When discussing the versatility of the Angus breed, the people who can attest to it the best are those utilising the breed in varied environments and systems around the country and abroad.
During the Zoetis Angus National Conference, those in attendance got just that, with a panel of breeders sharing their insights regarding the use of Angus genetics in their operations located around Australia and New Zealand.
Chris Metcalfe, Western Australia, Frank Archer, Tasmania, Noeleen Branson, Victoria, Heath Tiller, South Australia, Nick Boshammer, Queensland, James Laurie, New South Wales and Forbes Cameron, New Zealand all joined panel facilitator Scott Wright to discuss their experiences utilising Angus genetics in their various operations.
Representing many different pockets of the Australian and New Zealand landscape, the panel allowed for the different perspectives of breeding cattle within a variation of environments and production goals.
Angus cattle that suit
For Forbes Cameron, the cattle he produces must be able to withstand the conditions in which they are being bred in New Zealand, which can be challenging for the animals.
Firstly, the environment of the country where the Cameron’s farm is located on the North Island of New Zealand is incredibly hilly and steep. When first populating his property with Angus cattle, the landscape proved challenging for the stock, and those that handled the conditions where the lines that continued to build the herd and have adapted to the conditions they are bred in.
“When we started there was quite a few Angus dispersal sales in New Zealand, and most Angus studs have a lot easier country then we have. If we went to a sale and bought 20 from one and 10 at another, by the end of the first year we had 50% of what we bought still alive, because most of them fell off the hills and just couldn’t handle our conditions.”
In more current times Mr Cameron breeds his cattle with tough parameters to ensure they are combating challenges faced in New Zealand due to drench families. When raising his cattle, Mr Cameron ensures his cattle only require two lifetime drenches, and test for resistance to parasites in his cattle, alongside his sheep.
“The cattle that we retain, such as our bulls for sale and heifers that go in calf, they get a third drench in the lifetime. But the cattle that we’re finishing at 300 to 320 kilo carcase weight at 20 to 24 months, they only ever get two drenches. Anything on our farm that needs any extra treatment are culled.”
For Noeleen Branson and her family, the choice to produce Angus cattle at Banquet Angus came from the impression the breed made when touring New Zealand.
Reflecting on their experience producing cattle at their operation in the Western District of Victoria, Noeleen said, “I’ve been very fortunate to be involved with this breed all my life and when I was a teenager growing up, Angus cattle were referred to as the poor man’s breed, so that’s how I started in the industry with all that backlash, but how times have changed now.”
When my husband Stephen and I started in our own right in 1991 we were fortunate enough to spend seven weeks in New Zealand looking at Herefords and Angus and during that time we realized we wanted to introduce the New Zealand type of Angus to Australia.”
“We noticed our market in our area in Southern Victoria was a very strongly held Hereford area and to tap into that market we needed to produce an Angus animal that consisted of a good head, a lot of bone and a lot of capacity in order for us to try and get our Angus bulls into these Hereford programs.”
“That’s how we started and to this day we still enjoy what we’re doing and we get a lot of pleasure in sourcing cattle all across Australia and New Zealand,” she said.
For Frank Archer, to ensure soundness of his genetics in different production systems, the Landfall operation places pressure on their herds to identify outliers that would not be suitable to their clients’ environments. In doing so, they have been able to supply cattle to most states and territories in Australia.
“Tasmania can be perceived to be a soft environment and it is a wonderful environment to grow cattle. We have a mild climate and a relatively high and reliable rainfall so how we manage the development of genetics in our program is through the development of a really sound
production system and that production system is based on us understanding what our clients are doing with our cattle, so we create some pressure in our environment.”
He continued, “We do this through running a high stocking rate, we have restricted joining periods, and we have large contemporary groups. For example, at the moment we have eight- to ten-month-olds bulls running in mobs of up to 350. The relevance of our genetics is created from the fact that there’s some pressure in the system.”
“The things in Tasmania that make it a wonderful cattle environment are also some of the reasons why we can have a tougher environment, particularly in the winter with a higher rainfall and a mild climate. This means that we have a real feed deficit in the winter, so managing the winter and making sure that we can have our cattle producing also puts adequate pressure on them so we can really soundly identify the outliers on either end of the performance spectrum.”
Hailing from Western Australia, Chris Metcalfe was asked about the push of Angus genetics into the southern rangelands of the state, which can be identified as a harsh climate, and the progression of this migration for producers like himself.
