Advice on how to background cattle in Queensland

Queensland producers give an insight into their backgrounding operation.

FutureBeef asked Queensland graziers Ian McCamley and Bruce Mayne how they operated their backgrounding businesses.

We aim for a heavy feeder steer with a curfewed weight of as close to 520 kilograms as we can - we get discounted over that. While cattle are expensive to replace, we'll aim for the top weight.

Weaner training

Cattle are bought at around 260kg and are worked through the yards and kept in holding paddocks for up to a week. Some may need more time in and around the yards, especially if they've never seen a horse or dog.

If they are fresh, we tail them out during the day and bring them back into the yards overnight until they are settled. Cattle that have already had a good amount of weaner training won't need so much handling.

We get our cattle used to going through gates and through the race. We purposely put our cattle under pressure so they learn to handle stress and recover quickly.

We want our cattle quiet so they come up to you in the paddock, rather than run off when we drive around.

Everything has been on a truck at least twice: once on the way to the saleyards and again from the yards to here.

We feed them a good quality grassy hay while they are in the yards to keep their gut microbes going to reduce performance setbacks.

Background induction

At induction, cattle receive tick fever vaccine, a management ear tag, pour-on for ticks and worms and are weighed. The ear tag is correlated to the NLIS tag for traceability and for tracking weight gain.

The pour-on has both Ivermectin (broad spectrum anti-parasitic) and Fluazuron (tick development inhibitor).

Weight line drafting

We draft cattle into weight lines up to four times with the first split at induction.

The lighter cattle do better when they are with cattle of a similar weight, and we segregate heavy lead cattle so we are not mustering mobs unnecessarily.

Cattle drafted into a line all within 20kg of each other can often have a 70kg to 80kg difference between tops and tails a few months later.

If cattle need to come through the yards for tick treatment, we use the opportunity to draft them into tighter weight groups.

We're using Optiweigh units in the paddock to identify when cattle are ready to market.

Markets

We have transitioned from sending a finished grass-fed certified bullock to turning off feeder steers. If we stay with the feeder market, we will give HGPs some consideration. We dropped HGPs when we were focusing on the MSA market.

If the feedlot is using them, then we may as well be getting some weight benefits from them too. However, they do reduce eating quality, so I will be watching for what the market signals.

It will be interesting to see if it becomes more economic to finish grass-fed ox rather than sell feeder cattle once the Australian herd numbers build up again.

We buy weaners through the saleyards, and because of that they come with some yard and truck experience. A lot of the time they come straight off mum, and we will re-wean them in the yards for five to seven days on hay. This also gets any weeds out of their system.

HGPs

We use HGPs on the Brahman-type cattle, not the flatbacks. The flatbacks get a premium price from Coles - a non-HGP market. When we give the HGP to the Brahman-type cattle depends on the season and what sort of feed they are going on. We won't use a HGP until we know feed quality is high.

Vaccination

At weaning we give them 5 in 1 and botulism vaccines. We've had high three-day losses the last couple of years, so we are going to start with a three-day vaccine too. They get a long-action injectable at weaning to treat inside and outside parasites.

The feedlot the Brahman cattle go to offers a premium to cattle treated with Bovi-Shield MH-One. We've been giving them a shot at least 10 days to a month before they go, so the cattle can build up some immunity to bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

Weight

We buy animals around 180kg to 200kg, aim to put at least 200kg on them and sell at 380kg to 420kg. The last time I weighed cattle off leucaena they had gained 2kg a day, but there are times when they only do 0.3kg or 0.4kg. It averages at around the 0.65kg to 0.7kg a day.

My son Kurt loves his Optiweigh in-paddock weigh system, and I can see why they are beneficial for a larger operation.

We've only got 1400 hectares here and it's easy for us to go grab 230 head off a water and weigh them. Leucaena has made a massive difference to our business, both here at Calliope and when we were at Rolleston. We also have a centre pivot over grass pasture.

It's all about the trade. If we sell a 400kg animal and replace it with a 200kg animal, with a price margin of $600 to $700 between them, we are happy.

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