THE Mourtiz family doesn’t muck around when it comes to investing in Angus genetics for its herd of 1300 purebred breeders, across properties at Hyden in the Wheatbelt and Rosa Brook in the South West.
Vern, who farms alongside his son Elliott and his family, said they have been working on the quality of their breeding herd for a fair while.
“We’ve been buying Mordallup bulls for about 25 years now I think,” Vern said.
“That is really where the genetic base of our Angus herd comes from and we’d get a couple hundred replacement heifers every year from that.”
It’s clear there is a real focus on driving quality of performance and productivity in the herd through genetic gain.
That focus likely throws back to what the family can see happening in its Hyden-based feedlot.
“I guess we are in a unique position to see our cattle perform on feed alongside others, but in particular we can see changes in feedlot performance over the long-term in our own bred cattle,” Vern said.
“For example about 10 years ago our calves in the feedlot were averaging 2kg weight gain per day but now the majority achieve 3kg per day.
“And I put that down to investing in really good genetics.
“You can see very clearly at the feedlot animals that come in which have less than average genetics – they’ve got no muscle and no thickness and at the end of the day we’re trying to make money out of them so I think focusing on moving forward and driving that genetic gain is really important.”
Marketability is an important factor too, with Vern saying it was one of the main attractions of the Angus breed when the Mouritz breeding herd was taking shape.
“I suppose what drove us to Angus to start with was the fact that black cattle are easy to sell,” he said.
“If you want to sell them as yearlings or if you want to put them through the feedlot they have plenty of market options so that was certainly a big factor.
“We also had to select a type of animal that would have enough hardiness to fit our environment.
“Every breed has its different type and the volume and length of the Angus was what we liked – conformation is obviously very important.
“But constitution is really the major factor – the cattle need to be able to do well in our environment so when we’ve bought bulls, that’s the focus we’ve taken – looking at animals that have that strength of constitution.”
Vern credits the Muir family at Mordallup Angus stud, Manjimup, for its achievements in driving their genetics forward to satisfy customer needs, which he sees evidence of in the hardiness and quality of his breeding herd.
“They’ve got some of the best seed stock available in WA in my opinion,” he said.
“The Mordallup cattle sell themselves and I think they really listen to what their customers want as well.
“There’s a lot of competition on the good bulls when it comes to the sale day but you’ve got to go for what you want and be willing to invest the money into the future of your herd.”
The Mouritz family runs a substantial AI program, meaning they get extra value out of their bull purchases.
“We buy really good bulls, milk them and then match them to certain mobs of cattle,” Vern said.
“For example we join all of our heifers via AI to low birthweight bulls to give them an easier time of it.
“Through the AI program we can get up to 600 calves out of one bull, so that makes going the extra effort to purchase quality bulls worth it and it’s also a really good way of fast tracking your genetic progress.”
When making selections out of the catalogue, Vern believes BreedPlan should play a significant role.
“If you’re buying or breeding for an endpoint, BreedPlan is a really important part of your bull selection process,” he said.
“And there are some really crucial things that we can look at through the estimated breeding values that give an indication as to whether or not the animal will be able to perform in our operation and environment.”
After all the bulls purchased at Mordallup, having grown up in the slightly more forgiving environment at Manjimup, go through quite the tree-change if they are selected to head to the Mouritz family’s Hyden-based property.
“One of the principal things we look at is the milk EBV,” Vern said.
“Because if you’re breeding a cow that can produce good milk, her calves are always going to be heavy and robust.
“The other thing is 200 and 400-day growth rates.
“We want those to be above average because if a bull is below average, he’ll throw below-average progeny and that does nothing for the genetic direction of your herd.”
The selection criteria the Mouritz family has been operating with has served the operation well with Vern saying last year the steers averaged 270kg out of the feedlot at 12 months of age.
“We take that as an indicator that we’re doing alright.”
The calves drop over 12 weeks from the first week of April every year and those that aren’t retained for breeding go through the feedlot.
“We value add everything we have,” Vern said.
“I see a pretty tough existence in just operating within a total multi-national marketing system so by value adding cattle through the feedlot and doing the same for our grain for feedlot feed, we’re taking control.”
Taking on the property in the South West three years ago has been a good experience for the family as well.
“It’s certainly different to farming in Hyden,” Vern said.
“When you’re out of feed down there, you’re really out of feed because there is no stubble or roughage for the cattle to eat, so that means we’ve really got to be regularly regenerating pastures and growing as many tonnes per hectare as we possibly can which is a very different operating system to what we have here at Hyden.
“But on the other hand, over the past 10 years crop varieties are becoming semi-dwarf and things like continuous cropping and better weed control mean there’s less feed for cows to eat other than just stubble at the Hyden property, so we’re excited to have the two places in two very different locations and environments which means they come with very different opportunities and possibilities.”
The plan going forward is for the Mouritz family to continue focusing on building quality in its herd and there are no plans to move away from the Angus breed.
“We’ve had no issues with achieving our breeding aims with the Angus cattle,” Vern said.
“Of course we look after them carefully but they do the job well and we continue to see the quality of WA Angus genetics move forward which is pleasing to watch.”