WEATHER BRINGS CHANGE
Cattle producer turns to saleyards to survive challenging season
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.”
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.