Feed efficiency in focus

March 8, 2017 2:02 pm

Enthusiasm and striving to improve efficiency drive South Gippsland farmers Shane and Claire Harris.

The couple run Harris Farms across 2186 acres (885 hectares) of owned and leased land that is within an hour’s drive radius.

Their main commodity is Angus cattle. This year, they are running about 500 breeders. Due to the failed spring and very dry summer, the couple culled the herd heavily and were not able to keep on as many breeders. In better years, their herd including closer to 600 breeders.

Shane, who is the fourth generation farmer at Dumbalk North, has been living his passion for breeding Angus for 15 years.

The Harris Farms breeding program uses carefully selected bulls. The cattle are single sire joined in mobs of one bull to about 50 females for nine weeks.

Shane and Claire also artificially inseminate some cattle each year. Shane said they handpick the AI bulls and generally chose older bulls that are proven including for longevity and sound structure.

While not registered, the family has cattle breeding records for four generations or more. Bulls are chosen on structure, heavy muscling, positive for fat and a frame that is both deep bodied and moderate.

“We are very particular on calving ease in the herd, anything that has to pulled in culled so out of 100 heifers, we might have to pull two or three,” Claire, a former DEPI livestock extension officer, said.

They have tended to background their steers before selling them direct to a feedlot, but last year lighter weight steers for an overseas order. The Harris family has also sold heifers to China for four years.

The couple said it was important to be flexible about marketing livestock, to seize good opportunities and be responsive to the season, such as the extreme dry of the past season.

“Older people said the 1967-68 drought was bad, but last summer was worse,” Shane said.

They said a very poor spring, uncharacteristic of South Gippsland, exacerbated the dry summer.

The family also runs sheep for prime lamb production and have 100 Southdown ewes from which they sell rams under the stud Patrian each year.

“The business is driven on feed efficiency so we chose moderate (framed) stock that can be run in higher stocking rates and keep condition in poorer times,” Claire said.

They also have an on-farm feed pad in which they supplementary feed out pellets to give them more flexibility in when they sell stock.

Top Image: Claire and Shane Harris with some of their dogs and 18 month-old Angus bulls on a wet late winter day

Above Image: The breed of  cattle and are chosen for their feed efficiency, which allows Claire and Shane Harris to run in higher stocking rates.