Southern season update: region by region

Beef Central, 25/09/2013

Western Victoria

In western Victoria, SKB-Rodwells agent at Warrnambool Phil Keane said every day it rains was helping pasture growth and cattle markets, but many of the cattle being sold now were not quite finished.

“Whilst we need rain to keep the grass growing we also need sunshine, but it is a bit hard to get both isn't it.

“At this stage I would say there are a lot of cattle in paddocks waiting to pick up a bit more condition to be sold.”

Mr Keane expected beef cattle numbers into the Warrnambool saleyards to continue to build into next year, though numbers might be slightly below last year's figures. This was due to earlier dry conditions, followed by the lack of a normal autumn break and movement of store cattle out of the south-west.

“We came out of the autumn break virtually straight into the wet with a lot of cattle not having the condition that they normally would have.

“So those cattle are going to be slower to get going,” Mr Keane said.

“If it rained to Christmas Day it wouldn't worry me one bit.”

Jigsaw Farms owner Mark Wootton just north of Hamilton said the beef-sheep operation had its hottest and driest six month period in 17 years prior to the delayed autumn break in late April.

“Luckily just in time the break meant we had enough soil temperature for grass growth.”

Urea and gibberellic acid product applications helped pasture growth in winter to keep cattle in “fair order”. While producers south of Hamilton suffered wetter conditions, mild winter temperatures and sufficient rain kept grass growing, he said. The Jigsaw Farms' cattle continued to put on weight and make it through a very wet August.

“We've also got a lot of improved pastures and a lot of good opportunities with the phalaris-based system that performs well even in colder soil temperatures.”

Mr Wootton said the rain fall of 28mm of rain in the past week was slightly below average.

“October is going to be the make or break month for us.

“If we have good October rain we will be right here.”


Landmark agent at Bairnsdale Brad Obst said the season in Gippsland was on a “knife edge” until last week, when follow-up rainfall to earlier rains shored up the season.

Before the recent rain and then fine weather, south Gippsland was still very wet and the mountain cattle was looking good, he said.

Most Gippsland breeders sell their cattle in spring and autumn feature sales, but he believed the forced turn-off of cattle would have been greater without the follow-up rains.

“A lot of people were waiting with south Gippsland drying out and growing some grass, but up here we were getting dry.

“We will probably see our normal turn-off of stock but it will give people the opportunity to market the cattle properly rather than just off-load them.

“The blokes that do fatten cattle will be able to sit back and relax a little bit now.”

Elders' agent at Omeo David Hill said the 40mm-100mm of rain across the region in the last 10 days had set producers up for magnificent spring and a good hay season provided it continued to rain.

“We've gone from a grass tetany-prevalent area to a bloat-prevalent area.”

It will be “business as usual” for cattle producers with similar numbers retained on farms, though the ongoing wild dog problem meant former sheep owners were now introducing spring calving, Mr Hill said.

“Our weaner sale numbers will be very similar to what we have had previously.”

Department of Environment and Primary Industries dairy extension officer Greg O'Brien said summer pasture growth rates in western and southern Gippsland were very ordinary early in the season, but improved to be around average in late autumn.

“Pasture growth rates continued to be average to slightly above average through winter and then it has taken off.

“September growth rates have been above average – I reckon we are a few weeks ahead of where we would normally be.”

Farmers might be able to finish cattle two to three weeks earlier this season, he said, or they might take stock through to higher weights, Mr O'Brien said.

Recent rain, the forecast for the next three months and current soil temperature will give producers confidence that the good season could extend, he said.

South Australia

In South Australia, Landmark's livestock manager at Naracoorte Brendan Fitzgerald said south-east South Australia had a good break but “a rough trot” before significant rain in early July leading into spring.

“We probably did it easier than western Victoria because we were warmer and our feed kicked away a bit quicker.

“You got the same rain in western Victoria but you went from no feed to what was virtually a green drought because it was still cold, whereas we had some growth in July before it stagnated for a couple of weeks and then it has taken off again.

South-east South Australian producers now had pasture now to finish cattle properly, though they had to off-load a lot of cattle earlier than expected, he said. This meant that many of the SA cattle normally marketed prime in the spring were already gone and cattle were being drawn now from as far north as the state's Riverland region and north of the Murray River. The dry conditions have crept down to the Murray River, and stations around Broken Hill have

off-loaded in recent weeks, he said.

“We're just going to find that there will be those peaks and troughs throughout the spring.”

Based on the numbers of cows going to slaughter, Mr Fitzgerald expected there would be a shortage either this spring or summer.

“I don't know where they are going to obtain kill cattle in the new year as numbers will have to be seen to be depleting sooner or later.

“This is our greatest weight gain period now and probably the tide has turned on premiums for cattle with weight on at the moment, more so than the lighter job.”

Mr Fitzgerald believed a shortage of prime and store cattle could develop, though there was still a glut of light killable cattle coming out of northern states.

According to South Australia's Crop and Pasture Report for September, pasture paddocks have a high amount of feed with some farmers looking to cut pasture hay to capitalise on the dry matter grown.

Cool to cold conditions in July slowed pasture growth, but milder conditions during August have stimulated good growth, the report said.

However, waterlogging has limited pasture growth on poorly drained soils on Lower Eyre Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and in the south east. The report said livestock are generally in good condition across the state, though limited

pasture growth on Kangaroo Island and in the south east has reduced condition of some livestock over winter.

Coola Station director at Kongorong in South Australia, Tom Dennis, said the season's start had been tough with a late April break, but rain had fallen almost every week since then, making the season only a week or two later than a normal year.

Coola's beef cattle had started “behind scratch” but Mr Dennis expected they would probably “catch up”. But his biggest concern was if New South Wales did not get early summer rains to avoid a flood of cattle on the market. Even the recent rains confined to eastern New South Wales created a “corresponding tick” in cattle prices for southern beef producers, Tom said.

“We're looking for those early summer rains in the north to lessen the pressure on the markets.”


Roberts state livestock manager Warren Johnston said Tasmania was enjoying a fantastic season through the north, with good timely rain, though southern Tasmanian producers needed rain.

“We'll be looking at a normal weaner turn-off in March-April next year, as obviously the calves in northern areas have had a pretty good start, but we just need that bit more rain in the south to get them going a bit.

“This will also certainly mean a larger turn-off of prime cattle going forward.”

Mr Johnston said very few calves were sent out of Tasmania this selling season, leading him to believe more cattle would be coming onto the market later on.


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