Chris Howie: Cross words, cross weaning and cross-country conversations

Chris Howie , 10/06/2024
Chris Howie

Chris Howie

Food for thought. If you walk up the main street of any Australian town and look at the main buildings, above the door they have the full name of the company. It seems Australia has shortened every company name or industry body to an acronym consisting of the first letters. For marketing this may be sexy however unless you know what the company does the abbreviation quickly becomes meaningless. Quality assurance programs, peak bodies, agencies, banks and important paperwork have all done it. Perhaps this is the reason that no one takes the time to understand what these acronyms mean anymore especially when aligned to compliance.

Beef 24 seems a long time ago already. I spent three days in Rockhampton with my small team and came away with so many very good business discussions as well as many friendships renewed. It is a credit to the exhibitors who invested in major sites to hold client events as well as the array of speakers, dinners and functions. For those who don’t attend it is like a clearing sale or Royal show on steroids. It may be worth noting for 2027 that behind the scenes, cost was a common thread of discussion, especially the carton price to site holders for refreshments at functions.

Making a change. Several months ago I mentioned “Cross weaning” for cattle in an article. This practice was passed onto me by Jaime Howie, Elders Albury who had been talking to one of her Mountain cattle clients. At Beef a producer waited for me at the AuctionsPlus site to discuss what he had done after reading that snippet. I must admit I was a bit nervous because I had never met him and until that article had never heard of cross weaning myself. I will summarise what Charlie told me. “We weaned 600 cows which normally takes us about 5 – 6 weeks. This year we had a new set of yards and we thought we would give this a go. The calves were swapped between mobs of cows and walked out, which was easier than expected because the calves thought mum was at the front of the mob. Both cows and calves bellowed for then days –then silence. No eyes problems, no sore feet and the process took us two weeks including preg testing.” Charlie also went onto say the calves when drafted off the surrogate mums were the quietest they have had. Old fashion simple – what a great outcome.

Simone Dand manages the Wodonga TAFE / MLA /RMA Network Agency and Supply chain training. (Lots of acronyms there!!) Whilst in Rockhampton Simone attended a function one evening and with a quick count arrived at 17 trainees from the past 14 years representing 12 different companies. Not a bad example of someone helping an industry behind the scenes. The next course in August will see the 300th participant.

What is an NVD? It is the piece of paper that allows the producer to gain access to the international markets established by industry and exporters. So why do we spend so much time bitching about them at all levels?. They have been here since 2001 and really haven’t changed a lot yet we continually fill them out incorrectly. At a sale yard or processing plant incorrect NVD’s are the bane of the administration staff creating a need to call someone at 4.30am in most instances before the stock can continue to flow through the system. The new eNVD functionality is getting better and in time will become the norm for all of us making mistakes harder. Only the owner or person in charge of husbandry can fill out the NVD – not the agent, saleyard, processor or feedlot. Take the time to fill them out correctly – it’s not that hard.

Seasonal conditions – SA, WA Tassie and parts of Victoria have been very dry although first rain appeared last week. Gerald Wetheral, Livestock manager West Coast Rural, WA said the south is now wet with the central and northern wheat belts looking for a bit more. Speaking to Michael Laidlaw from StockCo who just completed a client circuit starting in South Australia and looping through Tamworth and Moree. He said once past Broken Hill the seasonal conditions improved with plenty of grazing crops and fat livestock through NSW.

Tom Madden from TB White and Sons Ballarat has seen an interesting end to the month of May in the southern region of Victoria. The bureau suggested some pretty good rainfalls throughout the state – ranging from 2-20mm’s. Handy for areas that received the upper end of the tally, insignificant for most others and we now see some tough conversations being had – Feed and Keep vs. Sell. The positive to this is that the cattle, sheep and lamb markets are beginning to build, and over the past month have seen positive growth in all price aspects of stock sales.


Feeder steer descriptions have been tracking relatively closely in price for the last 12 months but have now taken two distinct paths. Speaking to Antony Glynn from Ottley Livestock finance he said: “Angus feeders are at $4.00 with EU drifting towards $4.20. However flat back steers in Queensland have retreated to $3.15 with the surge of numbers and weight reflecting the season.”

Andrew Cavanaugh from stock agency Kellco at Monto in Queensland made the comment that feed availability and quality in the North Burnett region is still very good with the late start to winter and only very few frosts so far. The weaner turnoff is currently happening, putting some downward pressure on prices. Cattle coming forward are very good quality. Further north into CQ grass availability is not as good. Large weaner sales in Gracemere and Emerald last week saw prices ease in places. Higher Bos Indicus content cattle and those with very little weight are finding the current market the toughest. Adding to Andrew’s comments, Central and Far North Queensland are in their main weaner season now and numbers are worth a look.

Roma after many years of two sales a week has moved to one sale a week. I remember a couple of droughts ago Tuesday and Thursday sales yarding 8000 – 11,000 cattle both days. Chatting with Cyril Close from TopX Roma about his work load and how much extra time has appeared to concentrate on other business. For those that have never worked at a sale yard centre they very quickly absorb a lot of time with a lot of night work when preparing stock for sale.

