THERE was a quality line-up of speakers at this year's Harvey Beef Gate 2 Plate Challenge field day, with the Gate 2 Plate team joining forces with Meat and Livestock Australia for the first time to present a BeefUp program that ran in conjunction with the normal field day activities.
Breaking down where profit comes from in all areas of the supply chain was one of the topics covered at the field day in a panel session that involved the cow-calf producer, lotfeeder, processor and retailer sector.
Representing the cattle producer was Richard Metcalfe, Manypeaks, who in conjunction with a 1500-head commercial Murray Grey and Angus herd, also runs the Koojan Hills Angus and Melaleuca Murray Grey studs, while the lotfeeding industry was represented by Peter Buckenara, Bremer Bay, who runs a feedlot in conjunction with a cow-calf business,
Mr Medcalfe kicked off the panel discussion by saying the two main profit drivers for his business were price and weight.
"Both those things are in the laps of the gods - Hughie with the rain and the processors with the price," Mr Medcalfe said.
"The first key profit driver in my opinion is your farm, if you have a farm with good soil types and reliable rainfall it is better able to handle false breaks, so you get a longer growing season and that is critical to cow-calf production.
"The less time you are having to hand feed the more time you are able to grow grass.
"The other thing with good soil types is you get a much better response for your fertiliser dollar.
"I grew up on light sandy country and you could put as much fertiliser on as you liked and it would all disappear by the next year and didn't grow an awful lot of grass.
"The tree industry came along and we offloaded those farms to trees and moved to farms with good soil types and reliable rainfall.
"This has seen a significant boost to our productivity and profitability.
"We are now putting up to 0.5 tonnes a hectare of fertiliser on pasture paddocks each year and they can then be locked up for hay and silage, so we are getting a return on that money."
Mr Medcalfe also stressed the importance of running a flexible farming operation.
"I have been to a lot of these days, and the guru stands up and first thing they say is 'Target your market'," he said.
"What a load of rubbish, we aim to be as versatile and flexible as we can be with our markets.
"We have seen what happened with the live export market in the north.
"They closed it down and those blokes didn't have a good plan B and got into financial trouble.
"I am a big believer in having flexibility within your product, so if plan A fails, then you
have various other plans to fall back on.
"We have options within our farming operation.
"Primarily we are aiming at the supermarket trade, at various weights and that can be grassfed or grainfed.
"We also supply replacement females and we can also target the live export market when appropriate or can grow our steers out to a bigger bullock weight if that becomes a profitable market.
"Nothing leaves our farm without us knowing the price.
"We have the price fixed and we know the weight of the animal before it leaves the farm so we keep control and I think that is crucial to your business.
"We have also chosen to go to grassfed production in recent times.
"We are in an environment which is very good for growing grass, but that is not by accident that is by design.
"In the past we have supplied cattle to feedlots and we did it last year because it was a poor year and we offloaded quite a lot of grassfed cattle to a feedlot.
"But the main reason I went away from grainfed was because I was sick of being told that the grain price is high, so you will only get this price for your calves.
"By moving to a grassfed production system, we eliminated that variable out of our business model and it has given us more control.
"The model that we use now is that we wean the calves at say 330-340kg up to 350-360kg off the good cows and stick them out the back and they don't give you any grief.
"There are plenty of markets taking 450-500kg calves and you can run 2-2.5 steers to one cow and calf.
"You don't have to check them for calving, you throw them a bale of hay every now and again and then it rains and away you go.
"We are aiming get them to 480-500kg to supply as grassfed to supermarkets."
Mr Medcalfe said this model gave them some options in tougher seasons.
"By keeping the majority of the calf drop and running them through gives you flexibility on stocking rate," he said.
"In a tough year last year we offloaded quite a few yearlings to feedlots in May.
"We were able to reduce our stocking rate and it allowed us to better manage our cow-calf herd and replacement heifers.
"We had flexibility and room to move."
Mr Buckenara, who farms with his wife Tanya, gave a presentation on his lotfeeding system and the specifications he was looking for when buying calves.
The Buckenaras started farming with 75 hectares at Margaret River and sold that in 1998 to move to Bremer Bay.
"Over te past 20 years we were fortunate to be able to buy two more adjoining farms and we now run 3000ha," Mr Buckenara said.
"We started feedlotting in 2005 and in 2010 we became accredited under the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme and began buying specific cattle to feed specifically for Harvey Beef.
"Our feedlot is based around using five-tonne self feeders, which are filled on a Monday and Thursday using a grain mix of triticale or wheat with oats and lupins.
"Oaten hay is fed ad lib all the time.
"Our feedlot consists of eight pens with calves mainly purchased through the Great Southern Regional Saleyards.
"We buy from October to March, which provides for delivery between January and June and we feed our own calves for a July, August and September delivery.
"When bought calves arrive on the property - usually on a Thursday - they go straight onto a starter mix that day in the weaner yard.
"We process the cattle with a 5in1, injectable drench, a cobalt and selenium injection, put in a visual ear tag and electronically record them and the following Wednesday they are moved into a feedlot pen."
Most of the cattle the Buckenaras feed are on an 80-day program.
"The Gate 2 Plate Challenge is a great example that any breed will do as well as another in a feedlot, provided the cattle are well bred and well fed and they meet our weight specifications," Mr Buckenara said.
"Our 80-day program has a maximum weight going out of the feedlot at 530kg, so when we buy a line of cattle we are looking for a 380kg average.
"That is our sweet spot for when we are buying cattle.
"We can buy cattle outside of that, but we can't pay the same price.
"Often the best price and your best dollars per head will be for the 380kg down to 360kg calves, not 440kg calves.
"The main reason we buy 80 per cent of our cattle from the Mt Barker saleyards is that we can be specific about the calves we buy.
"The light calves can go to
a backgrounder, the heavy calves can go to a 100-day feeder and we can buy the weights we want.
"I think we are fortunate to have a facility like that in our area and we fully support the saleyard system."
Mr Buckenara said one of the bigger issues with feedlotting cattle on the south coast is cattle standing in mud.
"Pen size can make a difference and in our feedlot we have three winter pens which are double the required size under accreditation and the weight gains are the same, in fact better than the smaller pens in winter, and the cattle aren't standing in mud," he said.