On the road to results
27 May 2016
South Australian producer Michael Cobiac is developing an efficient, viable and flexible management system that responds to seasonal and market challenges.
After a career in cattle and pasture management research with the Northern Territory Government and a stint as an oyster farm manager at Coffin Bay on the Eyre Peninsula, Michael returned to his family’s farm in 2010 and bought it in 2014.
He now runs the new business with his partner Catherine. The couple have two children: William, five, and Zoe, two.
As the business’s sole labour unit, Michael is set on streamlining production and improving labour efficiency. For example, he is consolidating the sheep enterprise to focus on meat production and will start to buy in, rather than breed, replacement ewes.
He is also implementing strategies to target the three profit drivers in his business.
Driver 1: Stocking rates
“The property is currently stocked at less than its climatic potential, so I see stocking rates as the real driver of increased productivity,” Michael said.
“As land around the south-east is tightly held, I need to make this property more productive.”
Michael has set an interim goal of lifting the total stocking capacity of the property to 8,000 dry sheep equivalent (DSE) within three years by improving the productivity and use efficiency of his pastures.
The current stocking rate is 6,500 DSE or 12 DSE/grazed hectare, but research presented at a “More Lambs More Often’ workshop Michael attended suggested that stocking rates of about 15 DSE/ha can be more profitable, without a significantly higher risk of making a loss in a poor season.
Michael uses MLA’s More Beef from Pastures (MBfP) and Making More From Sheep (MMFS) tools, such as feed budgeting and pasture monitoring, to assess pasture condition and availability. He is implementing deferred grazing and confinement feeding at the beginning of the growing season to provide pastures with the best opportunity to grow.
Infrastructure development plans include subdividing paddocks into 20 hectares to enable effective rotational grazing and a new set of yards for more efficient stock handling.
Driver 2: Fertility rates
Michael has set body condition score and weight-for-age targets to lift fertility, drawing on what he learned from MBfP and MMFS.
He aims to keep breeding cows at a condition score of between 3 and 3.5 throughout the year. Heifers are expected to reach 400kg by 14 months of age; Merino ewe lambs should reach 45kg by seven months of age.
Once females are joined, his production targets are:
- Cattle: 95% of cows to conceive within a six-week joining period. Of those that conceive, 95% should give birth to healthy calves unassisted and 100% of healthy calves should reach weaning.
- Sheep: 95% of ewes to conceive within a five-week joining period. Of the detected pregnancies, 95% should result in a healthy lamb born unassisted. More than 95% of healthy lambs should make weaning.
Michael joined Merino ewe lambs for the first time in January, to lamb as one-year-olds. He worked with his ram breeder to select White Suffolk sires to ensure easy lambing.
“My main focus will be to ensure these ewes reconceive when they are one-and-a-half years old, otherwise there is no point to joining them as lambs,” he said.
Strategies to achieve this include providing adequate nutrition for their continued growth, segregating according to pregnancy status and carefully managing ewes with multiple lambs in small groups. Michael will closely monitor all ewes and implement required management to maximise their chances of conceiving again next joining.
Driver 3: Growth rates
Michael has strict weight-for-age targets for non-breeding animals. Steers are to reach 400kg by 12 months, heifers are to reach 400kg by 14 months and terminal lambs should achieve 22kg carcase weight by 18 weeks of age.
While Michael achieves many of these production goals each year, he is yet to achieve them all in a single year.
“That’s the challenge for me and every other producer – to set high standards and work hard to achieve them. Once I have developed a management system to reach these goals, I then need to continue achieving them in all but the most extreme seasons,” he said.
Hand-in-hand with these production targets is Michael’s goal to have higher-than-average production from lower-than-average costs/ha.
“I see benchmarking as the only way to ensure I’m being efficient in this business,” he said.
Michael is building up sufficient production records to support formal benchmarking, and participates in producer groups such as Lifetime Ewe Management to develop skills and knowledge.
He draws on MLA resources such as the Cost of Production calculator (to identify what data to collect for decision-making) and the Feed Demand Calculator.
Watch Michael explain his journey in a MBfP video
Michael Cobiac E: firstname.lastname@example.org
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