Putting CashCow into practice

04 June 2015

Queensland producers Bernard and Cynthia Anderson have always believed in the value of monitoring performance to improve their herd’s fertility. Their recent involvement with the MLA CashCow project has shown that – although on the right track – there is always room for further improvement.

The Andersons run a Braford breeding operation in the Belyando district, west of Clermont, and know how tough the business can be.

Bernard bought an undeveloped ‘Narrien’ when he was 19 and, armed with more ambition than capital, set about building an enterprise which has doubled in size, embraces CashCow principles and produces animals sought after by the EU and PCAS (Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System) markets.

“The seeds were sown very early on as to the value of monitoring performance, even at a commercial level,” Bernard said.

“Dad and my brothers were a huge help. Dad was control mating 45 years ago and selecting females on their reproductive performance.

“We were motivated to participate in CashCow to look to ways to improve our business so it was in the best shape for the next generation.”

The operation

The Andersons join about 2,500 Braford breeders between December and April each year on their two properties, ‘Narrien’ (one-and-a-half hour’s drive west of
Clermont) and ‘Alice River’ (about 230km further west).

Their steers and cull heifers are grass fattened at ‘Narrien’ for the EU and PCAS markets, aiming for 320kg carcase weight.

Tail-end animals (which are slower to make the target weight) are sometimes sent to feedlots, depending on seasonal conditions.

Sourcing bulls

When it comes to bull power, Bernard buys in half their requirements each year and breeds the rest.

“We source bulls from breeders who we know use performance recording and can give us good information about their maternal lines as well,” he said.

“In my opinion, there’s not enough information about female reproduction and fertility and commercial breeders are crying out for it.”

The Andersons keep 25 of their best male calves and reduce that number at weaning, to 12–15 head, selected on structure and temperament.

These are later semen-morphology tested to identify early maturers who, in turn, should sire calves that are early to puberty.

“Fertility is very important to us,” Bernard said.

Heifer performance

“We expect our heifers to calve as two-year olds, we pregnancy test our herd each year and have nil tolerance for empty cows or late calvers.”

Typically, the Andersons have success with heifer fertility but, like many, have a major challenge with getting their first calvers back in calf.

“They don’t get any special treatment such as better nutrition, but they should. It is one of the issues we identified during the CashCow project that we could address to improve our overall herd performance,” Bernard said.

“We had about 360 heifers involved in the project and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was very rewarding getting feedback on dung samples and comparing rainfall and conception.

“I hate the term ‘benchmarking’ but it was really interesting to see how our heifers performed compared to others in the region.”

“Eye opener” learnings

Bernard and Cynthia hosted a CashCow field day at ‘Narrien’ earlier this year, attracting about 60 producers, with some travelling more than 500km to attend.

Bernard said one of his most important ‘take-aways’ from the project and the field day was the concept of measuring a beef enterprise in terms of liveweight production (kg/beef produced/cow) rather than on numbers/ha.

“It’s a bit of an eye opener and shows you that calving percentage is not everything. It’s a much better way for producers to think,” he said.

Read about Bernard and Cynthia Anderson in May/June edition of Feedback magazine   

More information

Find out more about CashCow's findings by downloading: Technical Synopsis:CashCow findings - insights into the productivity and performance of northern breeding herds

Read the findings from the northern beef situation analysis in the new producer manual: Improving the performance of northern beef enterprises

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