No regrets in sheep to Angus move

31 Jan, 2015 01:00 AM
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Manypeaks cattleman Ross Davies has decided 2015 is the year to step back from farming. His son Joe, who has leased their Nyabing property, will continue to run the highly regarded Angus herd.
If you select low birthweight bulls and get one that radically deviates then you are in trouble.
Manypeaks cattleman Ross Davies has decided 2015 is the year to step back from farming. His son Joe, who has leased their Nyabing property, will continue to run the highly regarded Angus herd.

ROSS Davies has been running cattle for 25 years but there is one year that stands out: 2015.

He has chosen to retire this year and what a way to go.

Just this month he sold nine empty Angus cows for 200 cents a kilogram to fetch $1660 a head and calf prices are the best he's seen.

Ross will be 80 in June and is pleased to be going out on a high but he hasn't finished with farming yet.

His 404 hectare property Oolburra, bordering the western side of Mt Manypeaks and the Waychinocup National Park, is being handed on to son Joe and wife Janette for exactly the same reason Ross decided to buy it - children's schooling.

Ross and his wife Sally spent a big part of their lives at Nyabing on their wheat and sheep property, but in 1988 bought Oolburra to be closer to Albany for their children's education.

It was being leased to Jan Hagedorn, an elderly cattleman with a herd of Angus stud and commercial cattle.

Ross was offered the cattle but refused as he was still very much a wool man and thought Merino sheep were the way to go.

"I wanted to bring down 900 of our thumping big Kuringup wethers that weighed 90 kilograms, cut 9kg of wool that sold for 900c/kg and were worth $40-$50 on the boat," Ross said.

"They did all that and the next year they still cut 9kg but it was worth 250c/kg and you could only get $5/head on the ship and it cost you $3 to get them there."

Suddenly the Angus cattle were an attractive offer and he bought all 200 head.

As a newcomer to the cattle game Ross didn't fully appreciate the herd he was buying at the time.

Jan had spent a lifetime breeding up the herd and Ross ran it as a stud for the first couple of years before he culled heavily to establish a quality commercial line not realising the amount of work that had gone into them.

He admits in the early days he was pretty green and couldn't judge weights like some of the more experienced blokes.

He bought a set of scales and it wasn't long before he realised that longer bodied, roomier females were deceptively heavier than the shorter thicker cows and they had far less trouble calving.

These big roomy females has allowed him to buy some of the highest birthweight bulls around to use over the mature herd with little adverse effect at calving time.

The only exception is the maiden heifers for which he specifically buys a low birthweight bull which is used only for a couple of years then remains as a back-up bull only.

In the early days most buyers would shy away from the high birthweight bulls and they could be bought at reasonable prices.

That's no longer the case.

He continues to buy high birthweight bulls saying that almost all the heaviest calves he turns off at 9-10 months of age are by high birthweight sires.

His replacement heifers are selected from mobs that are by high birthweight sires and never from the maiden heifer mobs.

"If you select low birthweight bulls and get one that radically deviates then you are in trouble," he said.

Judging by the few assisted births there is a lot of merit in his practice.

They use about 10 bulls during the mating season and most years Ross will buy one or two new sires planning his purchases with precision.

He doesn't stick to one stud but has an in-depth knowledge of bloodlines and Estimated Breeding Values and will visit several studs of interest prior to sale day firstly selecting high ranking bulls for a range of traits then checking they match the figures.

Over the years he has paid sale topping prices of up to $12,000 for Wilson Downs Canyon W16 in 2003 - a sire which bred extremely well and left a legacy of red calves.

Koojan Hills Admiral C177, bought for $12,500 in 2009, has had great influence followed by Koojan Hills Buddy F36 in 2012 bought for $11,000.

The result of so many top bulls is the number of massive females in the herd that stand tall, long and wide.

Ideally Ross looks for EBVs of +8 or +9 for birthweight and additionally +50, +90 and +100 growth EBVs at 200, 400 and 600-days respectively.

Ross has developed his own system of turning off young cattle after being dissatisfied with the accepted methods.

He said when he sent his first load of calves to the old Albany saleyards he didn't recognise them.

"They were drafted off their mothers, sent away, drafted again and put into pens dotted around the saleyards so by the time the sale started they had been off feed and water for two days and looked so hollow I decided it was no way to sell cattle," he said.

Today he deals directly with lotfeeders and sells on his terms.

It is a price based on no curfew, no commission, no freight, mixed sex and not weaned.

For the past few years the entire line with the exception of the annual draft of replacement heifers has gone straight to Sandy Lyons, Willyung Farms, Albany, or Robbie Jensen's feedlot at Pingaring, with the aim of getting them from their mothers to the feedlot in the shortest possible time and the best possible condition.

Ross says it is best for the animals' welfare, minimising stress and weight loss.

The calves dropped from mid-February are usually gone by Christmas or, if there is still plenty of paddock feed, by New Year.

"We will get them in 10 days before they are due to go and select out the heifers we want to keep then put them back into the paddock on their mothers until they go," he said.

"This year's line averaged 380kg on the truck and only two failed to meet the cut-off weight.''

Up until now Joe has farmed the Nyabing property helping Ross with the cattle at busy times.

He established his own herd from Ross's cows building it to 300 breeders before dispersing it two years ago.

At the same time Ross also reduced his own numbers from 330 breeders to 270 saying prices did not justify running his herd at full capacity when he was selling old cows for 70c/kg.

Now prices are up and their roles are reversed with Joe taking over Oolburra and Ross happy to help when required.

Still fit and spritely he says it is a good time to back out while he feels so well.

"It is silly to sit here on a big asset when Joe wants to do the same as me," he said.

Ross will remain connected to the farm and cattle but in a different role accomplishing the many plans and projects that have languished while he concentrated on priorities such as improving fencing and protecting fragile areas.

Their property is home to some of the eastern-most Karri trees in WA and is bounded along one side by high predator-proof fencing erected to protect the endangered Gilberts Potaroo and other species in the national park.

Landcare projects during the past 10 years have allowed a significant amount of natural vegetation to rapidly regenerate along several of the creek lines emanating from the singular mountain.

Ross will continue this program and will take on an extensive soil testing and improvement role.

They have supplemented cattle with mineral licks but he hopes to replace this by addressing soil nutrition and trace element deficiencies.

In turn one of Joe's first plans is to tighten the calving spread and to achieve this by keeping extra replacement heifers this year and off-loading any females that are empty after a shorter than normal joining.

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