A high-performance cereal program for grazing, grain and fodder along with an innovative pasture program is the backbone of an intensive cattle operation for a southern NSW family.
Harvey and Linda Jones, son Andrew and wife Sarah run a high stocking rate enterprise with 105 stud and 150 commercial Hereford breeders plus 200 trade cattle on 287ha in a 680mm rainfall zone on red granite and red loam soils near Harden.
The family established their Hereford stud, Beggan Hill, in 1952, and has a disciplined approach to their agronomy program to keep their business sustainable and maximise weight gain and returns in all seasonal conditions.
Kittyhawk and Illabo wheat and Moby forage barley are used to fill the autumn-winter feed gap and finish Hereford steer weaners purchased at 180-220kg liveweight from the annual Mountain Calf Sales for grass fed programs.
“The business relies heavily on the pastures to maintain an annual average calving of 90 per cent. The grazing crops through the season enables us to lock up the pastures for the cows going into calving,” Andrew said.
“The crops can be grazed heavily and then locked up to return a 4-5t/ha wheat crop. We bale the straw out the back to reduce the stubble load and for stock feed.
“It is not a high protein wheat, but we retain a large portion on farm for stock feed. We find the Kittyhawk yields particularly well and is a top-grade wheat at the end to get the best of both worlds.”
Soil moisture from summer storms enable a February/March sowing of the grazing wheat and barley at 80kg/ha with 100kg/ha MAP while annual pasture varieties are direct drilled in April/May. The cereals are top dressed post-emergence with 100-200kg/ha of urea.
“We carry out a lot of deep soil testing throughout the year, every paddock is mapped for topography using the Agricore software and we use a variable rate spreader targeting the areas which need it and so are not wasting inputs,” Andrew said.
When it comes to grazing the cereals, he likes to see an established root system so the plant is not pulled out of the soil by stock.
“We spread urea just before rain to boost growth for 7-14 days to give me confidence around introducing the stock.
“Of our 287ha, over half of it will go straight into a grazing crop and we want the stock on as quickly as possible to get a return off it. The cereals can be grazed hard to get the best out of them. If you graze for too long, it may affect grain yield.
“The grazing cereals fill the autumn-winter feed gap and allow us to lock up the pastures, eradicate any weeds and top dress with fertiliser to prepare for calving.
“To have the pastures pumping along through the slower growing months is ideal as our cows and calves perform better – the work during the first 90 days of the calf’s life is the biggest for us. We can’t afford poor pastures resulting in poor cow and calf performance.
“When we sow a pasture, it is usually sub clover and lucerne or forage brassica and clover. The forage brassica must be grazed early and hard, and the stock rotated around adjoining wheat or clover paddocks to increase palatability of the brassica.
“The steers are removed from the cereals in August/September to allow the crop to run to head. If the season is right and crops go in on time, we can put 150kg on the steers in six weeks. They are removed mid-way through the growing season and a second mob then introduced on crop.”
Andrew said the Hereford’s weight gain, temperament and finishing ability made them ideal for targeting grass fed programs.
The steers are sold over the hooks to Teys at Wagga Wagga or Greenhams Never Ever program.
The business has expanded in recent years with 486ha at Eugowra and 202ha at Temora for growing out heifers. Heifers are calved down to home bred sires and then sold as PTIC or with calves.
Andrew works with his agronomist on feed budgets and maximising livestock potential.
“We don’t have a massive block here but the production we can achieve is pretty handy. We did grow grazing canola for Merino sheep and prime lambs but after evaluating the returns we phased out the sheep and built cattle numbers.
“No stock are supplementary fed unless they need to. We got through the last drought and for every rain event we went hard with fertiliser to boost growth.
“Every time I spread fertiliser, I add seed if the pasture is looking a bit barren. Pastures are sprayed for weeds and fertilised twice a year.”
A more compact joining period has allowed more time for pasture renovation.
“I’ve never had an issue with lactating cows on grazing crops and give them adlib salt and lime. As soon as the cows are finished calving they are moved off the pastures to capture every bit of rain in the soil profile,” Andrew said.
Hay is put through a tub grinder for the weaners which are fed over a fortnight and handled daily before being introduced to grazing cereals.
“Post weaning the early weight gain is high on the cereals and then we have the luxury of coasting them in.”
The family also clean out the cattle yards and recycle the manure through a worm farm to produce a biodynamic fertiliser for the pastures. It is applied at 5-10 litres/ha with a herbicide in one pass. They also use the biological soil rejuvenator Rural Boss.
Andrew said the beneficial microbial growth resulted in soft and friable soils, improved water infiltration and moisture retention.
“The biological products are good for our environment, stock health and pastures which are the backbone of our business.”