Integrating management

Lachlan Hughes and family.
Lachlan Hughes and family.

Lachlan Hughes

Property: Dulacca Downs

Location: Dulacca QLD

Rainfall: 660mm

Property size: 7000ha

Livestock: 7000 Angus X cattle

Soil type: Clay to light ridge

Pasture type: Native and improved pastures

MY current business goals are to expand and increase scale of production and to increase efficiency.

The MLA Challenge is a good opportunity to learn to use all the tools and resources available to help increase the productivity and efficiency of our family business. It’s also a great experience for my family and I as we move towards becoming a more sustainable rural enterprise.

I am also keen to build my skills and knowledge to better manage the business and make it more holistically sustainable.

One of my biggest concerns is that the business may not be performing to its full potential. The Challenge will be an excellent opportunity to identify any areas for improvement.

Vertical integration

Ours is a vertically integrated beef business that we’ve built up gradually over several years.

Our breeding herd runs on our Central Queensland property 'Banchory' where we have traditionally had a continuous mating system. Cows are culled on age or on reproduction performance, those cows that are preg-tested empty at weaning are separated off into a mob where they are run together so they can be sold as fats.

Once weaned, the calves come down to our Southern Queensland properties where they are backgrounded before being lot feed or sold direct. We have a meat marketing business - Rangeland Quality Meats (RQM) - where we sell a portion of our own meat into, this part of the business is only in its infancy and we are anticipating the number of bodies sold to RQM to increase over the next few years.

Anna and I aren’t alone in the Banchory Grazing business, it is very much a family business with both my parents involved in strategic decisions and my brother Alister recently returned to the meat marketing business.

KDPs and KPIs

We’ve had a chance to sit down and work on our Key Decision Points (KDPs) and the resultant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that have come out of this process. While we perform quarterly business reviews of the business already, the MLA Production tool has helped us to use a magnifying glass on the different production areas of the business – joining, weaning, calving, calf marking, back grounding and finishing, and marketing. Not a process to be undertaken when you don’t have a bit of time up your sleeve, but it’s well worth the effort.

The process of setting KPIs has really challenged us to set numbers down to decisions that have long been made based on experience and having a ‘feel’ for our country. Not always an easy mindset to change, but it’s something we’ll be working on over the challenge.

Obviously we are very happy with a second place in the challenge (at the moment!) and are looking forward to the next quarter.

One area where we were marked down was our use and application of the MLA resources. So during the next quarter we will be trying to explain the areas in which we use the tools a little better and hopefully find some more to use.

The coming quarter

For the duration of the next quarter the major issues we will be concentrating on are:

  • semen testing
  • weight gains
  • calving rates
  • calf marking
  • joining

    And most of all, strategically keeping one step ahead of the worsening dry season we are currently experiencing.

    Recently though we have been working on our light cow and weaner management.

    This has seen a truckload of weaners come down from Banchory, these cattle have been weaned early off their mothers to help get us into a controlled mating window in a couple of months time and due to the dryer than average season we are experiencing.

    Because we have always had our bulls in year-round with our cows, there a high portion of our cows who have had calves outside when the grass is best for milk production and maintaining the cows’ body condition score.

    These cows all had a very light condition score of 2, and have had calves in the last 6 months. They are not so far outside our calving window to be considered cull cows, but they will have a lag time of 4-5 months before they’re pregnant. The lost production on some of these cows is 9-12 months – they are only calving every 18 months instead of every 12 months.

    Up until the past week we have been supplementing these cows, but an assessment of available pasture (using MLA's Rainfall to pasture growth outlook tool) has led us to making the decision of pulling the calves/weaners off them and looking after both separately.

    The cows will be put into a 2000kg DM/ha paddock at Banchory with free access to a Beachport liquid mineral and the weaners have come down here (Dulacca) to be paddock fed along with other lighter weaners that we have here. These weaners will be fed cottonseed and loose lick with access to an average paddock of feed (2200kg DM/ha). We are optimistic that this will give the cows a chance to increase their body condition score and start cycling in time for when the bulls will go in in December.

    So until our next update here’s hoping for some much needed rain throughout Queensland before Christmas!!

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    MLA ChallengeMeet the participants in Meat and Livestock Australia's Challenge, where producers identify how much their business is returning, what's driving profit and how to put a plan in place to capture the business' potential over a 12-month program.

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