“It’s a pretty new push for both Angus and our business that we were experimenting with seedstock up into that area. The southern rangelands are around the middle of Western Australia and was traditionally heavily run with sheep and they’ve smashed the perennials, so basically now it’s salt bushes and poor-quality grasses with a rain fall of 200mls average.”
“It’s a pretty tough environment for cattle and Meat & Livestock have been doing a study on it where they are trying to figure out how Angus steers go there. From our point of view, we have a client in the goldfields region near Leonora who approached us, and we started with one bull a few years ago,” he said.
“He likes a specific type and wants something with a bit more leg, with good feet and can carry itself over the salt bush country. His target market is selling the calves into South Australia, low weight of around 200 kilos and he gets paid a premium on coat colour, so a slick coat animal is very important to him as he is getting an 80-cent premium on those slick coats.”
He continued, “So this is a new thing for us and after that one bull, we sent half a dozen the next year and then the last load we sent was 15. We’re still figuring out how they go and work in his system.”
Heath Tiller, whose South Australian operation Goolagong Angus and Santa Gertrudis sells bulls around Australia, including to Central Australia pastoral zones, was asked what feedback he received regarding Angus bulls and Angus influenced bulls in the warmer, more arid climates.
“We’ve been selling balls up through the northern pastoral areas of Oodnadatta, William Creek and Birdsville now for a number of years and the main thing they say they’ve got to be able to do is walk, be able to get across a lot of the ground and have good feet. It’s working very well with the blacks doing a tremendous job with a lot of crossbred cattle that they have up there which are Bos Indicus and are doing a very good job for them and performing.”
For Nick Boshammer, who hails from Chinchilla in Queensland and whose operation, NB Genetics, supplies bulls to areas that fall into tick environments, listening to their customer feedback in what they desire and find most suitable in their bulls makes the task of selecting bulls and desired traits more catered.
“Slick coat type is a desirable trait that we look for in a bull and we have that in our female herd so we do have a little bit of flexibility there when we decide on our bull joinings, but a sleeker coat type does certainly help those bulls out in that environment and restricting that environment for parasites to live on,” he said.
“In regard to feedback from clients, every client is different but one thing that does ring true is management and set joining seems to work in favour of longevity with bulls going out into the Queensland environment, as a year-round joining does just put on extra pressure and therefore shortens the longevity of those bulls.”
“I think much similar to Frank the development that we do probably helps as well as creating a little bit more adversity through the development of the bulls before they go out, so we can select those bulls that probably shouldn’t be bulls and prevent them from going out there to start with.”
Echoing this, Mr Tiller said of adapting coat types for his northern clientele, “I’m always looking at coat type from when the calves are born through to when it’s a weaner, and looking at how the bull is going to grow out. I like to make sure that it doesn’t have a coarse coat and that I follow the cow and bull lines all the way back to track it and understand how I can get a fine slick coat because that’s what my main market is and they’re heavily focused on that type of thing. I am also always keeping an eye on sale and semen catalogues for those slick coated, shiny animals.”
Reflecting on the pressures producing cattle on the coastal environment, James Laurie of Knowla Livestock, Moppy, highlighted the specific breeding decisions they have had to adapt to for the cattle in their environment of moderate parasite pressure, high rainfall, and subtropical grasses.
“We’re a little bit different to a lot of people on the coast as we’ve spent a lot of money on pastures and because of that we probably like a little bit more growth ourselves. We aim our commercial steers at the feedlots, so we know that the value of growth and we’ve got to tether that with our bulls for our clients if they don’t have the similar pasture to what we have got.”
“We have steep country and one of the issues I think we face going forward which we probably didn’t have in place in the past with other breeds we’ve been involved in is longevity in our cows. Our cattle are growing bigger, faster and quicker, so we’ve got a lot of performance in them but with that obviously the structure is very important.”
He continued, “I suppose our challenge is to maintain the structure and at the same time shift the performance of our cattle, but keep it tempered for our clients that obviously don’t have the grasses and the performance in their grasses like we do.”
Angus for every system
When asked what they thought of the versatility of the Angus breed today and what that looks like going into the future, the panel highlighted the genetic gains, market adaptability and diversity within the breed as some key points.
