WEATHER BRINGS CHANGE

Cat­tle pro­ducer turns to sa­le­yards to sur­vive chal­leng­ing sea­son

Central and North Burnett Times - - NEWS - ❚ Toni Somes toni.somes@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

FOR the first time af­ter a quar­ter of a century in the beef in­dus­try, Ten­ter­field cat­tle­man Gary Wal­dock has sold heifers through the sa­le­yards.

The north­ern New South Wales op­er­a­tor made the tough call af­ter an even tougher sea­son on his high coun­try on the western fall of the Great Di­vid­ing Range.

His property, Mi­ram­beena, is some 860m above sea level in a re­gion renowned for its tem­per­ate cli­mate and reg­u­lar rain­fall.

But this sea­son has been a chal­leng­ing one for the cat­tle­man, who runs 200 head – in­clud­ing 90 stud santa gertrudis breed­ers – on the 340ha hold­ing he has owned for 20 years.

Iron­i­cally it was the weather that drew him to the New Eng­land re­gion from Casino some two decades back. Yet this year it was the weather that tested his tenac­ity.

“It was a hard sea­son, but I think we have an even harder time to come,” Mr Wal­dock said.

“The rain came and it was a god­send, but the dif­fi­culty is it has come too late to do much. We had a very or­di­nary spring and sum­mer and we don’t have the feed to carry any num­bers through the win­ter.”

In the past three weeks he has mea­sured more than 180mm of rain, but as the day­time tem­per­a­tures fall and with the first frosts likely around An­zac Day, he is con­cerned the coun­try has limited time to re­spond.

“The coun­try looks beau­ti­ful at the mo­ment, but the feed is very short,” Mr Wal­dock said.

“I won’t knock the rain. It was very wel­come and our out­look is nowhere near as de­press­ing as it was a fort­night ago.

“But the overnight tem­per­a­tures have al­ready dropped to nine de­grees so it’s get­ting too cool for grass growth.

“By June we ex­pect it to be subzero for nights at a time and that knocks the ex­ist­ing feed around more.

“And we don’t get herbages up un­til spring so we had to make some tough de­ci­sions.”

The re­sult was a break from a busi­ness model that has served him well since he ven­tured into santa gertrudis cat­tle 25 years ago.

Tra­di­tion­ally this high coun­try cat­tle­man has bred commercial and stud stock, sell­ing his fe­males as preg­nancy-tested-in-calf heifers di­rect to buy­ers for heart­en­ing prices like $1400–$1500 a head.

“This is the first time I have ever sold heifers through the sa­le­yards, but we just don’t have the grass to hold onto them,” he ex­plained.

“They are sis­ters of the stud heifers we have kept; so it wasn’t an easy call.”

How­ever even in a chal­leng­ing sea­son he has faith in the santa breed.

He switched from here­fords in the 1980s: ini­tially us­ing santa gertrudis bulls over his fe­males to im­prove prob­lems like pink eye, be­fore switch­ing to straight san­tas.

“I like the har­di­ness of the breed. They do okay even when it’s dry or it’s freez­ing,” he said.

And re­gard­less of the weather, he is out shift­ing cat­tle or im­prov­ing pas­tures in a con­stant ef­fort to boost pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“I have had some suc­cess with trop­i­cal and New Eng­land type pas­tures. We have luck with Rhodes grass and kikuyu.

“We started with the Rhodes grass 10 years ago and found if you fer­tilise it and let it go to seed be­fore you graze it, it does well.

“Ini­tially I felt the Rhodes grass would only es­tab­lish with di­rect ground con­tact, but we have found through graz­ing it at the right time the grass is self sow­ing and we have it in pad­docks where we haven’t planted it.”

While the cli­mate pro­duces its share of chal­lenges, the other is­sue fac­ing this high coun­try stockman is wild dogs.

His property borders South Bald Rock Na­tional Park and he said wild dogs had been a con­stant prob­lem “tail pulling” and chas­ing cat­tle.

“We are in­volved in a lo­cal wild dog as­so­ci­a­tion and we do get a lot of sup­port from the lands depart­ment,” Mr Wal­dock said.

“We are con­stantly bait­ing and trap­ping and if we do see a dog in the pad­dock there is a lo­cal trap­per – funded by the lands depart­ment and the na­tional parks – who will come in and deal with it for us.

“Santa cows are pretty good at deal­ing with wild dogs, but they are the rea­son we don’t tip horns any­more.

“And we don’t take the horns off our heifers ei­ther.

“We do see oc­ca­sional bite marks, but for the most part it is tail pulling.

“Cat­tle pro­duc­ers might think it’s just a prob­lem for those with sheep, but the re­al­ity is even if the dogs are just chas­ing your cat­tle around the pad­dock at night it’s a prob­lem.”

De­spite the weather, wild dogs, and an of­ten chal­leng­ing cat­tle mar­ket, there are few things this North­ern New South Wales cat­tle­man would change.

“There are some re­ally top qual­ity cat­tle around, we are def­i­nitely get­ting that part right,” he laughed.

“And we just have to hope the rest of it works out in our favour ev­ery now and again.”

PHO­TOS: TONI SOMES

SEA­SONAL IN­FLU­ENCE: Gary Wal­dock made the un­char­ac­ter­is­tic de­ci­sion to sell his santa gertrudis heifers through the sa­le­yards this year.

FULL BOD­IED RED: Mr Wal­dock sells ris­ing two-year-old bulls through the Sum­mer­land Casino and North­ern Breed­ers sales in Tam­worth.

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