Most of Harry Youngman’s life has revolved around numbers. He applies his financial background to livestock farming with some solid results. The family objective is a commercial return on assets so returns need to keep improving to keep up with inflation.
Spring calving for the past 14 years to match feed demand with feed supply, Harry aims to match kilograms per hectare results with a swag of other key performance indicators. Which in his cow/calf operation includes labour efficiency, kilograms liveweight per hectare and per DSE, mid winter DSE per hectare and beef production kilograms liveweight per hectare per 100mm of rainfall. He says financial benchmarking keeps an objective eye on every aspect “with some interesting results that depart from conventional wisdom”.
“We are an all Angus breeding herd, all Te Mania Angus naturally mated, and will be joining 1160 cows in November to Team Te Mania bulls,” Harry says. “Our target is feed-on steers 18-20 months for clients such as Rangers Valley and other feedlots with a keen eye on female sales aswell” he says. “We have been in this program for the past 12 years but it is recently that we have really focused on getting to the bottom line of ‘turning grass into meat’.
“Our switch to spring calving – and lambing – means we have the most mouths to feed when we have the most feed to offer, and in that time we have continued to benchmark and to tweak and finetune as required.” At the end of the day the benchmark Harry most likes to put his finger on is the line which compares price received on a dollars per kilogram basis compared with c/kg liveweight sold. Because, he says, cost of production is something you can control, and margin is what is required. Of course he concedes there are the vagaries of farming, over which he cannot have any control. But with his rainfall, statistics show him that in the past 100 years he has a 2 per cent chance of being in drought so the tendency is to farm respecting that.
So when the once-in-a-lifetime drought gripped most of southern Australia, Harry was able to demonstrate it would be more financially rewarding to move his core herd to western NSW. “It’s all about the optimum stocking rate,” Harry says. “The grass was cheaper to grow there than it was for us to supplement feed here, so the herd was agisted for almost six years,” he says. “Which enabled us to maintain the cow herd as a block of capital for the business. “At the same time this showed me with the right management Ardgartan cows and calves performed not only in its traditional high-rainfall environment but also in a semi-arid area.
“While the breeding herd was away we did some intensive work to turn Ardgartan into a techno system, running dry cattle to explore beef production alternatives. “Once we found ‘what we did not want to do’ we brought the breeders home to a model that should achieve our goals and really enjoy breeding functional cattle.”
While the cattle might only account for 20 per cent of the current business, Harry says he has dramatically increased the size of the herd in the past 12 months which means Ardgartan is now up to 18 Team Te Mania bulls. Combined with 18,000 crossbred ewes, Harry also admits they have just about reached their functional plateau. He says with a six-week calving and lambing, starting in late July to mid August, there are a lot of mouths to be fed on grass at the same time. So Ardgartan needs to buy in around 1000 tonnes of dry matter every year just to get through the autumn gap, and early winter.
“We are still working on our fertiliser and feed strategies to get that all right, although we have been able to run 23.5 DSE mid winter per hectare. Harry is also adamant he gets a commercially acceptable return on assets managed – “respecting the vagaries of agriculture in that process”. “We expect a minimum of 5 per cent, excluding capital gain of land which has historically compounded at 7 per cent nominal,” he says. The 5% is ours to live on and the 7% is for the next generation.
- Team Te Mania member since 1999
- Beef only
- Spring calving