating and to investigate the benefits of hybrid vigour.

“The workshop was an ideal forum for learning technical aspects, such as how to use Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) better, but also for considering different options for our enterprise,” Melinee said.

“It was great to have some thinking time to work out how we might benefit from some of the ideas discussed and how we could manage transition periods.”

The Leather family runs 1,200 Brahman breeders across five properties near Moura, Gin Gin and Mt Perry.

One third of their females are joined to Brahmans, with the remainder to Limousins, to produce a terminal cross aimed at making MSA grade and meeting EU and Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System (PCAS) requirements. Steers are sold direct to processors between milk and two-teeth at 300kg–330kg dressed weight. 

Their pure-bred Brahman heifers are retained as replacement breeders, while the Limousin-cross females are spayed for faster finishing and usually sold direct to processors between milk and two-teeth at 280–300kg. 

Melinee and her family were keen to move their herd from year-round to controlled mating so that all calves were born by mid-December and weaned in June/July. 

This would create more even lines of steers and heifers and significantly cut labour costs. 

“About 80% of our herd calves at the same time so there is a mating routine there, we just need to tidy up those females that are late, empty or failing to raise a calf,” she said. 

Tightening up timing 

Melinee requested more information from the workshop deliverers on the best strategies for tightening up their mating period.

“We certainly want to avoid doing it in one hit and being surrounded by empty cows,” she said. 

“At this stage, we’ll tighten it up gradually. Firstly, we’ll pregnancy-test our females and anything that falls outside the main calving period will be foetal aged. Then, we’ll make a decision about the late calvers and the empties.” 

The Leather family was also keen to harness the benefits of hybrid vigour and to learn what three-way breed combination will deliver them the greatest profits and ease of management. 

“The Limo-cross is great at meeting processor specs but, unfortunately, our country really is more suited to Brahmans,” Melinee said.

“We’re considering other terminal combinations such as Limo-Senapol or composites. We’ll try a few bulls and see how the results go before we make any long-term decisions.” 

Trait training

During the workshop Melinee learnt more about EBVs and, in particular, which traits were important to their enterprise.

“Some of our seedstock suppliers don’t provide EBVs, but it was really helpful to learn more about them and which traits we want to concentrate on such as birth weight, growth traits, scrotal size, days to calving, rib fat, P8 fat and temperament as well as the dam’s history,” she said.

For the Leathers, the workshop stimulated a flurry of activity with not only new herd management strategies, but new infrastructure including cattle yards being built on ease-of-stock movement principles with built-in electronic ID tag readers.

“Our records for EU, PCAS and LPA (Livestock Production Assurance) have always been sufficient but maintaining comprehensive on-farm herd records for generating better management decisions has always been a battle for us, mainly because we’re so short on labour,” Melinee said. 

“Hopefully our improved infrastructure and race reader will make that process easier.”

The Breeding EDGE program aims to help producers develop a cattle breeding program or improve an existing one. Topics include examining your current situation, reproduction issues, genetics, setting breeding objectives, livestock selection and managing the herd to capture benefits.

Bundaberg, Queensland
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