A productive grass-fed business model with sustainability stamped all over it is the focus for Victorian Hereford breeders Jeff and Jenny Smith.
Although their property is not that far from the outskirts of Melbourne at Lancefield, it sits at an altitude of 600m on the Great Dividing Range with winters of cold winds and snow flurries.
The family has found the doing ability of the Hereford breed results in the cattle thriving in the challenging environment.
Jeff, Jenny and daughter Erin Waters have worked hard to make their business model for their Andtravern Hereford stud sustainable, paying attention to the genetics, pastures, environment and efficient and safe capital infrastructure.
Jeff has always aimed to be open minded to trying new ideas or techniques to lift productivity on their smaller holding of 48ha.
He originally started with South Devon and switched to Hereford for the breed’s doability, temperament and weight gain.
“We run 25 stud cows and produce four to five stud quality bulls every year – selling the best of the best to repeat cold country buyers from the Victorian high country and NSW New England regions,” Jeff said.
“We are endeavouring to improve our genetics continuously through BREEDPLAN and genomics, and are now concentrating on intramuscular fat and eye muscle area. We are selective with the sires we buy and use in our AI program – a lot comes back to the right sire being matched with the right cow.
“It’s not only about the cattle but what they eat as well. We have done extensive pasture improvement by spraying paddocks out and sowing with perennial ryegrass, cocksfoot, and phalaris or species with an early maturity and long growing season.”
Jeff likes to be innovative when it comes to pasture species and mixes.
“During the drought we sowed sorghum and proved it could grow at this altitude by feeding 20 cows in one paddock of sorghum. I like to try different things to increase our resilience to drought.
“I was told sorghum would never grow here but it does – it is a shorter season and soon as soil temperatures are 14 degrees and you can give it water, it can be sown, and strip grazed.
On a visit to Queensland, Jeff noted the productivity of the long season oat variety, Targa, and decided to try growing a crop in the 850mm rainfall zone traditionally known for its Saia forage oats.
He was able to achieve three grazings from the Targa oat crop, encouraging uptake of the variety by other local farmers.
“When we bought this place, we were aware of water availability with its spring fed 12 megalitre dam. We don’t use a lot of super phosphate and instead use seaweed, and composted poultry manure to increase the soil organic matter.
“If we have a lot of paddocks with dry stubble we mulch it in, rotate cattle through paddocks so the pasture doesn’t become eaten down to the crown and lose soil moisture.”
“The paddocks are aerated in May to prevent soil compaction and improve water infiltration. If water is available in the subsoil, plants can hang on longer increasing the drought resilience. In our environment, we cut 200 round bales of hay in 2023.
The cattle are grass fed and have access to a salt based mineral supplement or pasture hay.
Jeff rates longevity of the cow herd highly and runs productive females up to 12 years of age.
“We like a functional, fertile and efficient female but in saying that, every calf has to be genetically superior to its mother.
“A cow has got to produce otherwise there is no point keeping it. We generally give them two to three calves, and if the calves are average, then that cow is moved on.”
Steers are usually sold as weaners at 10 months, but the good seasonal conditions have meant the steers will be finished as heavyweight yearlings for a grass-fed program.
Over the past 26 years the family has invested in extensive capital infrastructure, subdividing paddocks, creating a central laneway, covered yards, hay sheds, watering points and tree planting.
Last year, 150 trees were planted across a gully to create a windbreak and promote grass growth. The trees support a wide variety of bird life, from water birds right up to the large wedge tailed eagle.
A career fireman and business owner for 35 years, Jeff likes to keep a tidy farm with well-maintained equipment for the benefit of animal and human welfare.
The farm layout is designed with a central laneway and machine-friendly wide gateways. A set of covered yards are equipped with LED lighting, cattle friendly surfaces and no sharp edges.
“We have an ongoing program of tree planting for windbreaks, animal shelter and biodiversity. We are almost carbon neutral here with six hectares of pine plantation plus tree reserves,” he said.
“If we can be carbon neutral, we are leaving a more sustainable footprint for other people.
“I know Herefords have a push with sustainability and that is a great thing. A lot of people are over farming their land and land degradation is prominent. I look at every one of these trees and say it is a breath of fresh air.
“We pride ourselves on the operation and presentation of the farm along with the footprint that we leave for future generations.”
- Sustainability is the theme for the Herefords Australia Breed Forum to be held on May 14 at Wodonga as a precursor to the Herefords Australia National Show and Sale