THE theme at this year's Harvey Beef Gate 2 Plate Challenge field day at the Lyon family's Willyung Farms feedlot at Albany last week was 'Cash Cows' - females for profit.
Over three zoom presentations during the day, beef consultant Alastair Rayner, RaynerAg, Albion Park, New South Wales, provided his insights on how producers should set their herds up for success.
Mr Rayner's first presentation focused on the importance of having a breeding objective and what to focus on to achieve the objective.
He said less than 20 per cent of producers had a breeding objective, but they were essential if producers want to become more efficient and profitable.
"If producers want to move up and away from the average, then they need to have a clear focus and the first part of this is setting a breeding objective," Mr Rayner said.
"When you have a breeding objective you become more efficient."
When setting a breeding objective Mr Rayner explained it needed to be well-defined and measurable.
"It also should be set based on the differences between where the herd's current performance is and future requirements and therefore this requires objective measurement across all parts of the herd," he said.
The second part of setting a clear breeding objective Mr Rayner said was for producers to know what drives their profits and what they control.
"Producers need to be honest with what drives their profit and not everyone will be the same," Mr Rayner said.
"It is also important producers direct their energies to what they can control like management of nutrition, timing of events (calving and joining), cow fat scores at calving and joining and not what they can't control like prices and the market.
"What differentiates the top 25pc of producers is they focus entirely on what they can control.
"The more effective operators are more efficient in how they use their time and infrastructure.
"The producers who are successful think differently and independently, they run their operation as a business, they measure what they can measure and manage what they can measure.
"They make a plan and stick to it, they also focus on doing the simple things right."
After discussing the importance of setting a breeding objective, Mr Rayner then went into the importance of selecting the right animals to achieve the breeding objective and there were three parts to this.
The first part was the idea of 'cattle for country' which focuses on how well your cattle suit your environment in terms of maturity patterns, mature cow size etc.
"When I use the term cattle for country it isn't a reference to environmental adaptability," Mr Rayner said.
"I look at this more as what your country can support taking into consideration pasture base, annual feed supply curves, mature cow size and genetic gain.
"Producers really need to look at whether their cows are still the same as they were 20 years ago.
"It is really about knowing your cows, how they are performing and what data we have on them.
"Are they allowing you to achieve your breeding objective, as underlying every part of a breeding program is the aim for a cow to be producing a calf every 365 days."
The next focus when it comes to selecting the right animals to achieve the breeding objective, Mr Rayner said was based around choosing the right traits in the sires selected and the use of Breedplan and indexes as a tool.
He said using sires with very little information would reduce a herd's ability to move forward and selecting by eye can make selection compromised.
"There are a number of different selection indexes that can be used but the ones producers use need to match their breeding objective," Mr Rayner said.
"Indexes place emphasis on individual traits which drive profits and they allow you to make a more balanced approach to selection as they are more refined to choosing the traits that matter."
Mr Rayner also emphasised producers needed to understand what their cow herd is lacking when selecting bulls.
The final aspect of selecting the right animals to meet the breeding objective was one at an onfarm level and was all based around the critical mating weight (CMW).
"Getting the critical mating weight right will set up the herd to be fertile for a lifetime," Mr Rayner said.
"The lifetime joining success of the breeder is set up before their first joining.
"Producers should be looking to join heifers at a CMW which is 60-65pc of the mature standard weight of their cow herd and to work this out you need to weigh your cows.
"By getting the CMW right will you have the best chance of getting your heifers into calf and for them to get into calf early.
"If you manage their first conception well, they will stay in sync for their lifetime.
"If you get them in calf in the first or second cycle to start with that is where they will produce for the rest of their life
"Getting your heifers in calf early allows greater opportunity for a lifetime of productivity, as getting in calf early gives them more time to recover and then get back into calf again."
Mr Rayner rounded out his presentation by looking at how producers needed to manage their cattle to achieve their targets.
He emphasised that trying to achieve a breeding objective was the same as eating an elephant and to achieve it you need to have "small mouth fulls" in terms of having goals which were relevant to the herd's breeding objective.
Mr Rayner said these goals should be clearly set and should be smart.
"Smart goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic/relative and have a time frame," he said.
"In the goals they should focus on the weaning to joining period, the first calving to rejoining period and managing the cow herd."
Also as part of this reasoning, Mr Rayner discussed a number of other management practices to help in achieving the breeding objective including managing fats and body condition of the heifers and cows and post calving nutrition for first calving females, which is the most critical part of the feeding program in the herd to ensure these females get back in calf.
He also said joining heifers six weeks earlier than the cow herd was a good practice as it allows them more time to recover before the next joining with the main cow herd.
"Joining your heifers at the same time as your cows is setting them up for failure," Mr Rayner said.
Another area he touched on was the importance of thinking about herd's feed demands.
"You need to look at if you have enough feed at the peak times when your animals are demanding it the most and which stock are you prioritising in terms of feed availability," Mr Rayner said.
"It is important that we match feed demand to feed availability and therefore we need to see what practical strategies we can implement to make sure we do this."
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