Boona - Stephen and Susan Brain, Mumbannar VIC (Western)
In the far southwest reaches of Victoria, east of Mount Gambier, the Boona herd comprises 1100 cows. Stephen and Susan Brain, have used Team Te Mania’s elite sires across the herd since 1996, selecting bulls for high marbling, growth, yield, structure, longevity and fertility.
The Boona herd is geared primarily towards producing feeder steers for the long-fed B3 market. Steve and Sue aim to turn off 500 steers at about 500 kilograms in a cost effective system, balancing input costs with efficient production and pasture utilisation.
Most of the steers are sold to Rangers Valley feedlot, where the Brains are ranked among the top five per cent of volume suppliers. Additional steers are sold into the Certified Australian Angus.
Rainfall is traditionally 700-800 millimetres a year, however this year Boona has received about 20 pc of the typical spring rainfall which Steve estimates has cost about 2.5 tonnes per hectare of feed.
Boona runs 1100 breeders, currently at 29 DSE (post calving) to 19 DSE in winter, when only weaners and pregnant females are held.
The majority of the farm has been subdivided into 20 hectare paddocks, utilising rotational grazing techniques.
Heifers calve in mid August for six weeks and cows late August for eight weeks.
Cows are mostly set stocked at calving however this year a mob of more than 300 was rotated with good success and Steve plans more this year.
Weaners are yard weaners around Christmas-New Year at about 140-150 kilograms and receive high quality cereal and lucerne hay.
They are vaccinated and drenched and also receive a mineral injection. (Later with boluses with all trace minerals).
The weaners are then moved onto irrigated pastures, where they are rotationally grazed and moved every two days. Following the autumn break the weaners switch to dryland pasture until feed quality declines around November/December.
In 2008 the weaners were run in a mob of 1150 – the equivalent of about 4500 – 8000 DSE as they grow – and moved every two days.
The weaners are moved onto the dryland once the autumn break is established.
Although these large mob sizes might seem a nightmare to some, Steve has found it has worked well on Boona. The cattle are better socialised and better prepared for the feedlot. He has also found the stock handling has become a lot more pleasurable.
The weaners ran as a big mob until the heifers were drafted out just prior to joining and the lighter end of them – 260 kilogram plus – are sold.
About 80pc of the heifers are retained. They follow the steers in a rotation during joining in mid October and after joining follow the cows, calving down as two-year-olds.
Through Chris Callow Cattle Services the steers were contracted to Rangers Valley in August last year. The terms are EYCI plus margin on farm minus 5pc full weight Dartmoor weighbridge.
Breeding females are generally sold through Team Te Mania Online Commercial Female Sales utilising AuctionsPlus
During 2001 and 2006, the Brains’ and some neighbours/friends were involved in BeefCheque and South West Victorian Farm Monitor benchmarking.
This challenged them to examine a farming system and much discussion still takes place about increasing their production capacity and profit, as well as reducing costs and increasing rainfall.
Currently producing approximately 430 kilograms of beef per hectare – back from a peak of 570 kilograms per hectare in better easons, Boona is still in the top 20 per cent of the South West Victorian Farm Monitor benchmarking group.
The feedback they receive from Rangers Valley and female buyers on the cattle’s performance is very positive and has increased demand in the marketplace.
Team Te Mania’s cattle are all ranked in the top 10 pc at Rangers Valley, which reflects very well on the consistency of genetics produced.
Another advantage of joining Team Te Mania for the Brains has been the full back-up service. This saves them carrying any spare bulls, because any breakdown can be replaced with a similar bull in a short time.
Their Team Te Mania genetics provide a strong focus on the fertility, growth and marbling and access to leading genetics at a known cost upfront.
The cattle are run almost entirely on pasture – production of which has been boosted by the use of two centre pivots introduced in the past seven years. Each centre pivot irrigates approximately 80 hectares of high performance pasture. The pastures produce about 18 tonnes of dry matter per hectare and consist mostly of Italian ryegrass, fescue and clovers.
The centre pivots are used as an adjunct to their dryland pastures, which help stabilise the breeding herd numbers, enable them to wean early and grow them on without supplementary feeding of pellets or silage and meeting contract specs on steers early.
The Brains have moved away from making and feeding out silage and instead find the use of the centre pivots to grow grass to be more costeffective and less labour intensive.
Fertiliser and Soil
One additional application of fertiliser is given to the paddocks under irrigation. An extra 30-40 units per hectare of potassium over and above their standard fertiliser regime is given, which in 2008 was reduced to 15 kilograms of P and 20 kilograms of K in the spring.
The Brains use the irrigated land for the weaners, as it providing better protein and energy levels than the dryland where feed quality declines through summer.
Boona soil is naturally sandy and quite acidic and it’s taken considerable investment by the Brains on phosphorus and lime to build fertility up to today’s levels.
Maintenance applications of lime every six years at about one tonne per hectare and they spread about two tonnes on individual paddocks depending on soil tests as they go through the pasture renovation process. Approximately 60 hectares of pasture is renovated each year. This includes 40 hectares of the farm, which is leased out to potato growers annually and then sown down to permanent pasture in May.
The Brains use predominantly deep-rooted species such as phalaris, cocksfoot, chicory and sub clovers and less of perennial ryegrass in order to utilise moisture more effectively.
One of the biggest challenges has been the establishment of the new pastures. Steve has found the most successful strategy was to spray the pasture out in late spring before it went to seed and then leave the paddock to fallow over summer.
The paddock will then be sown down to oats or a fodder crop in February to generate good winter feed and generally achieve up to four grazings. In August, it is sprayed out and a mix heavy in phalaris and cocksfoot is direct drilled in its place.
Team Te Mania
Joining in 1996, the Brains were one of the first members of Team Te Mania. Steve says “the program has given us access to elite genetics – we are using the top 10 per cent of genetics of the breed without paying anywhere near that price bracket.”
Carcase and performance data goes back to Team Te Mania to help finetune future genetic selection. Steve enjoys the concept of following genetics right through to the feedlot and then the carcase. “The Team can use the results of that to drive future genetic selection, rather than just guessing,” Steve said.
The Brains target growth and marbling when selecting their sires, making the most of Breed Object, which is a genetic selection tool, designed to help producers target the desired production traits for specific markets using Breedplan EBVs.
In 2007 the Brains received a CAAB spring quality award for the excellence of their stock’s performance against CAAB specifications, and consistently rank in the top five per cent of Rangers Valley suppliers for growth and marbling.
Boona reaps profit from feeder steers, The Land, January 2016 by Katrina Weatherly, The Land, January 22, 2016. This cattle enterprise is a Team Te Mania, self-replacing, spring calving, EU-accredited operation, supplying steers to feedlots on contract each year. For productivity, the feeder steer business is where the maximum efficiency lies”, Mr Brain said
Selective Breeding Builds Opportunity – by Jon Condon, The Land, September 16, 2010. In this article, Jon writes “Selection pressure for intra-muscular fat driven through both Breedplan recording and progeny carcase testing has been one of the contributors to Rangers Valley’s premium brand extension.”
More of a Spur than a Threat 17 Dec 2008 – by Simone Dalton, Weekly Times, December 17, 2008. “Stephen Brain’s bottom line is more about producing excellent pasture and quality cattle to harvest rather than BSE outbeaks on the other side of the world”.
2008 Brain power – turning pasture into beef p1 by Sally White, Stock & Land, November 20, 2008. Glossy Angus steers mingle contentedly around the gate, unperturbed by the entry of a stranger into their paddock”. 2008 Brain power – turning pasture into beef p2
- Johne’s Status – Beef Only
- Calving period – Spring
- EU Accreditation