ON THE Liverpool Plains of NSW, a cattle breeding herd plays a handy sideline role for the Craig family and Shorthorns play the lead role in the family’s cattle operation.
Based at “Umagarlee”, Breeza, between Gunnedah and Quirindi, the operation is carried out by Julian Craig and his wife Emily, his parents Tim and Peta and his brother Sam and his wife Nat.
Cropping makes up about 80 per cent of the family’s enterprise, with wheat and sorghum being the principal crops, while sunflowers, chickpeas, canola and cotton have also been grown.
However, the family’s Shorthorn cattle herd is also a valuable part of the operation, and this year about 300 breeders will be calved down, an increase on the 250 breeders generally carried, after some extra heifers were purchased.
Julian Craig said the cattle utilised the non-arable country on the property, while oats were also grown on some of the lighter country for fodder.
Steers produced in the operation were marketed to feedlots, and have primarily gone to JBS Australia’s feedlot at nearby Caroona.
“It’s only about 15 kilometres away, so that works out very well,” Mr Craig said.
“We’ve been dealing with Caroona for at least 25 years, and we’ve never had an issue.
“All the feedback we’ve had is that the steers have performed well.”
Mr Craig said steers were turned off at about the 450-kilogram mark, at an age of about 16 to 18 months.
In the past 18 months, the operation had become European Union (EU) accredited, and Mr Craig said this was providing good benefits so far.
“We’ve received about a five to 10 cent premium for having the EU accredited steers,” he said.
“We’ve got all the basics there so it’s been pretty easy to keep accredited and receive a premium.
“We’ve never used hormones or traded in cattle a lot, and they’re the two biggest things they want.
“It may have prevented us from sourcing some cheap cattle a couple of months ago when we were looking for some, but we’d only trade in cattle once every five years, so it will be a good move in the long run.”
As a self-replacing herd heifers are kept each year with about 50 normally being retained for replacements.
However, in 2013 the family would calve down 110 heifers as two-year-olds, with an Angus bull being used over the heifers for the first time.
Replacements are selected just prior to joining in August, and Mr Craig said the cull heifers were often marketed through the Gunnedah Saleyards.
“Last year we also sent a load down to Primo at Scone for the MSA (Meat Standards Australia) market, and that worked out well,” he said.
The herd calves during June, July and August, which Mr Craig said was to avoid calving during the hot weather in late spring and summer.
The whole herd is pregnancy tested in January each year, with conception rates of 85pc to 90pc being achieved and any dry females sold.
Mr Craig said they weaned their calves quite early, at about five to six months of age.
“We don’t have great pasture here to support cows and calves, and if it turns dry the cows can fall away very quickly if they’ve still got calves on them,” he said.
“So we try to get the calves off early to lessen the risk of that happening.”
The calves were yard weaned for four to five days and then turned out.
“In a perfect world, we aim to turn the weaners out onto a late crop of oats,” Mr Craig said.
The non-arable country where the cattle were run was comprised mostly of native pastures, and Mr Craig said they hadn’t supplementary fed stock for about 15 years.
“We operate the cattle herd with minimal inputs, as we just don’t have the time to put a lot into them,” he said.
Market adaptability wins at Breeza
SHORTHORNS have proven to be an easy-care accompaniment to the Craig family’s principally cropping operation on the Liverpool Plains.
The breed has featured on the family’s property “Umagarlee”, Breeza, for many years, and Julian Craig said they saw no reason to change to another breed.
“We’ve had a long family history with the Shorthorns, and that’s one reason we’ve stuck with them,” Mr Craig said.
“They’ve been here for as long as we have.
“They also suit all markets, which gives us some flexibility.”
As the cropping operation takes up the majority of the family’s time, they needed a herd that was easy to manage, and Mr Craig (pictured) said Shorthorns achieved that for them.
The family has sourced their bulls from the National Shorthorn Show and Sale at Dubbo for many years, and Mr Craig said they found a good selection of quality bulls there at value for money prices.
“We haven’t been focused on any particular stud, but we have bought a fair few South Australian bulls,” he said.
Some studs bulls had been purchased from were Bundaleer, Bayview, Royalla, Springwood Station and Polldale, while in 2013, they purchased a Marrington bull.
Mr Craig said conformation came first and foremost when selecting bulls.
“Our main emphasis is on structure and then we have a bit of a look at the figures,” he said.
Mr Craig said in recent years they had also started to place more of an emphasis on ease of calving while doability was another important trait.
The Craigs had also looked to bring down the frame of their herd in recent years as the cattle were starting to get a bit too big.
Source: The Land