“Being Murray Grey breeders traditionally, what Angus offers us and gives us confidence going forward is the depth of genetics that it offers and that consistency and reliability that we get from those genetics,” said Mr Metcalfe. “What Angus offers us is the low birth weight, calving ease and then the growth, with the performance and the carcase weight at the end.”
“We can go and pick genetics from all over and come up with a cow herd that suits our environment and target market. For me that’s what the versatility of the Angus offers to us as a growing business. We want to be running more and more cows essentially and we can’t be dealing with calving ease issues, and we need the calves that we do get to hit those markets as consistently as we can.”
Mr Archer said from his perspective, “I feel that what we see here today with the panel is a great demonstration of versatility, there’s differing opinions here on how to breed cattle and the cattle we breed, and it’s wonderful that we can all respect and appreciate the different opinions.”
“What that offers is a real variation in performance across the breed, and the ability to drive the rate of genetic gain is much higher when we have that variation within the breed.”
He continued, “I think the other thing to me where Angus stands out in the Australian industry is we’ve been really keen to seek out how the genetics work through the value chain right through the consumer as opposed to just working in our own silo and breeding what might work for us.”
“At the end of the day, there’s got to be a slice of the pie for everyone all the way through the value chain, and importantly the consumer is what matters because they’re the only ones that are putting any money into the value chain. If they stop doing that then our industry fails to survive.”
Highlighting the varied environments that Angus genetics are beginning to be utilised in, Mrs Branson said, “The diversity in this breed is that Angus is produced over lots of diverse types of areas in Australia. I believe we need to keep focused on the female, the longevity of our programs and keep progressing that way in looking after our cow herd.”
“For us and why we chose Angus was particularly the predictability and the accuracy that’s out there in the genetics. Much like ourselves, our clients now are able to design cattle and it lets us see what they’re doing not only in their environment,” said Mr Boshammer.
For Mr Laurie, with the breed where it is at currently and its influence in different systems, he highlighted that with the continued progression of the breed, there needs to remain the touchpoints of important traits in the industry, “We moved towards Angus under 25 years ago and that’s been a gradual process. The versatility of the breed was what attracted to us and when we think about it the breed average in the Angus is pretty good.”
“As humans we’re always trying to jump higher and run faster and we’re doing that when we select our cattle, we can be prone to chase extremes. I think what’s pretty important we keep in mind and focus of the fact that breed averages in the Angus breed is what’s put the Angus breed where it is as probably the number one breed in Australia currently, because it does most things really well and we want to retain those things.”
He continued, “That’s where the commercial producer sees their return in most cases and so we don’t want to lose sight of that as the Angus breed has been really strong at breed average and achieving those results for those commercial clients.”
“Whilst the seekstock industry are always going to try and push those extremes and make them better we don’t want to lose sight of traits we’ve made the Angus breed spread in Australia today,” he said.
Ensuring Angus has a sustainable and viable future
When asked about the ten-year outlook for the Angus breed and the society, the producers wanted to ensure the longevity of the breed through progression and maintain a focus on the eventual end of the supply chain, the consumer.
“I am pretty new to Angus on a national level and meeting all you, but it seems like it’s quite a close-knit family and everyone’s gets on quite well, so from my point of view in 10 years’ time I’d like to think that it still stays this way,” said Mr Metcalfe. “I think that if we can keep in mind protecting what the members want in terms of the fact that there’s that diversity in the breed and everyone breeds differently.”
“I think the Angus Australia marketing is A class, it is the envy of many other breeds at the moment and there’s plenty of backlash on Angus for their marketing campaigns,” said Mrs Branson.
“I’m really impressed with your mission statement, ‘Angus for every system’. I think that is awesome and has been something that’s been our backbone for a long time. That it doesn’t matter whether you’re producing vealers, steers, heifers, cows, bullocks, we’ve always preached that Angus did well in every system, whatever your market was, whatever part of Australia.”
For Mr Archer, performance recording will continue to have a high impact on his outlook into the next decade and he highlighted challenges that may arise, “I think it’s important to keep what we can achieve in perspective to what we have achieved because if we look specifically at performance, breed average is high and if we look at what Angus Australia achieves as an organization you’ve set a high standard.”
“I think what we have to be a bit careful of is there’s a lot now in genetics and we’ve heard a lot recently about research going into emissions and that’s a new space for us, but making sure that we don’t lose sight of the fundamentals of running cattle commercially that are going to be profitable through the whole supply chain.”
