Good breed­ing

The his­toric Yulgilbar Sta­tion sets a crack­ing pace

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - Front Page - James Wagstaff news@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

IT IS a crisp early win­ter morn­ing and the his­toric Yulgilbar Sta­tion, in the pic­turesque NSW North­ern Rivers re­gion, is a hive of ac­tiv­ity.

As santa gertrudis cat­tle hap­pily go about their busi­ness graz­ing fer­tile flats of the Clarence River, staff are kept busy in the cat­tle yards sort­ing through prospec­tive sale bulls for the sta­tion’s on-prop­erty auc­tion in Septem­ber.

Both work rel­a­tively un­per­turbed by the hum of man and ma­chine next door adding the fi­nal touches to a new state-of-the-art un­der­cover sell­ing cen­tre. A cen­tre that will be put to the test in Au­gust when it hosts the likes of min­ing mag­nate-cum-beef baroness Gina Rine­hart, Meat and Live­stock Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Richard Nor­ton and AACo boss Ja­son Strong as speak­ers at the tri-an­nual Yulgilbar field day.

“We’ve got a bit of work to do. I can’t af­ford many wet weeks from now,” jokes Rob Sin­na­mon, who has man­aged the 14,165ha prop­erty for 15 years for own­ers Bail­lieu and Sarah Myer, whose pedi­gree is as im­pres­sive as their 5000 cat­tle.

Bail­lieu Myer is the son of Myer depart­ment store founder Sid­ney Myer while Sarah in­her­ited Yulgilbar on the death of her fa­ther, Sa­muel Hordern, in 1960.

Sa­muel was the son of Sir Sa­muel Hordern, chair­man of the NSW Royal Agri­cul­tural So­ci­ety from 1915–1941, whose fore­bears also made their for­tune in the depart­ment store busi­ness.

Sa­muel Jr was found­ing president of the Aus­tralian Santa Gertrudis So­ci­ety, a di­rec­tor of King Ranch Aus­tralia and in­volved in some of the early ex­ports of santa gertrudis cat­tle from its par­ent US prop­erty in Texas in the 1950s.

“So the re­la­tion­ship between the fam­ily and the breed goes back a fair way,” Rob said.

FLAT STICK

AT BARYULGIL, north­west of Grafton, Yulgilbar ranges in soil types from al­lu­vial loam along the river flats to un­du­lat­ing gran­ite, ar­eas of for­est clay and steep ser­pen­tine rock moun­tains.

The tops of the moun­tain are about 800m above sea level with the river flats about 400m above.

Yulgilbar has a 24km frontage to the Clarence River and 18km of the Wash­pool Creek, mean­ing wa­ter is not an is­sue. It re­ceives about 1150mm of rain a year, which falls in a “very much coastal” sum­mer pat­tern.

The sea­son at Yulgilbar is look­ing a treat. It was dry un­til the end of Fe­bru­ary when 500mm of rain fell in a week.

“It went from one ex­treme to an­other, but that is kind of typ­i­cal of this north coast too. We can get quite heavy rain­fall events in that sum­mer pe­riod. We’re far enough north to get the spin-off from cy­clonic in­flu­ences,” Rob said.

At its peak, Yulgilbar can run about 6500 cat­tle. This year it is run­ning al­most 5000, in­clud­ing 500 cows reg­is­tered as part of the Yulgilbar Santa Gertrudis stud and 2200 com­mer­cial cows. Rob said the santa gertrudis cat­tle suited the coun­try. He said they had enough trop­i­cal adap­ta­tion to han­dle poorer soil types and in­creased in­ci­dence of tick and fly as­so­ci­ated with high rain­fall and prox­im­ity to the coast.

“While we don’t cur­rently have cat­tle tick here, we are ex­posed to paral­y­sis and scrub ticks, so the bos in­di­cus con­tent of the santa gertrudis cer­tainly helps with that par­a­site tol­er­ance,” he said.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

ROB said Yulgilbar’s high rain­fall brought with it chal­lenges of weeds and soil leach­ing, which meant “pretty typ­i­cally, we are de­fi­cient in plenty of things”.

The prop­erty has em­barked on a sig­nif­i­cant pas­ture im­prove­ment pro­gram in re­cent years, mov­ing to sub­trop­i­cal im­proved grasses, which Rob said had tripled car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity on cer­tain ar­eas.

Un­der the pro­gram, work­ers are “go­ing through a na­tive grass, semi-open for­est area, stick-rak­ing it and crop­ping it to oats for a cou­ple of years”.

If gross mar­gins ex­ist for soy­beans, they will grow it to help soil fer­til­ity.

“This pro­gram is done for two to three sea­sons be­fore it is re­verted back to im­proved grass,” Rob said.

He said feed costs had al­ways been an is­sue be­cause once Yulgilbar had its first frost of the sea­son “our na­tive grasses drop to be be­low main­te­nance lev­els”.

“His­tor­i­cally we have had to sup­ple­ment with liq­uids and, more re­cently, dry licks to match our de­fi­cien­cies through­out the year,” he said.

