Beefing-up calf stocks at Yanakie

Demand for dairy-beef has been that hot, one Gippsland farming family joked they’d sold next year’s calves- and the cows weren’t even joined. This comes as they have also installed automatic calf feeders ahead of calving this autumn, in preparation for rearing the most heifer calves they’ve had at their dairy farm.

This year, Paul Hannigan and Kylie Irvin will breed their younger and elite genetic merit cows to ABS Sexcel® Sexed Genetics in addition to their maiden heifers. The remainder of their 385 head herd will mostly be bred to ABS Beef InFocus™. Employing the ABS “Winning Game Plan” strategy, Paul and Kylie are moving to phase-out bobby calves, diversify their business and make the most of strong beef and export dairy heifer prices.“ Bobby calves aren’t worth anything, so we need to find another way to make it work,” Kylie said.

Paul & Kylie with Jasmin, 18 mths, in the calf shed

“This year, we only had 50 bobby calves, out of 320, and these were Jersey-cross bulls or heifers, the Friesian bulls were sold privately,” Paul added. “This year the heifers will get Sexcel and Angus mop-up bulls so, in theory, we shouldn’t have any Jersey-cross calves going on the truck next year.”

Paul, Kylie and their children Luke 15, Kelly 12, Emma 10, Jake 7, Hayley 6, and Jasmin 18 months have used ABS Beef InFocus for two years. The first year, they retained the autumn-born dairy-beef animals and sold them for $1100 at the beginning of spring.

Most recently they took advantage of demand for beef-cross animals and sold the calves at up to two weeks of age. “There’s so much demand for them,” Paul said. “This year’s beef calves, I could have sold another 100, and next year’s as well.”

This was also the second season Paul and Kylie joined their heifers to Sexcel. In the first year they achieved a 54 per cent conception rate. The couple prefer to synchronise their heifers to calve so they can settle into the dairy and farm routine up to a fortnight before the rest of the herd.

It also helps to spread the calf rearing workload out a bit, Paul said. Paul and Kylie have also started genomic testing calves to identify their best heifers to retain as replacements. Milking the maximum number of cows through their dairy, they no longer need to retain extra dairy heifers and plan to sell the additional dairy animals to the lucrative export market while “it’s there”.

The task of rearing lots of heifers won’t be as daunting this year either, thanks to the new automatic calf feeders. This year they’ve reared more than 230 calves using the automatic calf feeders. “The feeders, compared to our old system, are the best, I’ve only had to lug buckets to the bull calves or anything going on the truck,” Kylie said.

“With everything else, after tubing them colostrum the night they come in from the paddock, we put them on the feeder the next morning.” Paul and Kylie use ABS’ Genetic Management System® (GMS®) to select the sires to breed their cows.

Their breeding philosophy includes reducing their herd’s stature, selecting highly ranked sires on the Australian Balanced Performance Index (BPI) and improving the health of their animals. Last year their herd, with an average liveweight of 550 kilograms, averaged 680 kg of milk solids per cow from a diet including 2.5 tonnes of concentrate fed in the bail.