Store sales in Victoria have seen the continued strong interest from the north for cattle with weight. Mortlake, Pakenham and Barnawartha all had the full contingent of store and feeder buyers last week. Although light cattle and some lines of heifers were harder work for the auctioneers as buyers try to avoid taking stock through two winters.


Mutton has continued to fight any substantial move in price. Even though export quantities are excellent the sheer volume of old ewes from WA and SA has kept the handbrake on saleyard and hooks pricing. Although, two calls last week the subject was “what numbers are looking like for the next couple of months.” With lambing well underway the mutton numbers in the south have started to ease. Not to be overlooked I expect the lifting of the processor suspensions supplying China will also open doors for supply of mutton and lamb. There has been a definite rise in mutton pricing with ranges from $3.20 – $3.60 per kilogram dependent on delivery location.

Winter lamb contracts. The first contracts appeared with a price spread ranging from $7.20 to $8.20. Breed, carcass weight and delivery location all influence the rate you will receive. It is important that producers investigate all of the options and do the math. The best price is not always the best return. Freight is a huge component of the equation these days and distance quickly erodes the carcass return.

Merino, Cross bred, Dorper or Australian White all have their own pricing slot. Seed is also becoming an issue in some consignments as they were purchased in the late spring after being shorn and the contamination is not known until the skin is removed.  If consigning a large number of lambs a test kill is always a good idea. It is easier to negotiate a rate for seedy lambs before they are hanging up.

I will mention “gate keeping” which is when contracts rates available are not passed on by agent or advisor because their view is the rate will improve. My advice is always let producers know what is available because their financial or seasonal circumstances may be a higher priority than waiting for a better price.

Regional sheep sales. These are a lot different to fat lamb sales. The auctioneer needs to be a storyteller, an influencer, a showman with a perpetually happy attitude because this one trait directly influences the buyers gallery. Speaking to Kevin Thompson, Nutrien Whycheproof and we commented on how the seasonal sheep sales seem to be fading in some areas. Different sale timings from producers, Auction Plus since COVID becoming a mainstream sale platform or season allowing line of sight to the processor. However the main reason is the energy, enthusiasm and auctioneering ability of the local agencies running the sale. If that energy doesn’t exist, the survival of the center normally comes into question.

I did notice a top 20 auctioneers list printed recently. Brian Leslie on his day is the best I have seen and very worthy of the top spot. However, it seems the scope of who to include was limited and well short of capturing the auctioneers from all of Australia. It is nearly an impossible task because who, other than a very few are able to compare them. At least some egos were polished for a few.

Processing plant maintenance – timely reminder that some of the big sheep works do have a maintenance shut down in July for those with sheep to sell.

Live export – the slow burn of resistance has ignited. It takes the bush a while to gain momentum, but the efforts of all segments have seen significant pressure being brought to bear. The importance of the WA live export industry for sheep has become more evident the longer it goes. The impact on the Eastern state sheep pricing and many other industries through this ill-informed decision is becoming clearer every day. When an issue gets to point of discussion about the need for a Senate enquiry in the chambers of federal parliament it normally indicates something is not right. Log your signature on Keepthesheep.

Time lines for submissions to the stacked non sympathetic House Standing Committee on Agriculture were announced by Murray Watt on the 5th June for the inquiry into the Export Control Amendment (Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea) Bill 2024. I have never seen a Minister for Agriculture so disrespectful to his portfolio – on thought, perhaps Joesph Ludwig. Announced on the 5th of June and closing on the 11th June with the Kings birthday long weekend in the middle. Rail roading seems to be the appropriate word from my viewpoint. Full Sheep Central story


  • Light heifers – lay the ears back
  • PTIC Cows good value
  • Ewes and lambs
  • Plain cows – if you have a lot of rough feed. Freshen and sell in a couple of months.
  • Do the calculations on how much weight gain is available in your feed then work out the best price per kilogram before buying your backgrounding stock.
  • Make sure you calculate freight cost before buying or selling.


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  1. Richard Martin, 11/06/2024

    Good update ,cross weaning with ovine & bovine is not new practice! I successfully used as a management option when seasons were tough.
    It has great advantages for the female and the follower.
    The matron will put weight back on,lactation will cease and will cycle in season and sync.
    The follower will settle quickly and mature and look after its self better.I first saw this husbandry in Riverina in the late 70s at FSF Boonoke, Deniliquin NSW

  2. Stefan, 10/06/2024

    You’re a bit slow, we’ve been cross weaning (what you call it) calves for over 50 on our property. It works well, you’ll get some cows that’ll let the odd calf suck, but overall it works well.

    • Chris Howie, 11/06/2024

      Thanks Stephan. understand many have been doing it for years but i am amazed about how many have never heard of the practice. If socializing helps others that is not a bad thing from my view point.

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