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Autumn is bull sale season “Down Under”

We are well into autumn, as fall is called down here in Victoria, and the leaves from poplars, elms and plane trees are changing to a golden colour, much the same as in the northern hemisphere despite daytime highs occasionally still entering the high 20s.

I wonder where the notion came from that overnight frost brings the colour change along — definitely not in these parts. On an agricultural topic of annual occurrence, the glossy sales catalogues are out again appearing in the mail and farm magazines with impressive centrefolds of bulls from every breed announcing upcoming sale days. The bull sales unfold with much the same anticipation and excitement as that of a Canadian event, perhaps also happening up your way as we speak.

Australia’s cattle herd has grown beyond anyone’s imagination in the last couple of high-rainfall years with good prices. This has also resulted in an expansion of purebred operators, or beef studs as they are called. The plentiful rains have eased and it has actually been very dry the last few months pushing feed prices sky-high. Along with a softening cattle market, this has created a bit of a buyers’ market in some bull sales this year, with a common occurrence of not all bulls selling.

Competitive breeding industry

It has become a very competitive market across Australia with about 50 recognized breeds among 7,000 studs. The number of dormant studs, which might have a stud registration but not registering animals or participating in sales, fluctuates with the market and demands for purebred cattle. I suspect this number is on the rise. It costs $25 to register an animal, and breed society memberships run from $160 to $350. There is a total of 196,307 animals registered across Australia.

Angus lists as No. 1 with 51,723 head (26.4 per cent) from 1,100 studs across the nation. We drop to almost half of that to find the No. 2 spot, belonging to Hereford with 27,556 registrations. In the tropical north with its expansive cattle stations we find the heat-tolerant Brahman breed coming in third with 21,025 animals.

There are other breeds represented among Australia’s cattle producers as well. The 2013 Weekly Times Stud Beef magazine advertises 40 breeders across Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. Another 10 breeds are dispersed across the rest of Australia but the less popular breeds are very small in comparison. The British breeds are dominant and below Angus and Hereford (including poll Hereford) you will find Shorthorn, Murray Grey, Red Angus and Red Poll in that order.

Some of the studs are very large relative to what I have come across in Canada and I had the pleasure of visiting one of the larger Angus studs, Te Mania Angus, just north of Mortlake, Victoria, about 70 km south of us. I took in a Farm Plan 21 course (somewhat similar to the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan) and one of the six weekly course modules was a farm visit to Te Mania to look at their grazing management, shelterbelts, water systems, et cetera. A very impressive layout.

Looking at its breed development and Angus cattle marketing I have concluded it is a top notch and very “switched-on operation,” to phrase it as an Aussie would. It runs 1,600 purebred cows on 6,000 acres with an elaborate pressurized pasture pipeline system fed from dugouts and lakes with water troughs placed centrally for most parts on 150 spoke wheel-style paddocks. With very rapid grass growth during the normally wet spring in the Western District of Victoria, followed by a long dry season, the principle of moving stock fast during fast growth and slow during slow growth is perhaps even more of a science in this part of the world than back up on 4-Clover Ranch at Rocky Mountain House, where I will graze some cattle in a few weeks.

Great job, tough conditions

Here in Victoria, knowing that the summer will be hot and very dry, estimating paddock yields and calculating paddock grazing days is a fine art, at which the staff at Te Mania is doing a remarkable job. They wean early at four months of age and restrict feeding to the calves, while the cows and bulls graze stockpiled grass for the rest of the year.

Some paddocks are set aside for silage and fed to the young stock but seeing the performance of cows and bulls under this type of year-round grazing speaks volumes for how they will perform elsewhere under similar conditions. I suspect herein lies the secret why Te Mania bulls have sold so well despite a lot of bulls going through sales throughout Victoria. Cattle producers are keen to get their hands on bulls that have the easy-keeping genetics that allow them to do well on year-round grazing scenarios.

Their impressive Te Mania Berkley B-1 is a well-known bull, rated Angus Breed Top Trait Leader 10 times for performances such as calving ease, fertility, growth and carcass weight. Previous sales of his sons have gone to a top of $91,000. The 2013 sale sold 10 of his sons at an average of $12,300 with a top of $19,000. Top selling bull for this year was Temania Gothernburg G950 at $24,000.

It was a very hot day of 35 C in the sales room earlier this year where bulls and their Breed Plan data were shown on a projector screen to prospective buyers from across Australia as well as from Russia, Switzerland and Thailand. I guess I could have bought a bull and put Canada on the map! Kazakhstan-based Sever Agro was the top 2013 international bulk buyer with 13 bulls at a $9,154 average. The high individual figures are always where the discussion focuses, but I think a real testament to a good sale is the average. For the 113 Te Mania bulls sold this year the average was $8,663, the highest on record.

— Kim Juul Nielsen, retired manager of agricultural service for Clearwater County, Alta., is a summer resident of Alcheringa, Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia and a Canadian summer grazier of 4-Clover Ranch at Rocky Mountain House, Alta. This article appears in the Dec. 2, 2013 issue of Grainews (page 42).

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