By putting in simple management practices including monitoring an animal’s body score condition, northern Australia’s beef producers can tighten an inefficient 12-month calving pattern into a seven month cost-effective breeder management system.
Addressing a well-attended Beef Australia 2012 seminar hosted by Pfizer, targeting sustainable, profitable production for northern herds was Northwest Queensland veterinarian Dr Ian Braithwaite.
Dr Braithwaite is a respected cattle industry adviser to corporate and private grazing operations, who also runs his own intensive grazing business turning off 550 steers annually.
He said there was scope for significant herd production improvement for those producers located north of a line from Townsville to Broome. Too many producers had accepted an inter-generational management approach that follows the doctrine “Why change things that we have always done?”
“The end result is that these operators have a poor concept of animal production and business issues,” he said.
“They cannot make business decisions based on unpredictable stock flows and cashflow where weaning rates range from 34 percent up to 70pc with mortalities exceeding 4pc.”
Dr Braithwaite said animal welfare issues were also coming to the fore. In Queensland legislation states that cows falling below a body condition score (BCS) of 2 require remedial supplementation treatment. After recent animal welfare issues in the Northern Territory, there are reported moves to legislate that cattle with a BCS3 will need supplementary feeding before transport.
Dr Braithwaite said this translates to huge costs if these NT producers have to truck in supplements such as molasses.
“That is scary stuff, so it is vital to maintain body condition for breeders,” he said.
Dr Braithwaite is an advocate for using BSC as an effective tool to increase herd fertility. BSC is a measure of the fat cover of the animal and is scored on a 1-5 scale – each BSC representing about 60kg liveweight.
“Weaning is a key strategy when managing BSC and cows should be around BSC2.5 at weaning. Decisions on when to wean should not be based on the size of the weaner as this can lead to a lower breeder condition which impacts on her ability to get back into calf.
“Optimum calving in northern Australia is from October to December with 70pc rebreeding in 12 months – these are the cows that make the money resulting in first round weaners in good condition,” he said.
“Given a good wet season break, these breeders have the best chance of getting back in calf and reaching a BCS or 3.5 to 5 when they subsequently calve.
“Segregating wet and dry breeders identifies the unproductive cows that limit cash flow but it does require prior planning to provide the infrastructure and match stocking rates with carrying capacity to ensure optimum nutrition is available for the lactating, productive females.
“Cows that calve from January through to April to produce first round calves and a second round of weaners do not have the same money-earning potential but it is the out-of-season May through to September calving that costs producers heavily in loss of calves, loss of cows and the potential increased supplement costs to keep them going.
“These breeders that calve in the early to mid-dry season struggle to maintain weight, cannot produce enough milk and will not reconceive or may be too weak to give birth. These out-of season breeders are destined to only have a calf every two years while they continue to eat grass that could be going to a cow that is pregnant and rearing a calf.”
Dr Braithwaite summed by saying that monitoring the herd and keeping accurate data will enable any beef business to benchmark its performance and indentify the profit drivers such as kilograms of beef turned off per hectare.
Key factors in a dynamic herd management system to lift fertility and production include knowing: