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Taking greater control

On-Farm Snapshot
Name/s Geoff and Kate Swanson
Location 'Connemara', Augathella, Queensland
Area 6,100ha
Enterprise Backgrounding cattle for grain finishing
Livestock Up to 900 head a year
Pastures Mitchell and woodlands grass downs, buffel grass, improved Brigalow scrub and virgin Brigalow scrub.
Soils Dark clay
Rainfall 525mm summer dominant

Geoff SwanSwanson1.pngson wouldn't be the first producer to say that the last time he thought he knew everything was when he was "young and stupid".

But he's acknowledged it and embarked on a journey of training and education to help him improve his management of the profit drivers in his backgrounding business. He believes that lifelong learning should be seen as enjoyable, not a chore.

The key impacts on their businesses are price, market demand, climate forecasts and feedbase production and the Swanson’s are working on improving their management of each factor.

"I've alway said our business is very simple. Three things have an impact on how well we do - the price we buy cattle for, how quickly they gain weight and the price we sell them for," Geoff said.

The business buys crossbred steers (with low Bos Indicus content) at 250kg via the Roma saleyards during winter, adds 180kg/head by utilising spring and summer-growing pastures and sells them from January to April at an average of 430kg to feedlots for finishing. Geoff and Kate identified the two management interventions which could have the greatest impact on their bottom line were speeding up the rate of growth and establishing climatic trigger points for increasing and decreasing numbers.

To support taking control of these interventions they signed up for MLA's Nutrition EDGE and followed up by joining a Profitable Grazing Systems coaching group run by Nutrition EDGE deliverer and animal nutritionist Désirée Jackson.

"Nutrition EDGE taught me the biggest limiting factor in our business was how much energy we could supply to those steers," Geoff said.

"It also showed us the faster we got the steers on to good nutrition the faster they took off when the pastures picked up. We've often had cattle sitting here at the end of winter doing nothing on the frosted pastures so we either have to purchase them later or start supplementing them."

Urea-based supplements have been replaced with a cottonseed ration fed out in tubs in the paddock at 3kg/head/every three days.

"It's hard to get your head around the expense of it, but when you examine it carefully as we did with Désirée and work out exactly how much energy the cattle need to perform, it makes perfect sense," Geoff said.

The Swanson’s have also introduced regular diet quality (F.NIRS or dung) testing to identify nutritional deficiencies and nutrient balances, and believe this will be of even more benefit when a more consistent wet season is experienced.

"We are not in a traditionally phosphorus-deficient area, but maybe in a very wet season phosphorus supplementation might be needed and dung testing will be able to tell us that," Geoff said.

"Once you understand the digestive system of cattle it helps with making decisions about what you feed them. You always go back to that knowledge rather than trying something just for the sake of it."

The training also showed Geoff techniques for pasture improvement and as the buffel grass runs down, he plans to lift pasture quality and quantity by adding a legume component and using cool burn management techniques.

Geoff found group learning through Nutrition EDGE highly beneficial.

"Learning in a group makes you more accountable. It's easy to get distracted if you are trying to do things by yourself," he said.

"It also allowed Désirée to get to know our business and our goals and now we can ring her and run any questions past her and she helps keep us on track.

"Ian McLean (who delivers Business EDGE) presented to us one day on business management and I still remember some of the things he said - they've become goals for us to strive for and I think the next step is to do Business EDGE or some type of business coaching."