He continued, “A lot of the things we’re looking at now as breeders and industry are one to two percenters, and it’s making sure we don’t lose sight of the tens and twenty percent areas because they’re the ones that they’ll drive profitability a lot harder than what the one and two percents will.”
“We’ve got new traits being explored all the time and we’ve just got to be careful what effect that’s going to have on our Angus breed,” continued Mr Laurie. “If industry or the world in general wants us to be really focused on emissions, we want to make sure that when we start to measure it, that we don’t actually destroy some of the other good things within the breed.”
Maximising the Profitability & Sustainability of members
Following the launch of the Angus Australia five-year strategic plan at the Zoetis Angus National Conference, the panel was asked their thoughts on how this would affect the ongoing progress of the Angus breed in terms of the next chapter of growth across markets.
“I keep connecting or relating to the shelf product and providing more choice there,” said Mr Boshammer.
“I think something that I picked up on early on was that the agricultural bubble has a certain extent of money that’s in there already and to create more money within that bubble the only way is through the consumer. I think for us to become more profitable or make things easier for us in a production chain we need to create more choice for a consumer that they are willing to pay more for.”
Addressing a timely conversation regarding the expansion of beef on dairy and the ongoing conversation around this potential market, Mr Archer said, “I think one of those opportunities that has been spoken about quite a bit in the last couple of days is beef on dairy.”
“We’ve done a little bit of work in that space as a business being in Tasmania where there’s lots of dairy.”
“There’s some opportunities there and I think there’s a notion that dairy is a dirty word when it comes to beef production, but the reality is as a breed, Angus can really offer some value because one thing we have that a lot of other breeds don’t have is really predictable genetic outcomes, and the dairy industry thrives on data.”
“They make all their decisions on data; they measure every day, and they can make really powerful decisions every day with their production.Data is going to really draw the decision making for them, so if we don’t do it as a breed someone else has to come in and try and do it, and I don’t think the outcomes will be as good for the dairy industry and for the industry as a whole,” he concluded.
Agreeing with this was Mr Forbes, “In New Zealand, the dairy industry don’t want to kill Bobby calves anymore, so there is a huge opportunity in the dairy industry, especially with sexed semen. Dairy farmers can pick out however many replacement heifers they need using sexed semen and the rest can go to beef pool, so there’s a huge opportunity there for the beef industry.”
He continued, “Nationally in New Zealand there is about an 82% calving rate so there’s huge opportunities there for improvement and hopefully the Angus breed can do a good job.”
From his perspective, Mr Metcalfe said, “I have spoken about the southern rangelands as an area to push into and finding the type of cattle that work there. I think that comes from the breeders to figure that out and potentially Angus Australia can be involved in helping to figure out what type of animal works there and the target markets that are suited to those cattle.”
“I think there are opportunities in the Angus breed to increase our IMF across the breed,” said Mr Laurie. “I know at the pointy end we’ve got really high on this, but for the commercial industry breed average I believe there’s still there’s plenty of work to do there.”
He continued, “I think within the Angus breed and the industry, we don’t want to take our focus away from IMF, while still acknowledging the other good traits we can take with it. This is because we’re seeing finally, which they have been talking about since I was a boy, some original value-based marketing happening across the industry.”
For Heath Tiller, it is about getting back to grass roots, “One thing that my clients up in the northern pasture areas and around Alice Springs struggle with is getting their head around the EBVs for what they need to produce. That’s the big question every time they rock up at the bull sales, what figures am I supposed to be looking at? So, I suppose one thing for the producers that would be good would be to hold workshops up in those areas to be able to explain to them more what they should be looking for.”
Build a level of member engagement that is without parallel
When it was put to the group about what they believe Angus Australia as a society needs to provide its members going into the next decade, the main concerns and suggestions from the panel were surrounding ensuring that the office can continue to service the ever growing influx of workload to ensure the continuation of the products and services provided to members, the ongoing emphasis and importance placed on the Angus Youth program, and ensuring the continued input into research and development that assists the improvement of both production on farm, but also influences the way operations are run in terms of management and safety.
FEATURE IMAGE – BREEDER PANEL – Angus Australia CEO, Scott Wright, facilitated a breed versatility panel at the Zoetis Angus National Conference. The panel was made up of James Laurie, Nick Boshammer, Heath Tiller, Forbes Cameron, Noeleen Branson, Frank Archer & Chris Metcalfe.
Cheyne Twist, Senior Marketing & Communications Officer