- Property climatically diversified with combination of flats (summer grazing) and warmer red gum rises (winter grazing) running Angus beef cattle.
- Producing steers/heifers through to 18 months – greater profit without extra cost of breeding unit.
- Very strong emphasis on feet and fertility.
- Select bulls – bigger framed, stronger boned that have genetic capacity to achieve extra and sustained growth.
- Production policy allows greater management flexibility, better risk management and profitability.
For Barry Pitt and his son Damien, their decision three years ago to carry their weaner cattle through to 18 months of age was a game changer for the better.
Barry and Damien run 180 Angus breeding cows on 325 hectares at ‘Sumatanga Park’ at Coonawarra in the south east. They also lease 60 hectares to a local grape growing group where Cabernet and Shiraz grapes are grown on a long term agreement.
What is different about the Sumatanga Park beef enterprise from most in the south east is they carry their young sale cattle through to 18 months of age rather than sell at nine to 12 months into the regional weaner or finished cattle markets. Like most producers they also marketed this way for many years, but this all changed in 2010 as a result of an on-property trial that demonstrated the big advantages they could get by carrying on and finishing them at 18 months of age.
In their trial the steers weighed 388.1kg average weight and at 365 cents/kg their average price was $1416.72/head.
“Whatever the young cattle price/kg is at the time, we showed through this trial that we could virtually double our money in an extra eight months. That’s the same as producing another weaner, without the maintenance cost of running the extra cow that would be required,” Barry said.
However Barry Pitt did not come to this decision through economic desperation, but as the result of consultation with his bull supplier, and a well thought out management plan.
“We started with Angus back in 1975 when family friends, the Umpherstons from Millicent, gave me the pick of their heifers which provided a wonderful starting base. We sourced Angus bulls but we were finding too many of the female progeny had finer bone or poorer feet and were suffering breakdowns. A lame cow rapidly loses condition and her calf suffers and ultimately she struggles to get in calf again the next year,” Barry said.
The alternative is to breed them structurally correct, saving labour costs and preventing lost income, a relatively easy option with the right genetics.
“We searched far and wide for a stud with very good feet right through their cattle and discovered the Banquet stud at Mortlake,” Barry added.
He bought his first Banquet bull from Stephen and Noeleen Branson 11 years ago.
The original objective was achieved much to Barry’s pleasure, as trimming cattle feet was too hard and Damien works off farm with flexibility to assist when needed for the main operations. The bonus was the Banquet genetics were putting more frame and stronger bone into their cows which resulted in heavier weaners and thus opened up the possibility of other marketing options.
“We have built up a very good relationship with the Bransons and they have given great after sale’s service and advice. They have also given us access to some of their very best proven sires to use in AI programs. Young bulls may be good but are unproven. I don’t think you can do much better than breed from proven high performance bulls,” Barry said.
‘Sumatanga Park’ is a combination of blocks; the home block, one to the south, the block ‘Comaum’, 20km to the north east, and one at Ricketts Lane on the black soil plains to the west of the township of Coonawarra. The Ricketts Lane block is a ‘summer block’ as it is too cold and wet for winter finishing but provides a bulk of pasture for spring and summer grazing. The home block and ‘Comaum’ are higher red gum country and warmer providing good winter grazing.
Pastures comprise phalaris, rye grass and sub clovers on the ‘winter grazing blocks’ while white and strawberry clovers are extras in the Ricketts Lane pasture mix. 200kg/ha of super with 3% zinc is added to the Ricketts Lane block with half that allocation for the home and ‘Comaum’ blocks.
100% calving is the objective and is rarely missed. AI is carried out in May and bulls go in with the cows in June for a March/April calving. Pregnancy testing is undertaken in October, while the calves are generally weaned in early December but in good seasons they may be left a little longer to help prevent cows from becoming over fat.
Replacement heifers are selected and freeze branded and run separately from the surplus sale heifers and steers. The keeper heifers are all AI’d to the top and proven Banquet sires and no calving problems have resulted.
“Calving problems have more to do with body shape and management than the mature size of cattle,” Barry said.
“Cows are culled on the performance of their calves, not on their visual appearance,” Barry said.
The property has EU accreditation and other than drench, the sale cattle get nothing but good management on pasture.
The cows get hay over the winter to get them used to people and handling, but the hay also contains magnesium helping to prevent Grass Tetany. Epsom Salts are also added to the water troughs for this purpose.
The weaners are carried through winter on the warmer blocks and then taken down to the plains block in spring to ‘finish’.
The Pitts have just dispatched their 2011 drop surplus stock through Teys Bros at Naracoorte with the outcome figures yet to be received.
From an animal health and grazing management perspective, once the young sale cattle go off the plains block the cows go down there prior to calving, with the dry phalaris providing bulk for the cows over the winter and protection for the calves when young. The cows get a booster 5 in 1 three weeks before calving, with the calves getting an inoculation at three weeks of age plus B12. They get another booster at marking when the bulls go in.
Retained heifers are not mated to calve at two years old but calve in summer when approximately 30 months of age. This brings allows them to grow out more and be in line with the cows for size much quicker.
When selecting bulls Barry said he looks for bulls to suit the breeding needs to take the herd forward.
“Other than good feet which is still relevant today and of course their fertility, we look for big bulls with big long heads and ears. We check their strength of pedigree. You get what you pay for and if the genes in a bull are not as strong as those in your cow herd you won’t get the benefits. The wrong bull can set you back a long way; it can take you years to get out of it,” Barry said.
He doesn’t go too hard on selection for EBVs as the Banquet herd is good overall in this area, but indicated mature cow and 600 day growth figures are important here.
In questioning on the bigger framed cows and their maintenance costs, Barry said, ”You get paid for red meat or muscle. To put more muscle on you’ve got to have more frame and bone to build the muscle and more bone strength to carry it.”
“Then with the bulls of the right genetic strength, their progeny keep growing and adding that muscle for much longer. Virtually doubling our money in 80% of the time without the extra cow running costs is just economic common sense,” he said.
“Carrying them through also allows us greater market and total farm management flexibility. When times get tough in poor seasons, and we always get more of them than we would like, some or all of the young cattle can be sold off. We then only lose some potential profit and not the breeding stock,” Barry concluded.
Barry and Damien Pitt are pictured with some of their Angus females on their Ricketts Lane block west of Coonawarra. These cows have just been moved to this block where they will calve down in autumn.
These are the exceptionally well grown Angus heifers at Sumatanga Park on their warmer winter grazing block where they will start calving in a few weeks.
Mature Angus cows at Sumatanga Park. This shows the frame, bone and muscling capacity difference between those from traditional Angus bloodlines on the right, and those from their present supplier on the left.