In­creas­ing calv­ing rates

Central and North Rural Weekly - - NEWS -

THE Calf Wastage pro­ject, driven by pro­duc­ers’ de­sire to re­duce calf loss, is sup­port­ing fur­ther re­search into cost-ef­fec­tive strate­gies that help lift wean­ing rates.

A six-mem­ber pro­ducer ref­er­ence group, rep­re­sent­ing the broad range of north­ern Aus­tralia’s breed­ing op­er­a­tions, is pro­vid­ing grass-roots di­rec­tion for the pro­ject.

The re­search, which builds on dis­cov­er­ies from MLA’s CashCow pro­ject and the Beef CRC, in­volves an ex­ten­sive re­view of cur­rent knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of calf wastage.

MLA talked to ref­er­ence group mem­bers about their in­volve­ment:

KYLIE SCHOOLEY

Kylie is a cat­tle vet­eri­nar­ian in Chin­chilla, Queens­land, but also breeds cat­tle for niche premium mar­kets such as EU and Pas­turefed Cat­tle As­sur­ance Sys­tem.

She works along­side her hus­band, Si­mon, and chil­dren Kobi, 17, and Amilia, 15, at “Rocky Springs”, west of Mun­dub­bera. With 600 breed­ers, they con­sider them­selves small-time. Ev­ery calf con­trib­utes to their busi­ness’s vi­a­bil­ity, so any waste in the op­er­a­tion hurts.

“I wanted to be part of this be­cause I re­ally be­lieve in re­search and de­vel­op­ment,” she said.

“Given our smaller scale, even if we could save a few ex­tra calves a year, that would help our prof­itabil­ity.”

GE­OFF MURRELL

Ge­off is gen­eral man­ager of Par­away Pas­toral’s north­ern op­er­a­tions, set­ting fi­nan­cial tar­gets and man­ag­ing out­comes for seven Queens­land prop­er­ties.

“There has been a lot of re­search into spe­cific as­pects of calf loss over the years but this pro­ject cap­tures a broad view and deals with many of the con­tribut­ing fac­tors,” he said.

“When I was man­ag­ing He­len Springs, prior to my role here, we were part of CashCow and got a lot of ben­e­fit from that, par­tic­u­larly the ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion and the abil­ity to bench­mark per­for­mance.

“I’m hop­ing we’ll see sim­i­lar out­comes from this – good quan­ti­ta­tive data to de­velop prac­ti­cal strate­gies we can em­ploy in our busi­nesses ev­ery day to im­prove profit and an­i­mal wel­fare.”

WENDY BRODIE

Wendy and her hus­band, Jim, run 1100 breed­ers at Red­land Park, 30km east of McKin­lay in north-west Queens­land. Sup­ply­ing mainly the heavy feeder mar­ket with their santa gertrudis-an­gus cross, they be­lieve their an­nual calf loss from preg­nancy test to wean­ing is about 10%.

“We don’t re­ally know what the ma­jor con­trib­u­tors are, so we’re re­ally keen to see some cost-ef­fec­tive, prac­ti­cal out­comes that will help us lower it,” Wendy said.

“We’re try­ing en­hanced moth­er­ing – run­ning older cows with first calvers – to see if that helps and we’re also ex­am­in­ing other an­i­mal hus­bandry prac­tices we do on-farm to iden­tify weak­nesses but, with­out ro­bust re­search out­comes, it’s very hard to know.”

BEC COMISKEY

Bec and her hus­band, Dave, run a breed­ing and fat­ten­ing op­er­a­tion at Mel­ton, an 8524ha prop­erty near Al­pha, in cen­tral-west Queens­land.

The busi­ness is cer­ti­fied or­ganic and fo­cuses on sup­ply­ing premium mar­kets such as MSA, EU and PCAS.

“Our op­er­a­tion is quite mod­est but, even so, we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced high calf losses from preg­nancy test to brand­ing,” she said.

“Through im­ple­ment­ing sea­sonal mat­ing, we have man­aged to re­duce that to 8%. Culling the cows that don’t bring a calf in at brand­ing has been the key.”

Bec hopes her in­volve­ment in the group will give her the op­por­tu­nity to share their ex­pe­ri­ences and learn from oth­ers.

LESSONS LEARNED

■ Calf loss be­tween preg­nancy test and wean­ing is a prob­lem ex­pe­ri­enced by many beef breed­ing op­er­a­tions.

■ Pro­duc­ers be­lieve the causes of calf loss are var­ied and can be in­flu­enced by en­vi­ron­ment and man­age­ment.

■ Pro­duc­ers support re­search and de­vel­op­ment to im­prove an­i­mal wel­fare out­comes and lift pro­duc­tiv­ity.

PHOTO: FILE

CALV­ING: A Meat and Live­stock Aus­tralia pro­ject is look­ing at ef­fi­cien­cies in wean­ing calves in or­der to boost rates and re­duce calf loss.

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