Central Qld’s Burnett Group addresses herd fertility

Russ Boadle, 18/12/2012



John Burnett with Braford bulls used as part of Burnett Group's three way crossbreeding program.  THREE generations of the Burnett family have moulded a breeding and finishing cattle enterprise with an in-built flexibility to meet today's ever-changing market demands coupled with a strong emphasis on staff training and personal development.

It is the same family-orientated teamwork that prompted the Burnett Group's directors John and Jan Burnett to devise an on-property Helmsman bull sale auction that gives their property managers ownership of their respective two and three-way crossbreeding strategies when selecting bulls.

The Burnett Group operates a seven-property aggregation covering 160,000 hectares of Central Queensland's closely held premium grazing and cropping country. 

The home block Bendemeer, which also incorporates the adjoining holding Kalbar, is a 14,000ha highly developed softwood scrub property straddling the Gregory Development Road 40km north of Clermont. Bendemeer was purchased by John's late father Stephen Burnett in 1943 and currently serves at the company's Braford and red Brahman crossbred bull breeding base.

With 10,000 breeders of varying genetic backgrounds spread across five breeding properties, the Burnett Group requires 300 bulls annually. Bulls are joined in December and taken out in April. Based on a 5 percent annual bull replacement, the bull breeding program requires 60 bulls a year for internal use and makes a further 20 bulls available for interested buyers.

John Burnett said getting the right mix of breed genetics to maintain optimum hybrid vigour was the key to achieving maximum animal performance coupled with a strong selection emphasis on bull and female fertility.

The Bendemeer bull breeding program is managed by John and Jan's son, Doug and his wife Amanda. Doug, a University of Queensland Agricultural Science (Animal Studies) graduate, works with the 250 cow Braford herd founded in the late 1970s and a 200 head predominantly red herd of high content Brahman/Droughtmaster females.

"Our Braford bull breeding operation which includes four single-sire herds enables us to collate birth dates, cow fertility and production traits with a steady progression toward natural poll genetics," Doug said.

To put the overall bull production program into perspective, the Burnett Group runs 3000 breeders on Jo Jo, a 34,600ha breeding and finishing block on the Drummond Range 130km west of Springsure on the headwaters of the Nogoa and Belyando Rivers.

Bought in 1997 and managed by Gavin and Julie Vallis, Jo Jo maintains a three-way rotational breeding program using Braford, Brahman and Euro (Simmental and Charolais) bulls.

While Jo Jo finishes 500 steers for the Jap ox trade annually, the balance of the steer turnoff from the 20,000ha of developed buffel pasture is finished at Bendemeer.

Another 3000 breeders are involved in a three-way breeding rotation on Monteagle. This 36,200ha EU-accredited former Stanbroke Pastoral Co holding located 70km north-west of Clermont was bought by the Burnett Group in 2001.

Monteagle is managed by John and Jan's second son, Steve and his wife Lizzie, who are also responsible for the adjoining 8776ha Kalang holding bought in 2008. Kalang currently supports an established EU-accredited Angus and Wagyu breeding herd. Some 400 steers and the heifer turnoff are marketed directly to the Coles HGP-free beef program annually.

Widely regarded as the 'jewel in the crown' of the former Stanbroke holdings, the 68,000ha Frankfield station located 110km north of Clermont, was purchased by the Burnett Group in 2004.

Managed by Malcolm and Carolyn Flohr, Frankfield now carries 4000 breeders managed through a two-way composite crossbreeding rotation. Frankfield maintains two breeding herds comprising lower grade Brahman females that are joined to high content Brahman and Brahman crossbred bulls and high grade Brahman females that are joined to Euro and British purebred bulls.

To maintain the hybrid vigour objectives, the Burnett Group outsources selected purebred genetics by buying Braford, Brahman, Simmental, Charolais and South Devon bulls.

Managers of the breeding properties select 20 elite bull calves annually from their composite herds which are grown out at Bendemeer alongside the selected Braford and red Brahman crossbred bulls. Liveweight performance is recorded from weaning through to two-year-old and comparative performance is indexed at 400 and 600 days.

For the bulls selected for the annual Helmsman sale, now in its third year, Burnett Group managers and external buyers had access to performance data including average daily gain, dam calving, horn status and a veterinary bull breeding soundness examination.

In addition to scrotal circumference measurements, bull semen is assessed for motility and more importantly – semen morphology.

Armed with this performance data, visiting buyers and Burnett Group managers (working to a pre-set budget) bought 42 of the paddock-reared bulls for an average of $2985 at the 2012 November 23 sale at Bendemeer.

Top selling herd bull was a 24-month-old Bendemeer Braford sired by Abernethy Winston bought for $6800 by repeat buyer Bernard Anderson, Narrien, Clermont. Mr Anderson operates the Jericho district breeding block, Alice River, and markets EU-accredited progeny off buffel grass at Narrien.

Three Frankfield-bred mature horses were also sold through the Helmsman system. First time buyer Shane Benney, Merrigang, Clermont, bought the top selling nine-year-old mare Rosalina for $7700.

Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry senior beef extension officer Ken Murphy, Rockhampton, was guest speaker at the 2012 sale.

Mr Murphy tackled the vexing issue of improving the reproduction rates of first and second-calf females.

John Burnett said his management aim was to join as many maiden heifers as possible at 12 months of age and only cull based on poor temperament, size and structural faults.




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