“With our im­proved trop­i­cal grasses, we are find­ing our con­sump­tion even with that has dropped back, so we are find­ing big ef­fi­cien­cies and cost sav­ings com­ing through from re­duced sup­ple­men­tary feed.”

SPRING FEVER

BULLS typ­i­cally are joined to the cows from Novem­ber 1 un­til late Fe­bru­ary. Join­ing rates vary ac­cord­ing to land type, av­er­ag­ing three bulls to 100 cows but “we mate as low as 2%, prob­a­bly even less with some stud sires”.

“In the moun­tain coun­try where nat­u­ral wa­ter tends to lend it­self to cat­tle split­ting off, in some of those cases we might go out to 4% be­cause you’ll get frag­mented groups that will spear off with 20 or 30 cows,” Rob said.

When se­lect­ing his cat­tle, he pri­mar­ily ad­heres to vis­ual ap­praisal “and then we’ll back it up with EBVs (es­ti­mated breed­ing values) and raw data to as­sist with those de­ci­sions”.

“I al­ways say sin­gle-trait se­lec­tion on any­thing is dan­ger­ous,” Rob said. “We fo­cus the pro­duc­tion of our seed­stock the same as our com­mer­cial cat­tle, we be­lieve that we want com­mer­cially rel­e­vant cat­tle and we aim to pro­duce bulls that re­flect that.”

With re­gards to mar­ket­ing com­mer­cial cat­tle, Rob said Yulgilbar liked to main­tain flex­i­bil­ity. It “bench­marks”, with suc­cess, “a cou­ple of hun­dred steers a year” through steer and car­cass com­pe­ti­tions “from Or­ange to Rock­hamp­ton and Emer­ald”. How­ever, the bulk of the drop is usu­ally turned off as feeder steers.

“De­pend­ing on the mar­ket and the gross mar­gins out there, we have kept the steers through to Jap Ox (weights of 300–420kg car­cass from grass) on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions,” he said.

VALUE ADD

YULGILBAR joins its first-calf heifers to an­gus bulls to pro­duce calves that were tra­di­tion­ally sold as a 160kg vealer at four to six months of age. But about 12 years ago, with the mar­gins in the vealer trade “just not there”, Rob looked more at value-adding.

“So we re­tain the fe­males and grow them out to a ris­ing two-year-old preg­nancy-tested-in-calf and start mar­ket­ing them as san­gus,” he said.

“Those cat­tle, at about 19% Bos In­di­cus, are a really good fit for peo­ple who like to run an­gus cat­tle but whose coun­try is just a bit too tough. We prob­a­bly sell about 20–30 san­gus bulls a year and that’s prob­a­bly a grow­ing mar­ket for us.”

In re­cent years, with mar­gins for “cash crop­ping”, in­clud­ing soy­beans, drop­ping, Yulgilbar has also ven­tured down the fat­ten­ing path, trad­ing 1000–1500 steers a year.

Rob said the steers were ideally sourced from east of the Great Di­vid­ing Range, be­cause of par­a­site and tick is­sues, and prefer­ably of Yulgilbar blood. On the stud front, Yulgilbar sells 150–200 bulls a year “from the Barkly Table­lands to Vic­to­ria”. About 90–100 are of­fered at an an­nual pro­duc­tion sale in Septem­ber (this year’s auc­tion will be held on Septem­ber 1).

FU­TURE PLANS

THE stud also plans to re­turn to the show ring, af­ter an ab­sence of al­most a decade, mostly to cap­ture the at­ten­tion of new stud breeder clients who “get cap­ti­vated by a rib­bon”.

“We don’t in­tend on go­ing back long term,” Rob said, say­ing it would tar­get Bris­bane, Beef Aus­tralia at Rock­hamp­ton and Toowoomba shows, and “per­haps Syd­ney”.

Mean­while, Rob said prepa­ra­tions for the Yulgilbar Beef Expo on Au­gust 4 were keep­ing ev­ery­one busy. Con­ducted ev­ery three years, the expo this year fea­tures a top line-up of speak­ers, in­clud­ing Cat­tle Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Dun­can Brem­ner, Red Meat Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil chair­man Don Mackay and the Aus­tralian Beef Sus­tain­abil­ity Group’s Prue Bond­field.

Look­ing ahead, Rob said the busi­ness would con­tinue to fo­cus on where it could add value.

“We try to keep enough flex­i­bil­ity in the busi­ness so we can re­spond to mar­ket trends and changes,” he said. “You are as only as good as your last mis­take, and ev­ery­one will have a mis­take at some point. It’s how you deal with those mis­takes that counts.”

❝ Sin­gle-trait se­lec­tion on any­thing is dan­ger­ous... — Rob Sin­na­mon

PHOTO: JAMES WAGSTAFF

TOP JOB: Sta­tion man­ager Rob Sin­na­mon has been work­ing with santa gertrudis on the prop­erty for 15 years.

PHO­TOS: JAMES WAGSTAFF

TOP JOB: Yulgilbar Sta­tion man­ager Rob Sin­na­mon has been work­ing on the prop­erty for 15 years.

Yulgilbar Sta­tion has im­proved grasses.

Yulgilbar Sta­tion sit­u­ated in the NSW North­ern Rivers.

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