By Ruth Schwager
CROSSBREEDING with black Simmental and SimAngus bulls is allowing Tim and Suzanne Wright to turn off their weaners earlier.
The Wrights usually run between 500 and 600 breeders on their 3400-hectare Uralla property Lana, along with about 3500 Merino-cross and superfine Merinos.
Mr Wright started looking at crossbreeding in the mid-1980s after starting with a Hereford base.
“I’d learnt a lot about hybrid vigour through Orange Agricultural College in the 1970s,” he said.
“It’s one of the freebies that we have in livestock production.”
Mr Wright has trialled a number of breeds in the years since.
“I used South Devons, Salers and Gelbvieh, but South Devons were too big. We were after an early maturing animal to suit our environment.”
The dual-purpose Gelbvieh breed crossed well with the Herefords, thanks to the breed’s milk, muscle and temperament.
“I was interested in the terminal sire concept, which is where the composite bulls from Wombramurra came in some years ago,” Mr Wright said.
“Using a heavier breed would have made it hard for me to keep heifers, but with the composite bulls, I can keep a good selection of females that are early maturing, with a moderate frame, and they’re good milkers.”
He now uses black Simmental and SimAngus genetics from the Wombramurra stud at Nundle.
Progeny is sold as weaners, through saleyards at Armidale or Tamworth, or over AuctionsPlus.
All steers are sold, along with about 40pc of heifers. The calves are sold straight off their mothers, but are weaned using EasyWean nose rings. The weaners are sold at seven to eight months, weighing from 280 kilograms to 320kg.
“We’ve matched our enterprise to suit the environment, because it’s not ideal finishing country,” Mr Wright said.
“Our goal is to turn of weaners as early as possible.”
About 95pc of the property is rested as part of Mr Wright’s planned grazing program. The property is managed as eight different farmlets, and stock are shifted according to available feed, usually every three to four days. This gives each paddock an average 60 to 70 days of rest between each graze.
The holistically-managed planned gazing was introduced following the 1982 drought, from which it took about five years to recover, in terms of pastures and the bank balance.
Mr Wright started investing in his production, focusing on building soil health and growing grass, allowing him to make the most of available pastures.
“When people were buying in hay and grain in the 1980s I was buying wire and poly pipe.”
The improved land management practices include using biological fertilisers over superphosphate.
“Having a higher stock density over a short period of time builds soil fertility and organic matter,” Mr Wright said.
“One of the biggest costs is fertiliser, but with this, animal manure is mulched down to build the soil humus and microbe levels, and that’s the way we get phosphorous and other minerals back in the soil, by the pathway of mycorrhizal fungi.”
The grazing plan has paid off with the current dry conditions, reducing production costs. Mr Wright has adjusted carrying capacity, selling about half his cattle and keeping mostly younger stock. He is yet to feed hay in this drought, despite just 120 millimetres of rain for 2018.
He supplements year-round with Himalayan salt, and also uses cottonseed meal for lactating cows in dry times.
“I’ve still got ground cover. I’d rather destock completely than destroy the ground cover, because it takes so long to get back.”