Scott and Julia McKay

Habbies Howe

Highlands, VIC

One Victorian beef business has staked its financial future on the right genetics.

EIGHTY per cent of Scott and Julia McKay’s beef business is driven ‘‘by what goes down their throats”. The other 20 per cent is in the breeding or the genetics.

‘‘But by gee, you (have to be right) with the genetics,” said Scott, who runs a breeding herd of 1000 Angus cows and heifers producing weaners on Habbies Howe at Highlands, north east of Seymour.

Scott is confident he has the right genetics with Te Mania bloodlines. Scott, formerly of Wagga Wagga, said he bought the 1500ha Habbies Howe and its Te Maniablood Angus herd after falling in love with the property in 1998. Three years later, the McKays signed up as members of Team Te Mania, allowing them to lease young, promising Te Mania sires.

It’s a two-way street: in return for being able to access the latest Te Mania genetics, team members agree to provide performance data back to the Te Mania breeding program. Scott admits there is nothing unconventional about his two-man, cowcalf operation.

Les Gates has been his farm assistant since 1998. The herd is divided into autumn and spring-calving mobs, a strategy which makes maximum use of the 13-14 leased bulls. Three to four new bulls are introduced each year and the McKays artificially inseminate 300 cows with the best of Te Mania semen sires. Heifers are joined at 15 months.

Breedplan estimated breeding values are a priority for Scott and include positive for calving ease, slightly positive for birthweight and a 600-day growth of between +80kg and +95kg.

The autumn calvers run in mobs of 250 head, while the spring-calvers are at 1 2 0 . Each mob is rotationally grazed and moved every three to four days.

Scott said the autumn and spring-calving pattern allowed a better use of the farm, which also includes 400 leased hectares. The goal is to turn off 300-350kg weaned calves at nine months for backgrounding and ultimately finishing for the B3 Japanese market.

Until recently, the McKays were selling their weaners direct to a backgrounder for finishing at the Rangers Valley feedlot at Glen Innes in NSW.

When that backgrounder left farming, the McKays found this year they had no option but to sell their spring-drop calves at Yea in May, where they topped the market at $720 for steers with at an estimated 330kg.

Scott is hopeful that the Upper Murray backgrounder who bought all of the McKays’ Yea steers will buy direct next time.

Habbies Howe, once the prized farm of the late educator and philanthropist Dick Webb, is a picturesque valley of hills and low-flat country. The average rainfall is 800mm, although, like most other Victorian farms over the past decade, Habbies Howe has done it tough during the drought and cuts its cow numbers. Habbies Howe can also get very bitterly cold, which provides its own challenges at calving.

Much of the property is sown to ryegrass, cocksfoot and phalaris, although the hills retain an exceptional cover of native grasses – weeping grass, kangaroo grass and wallaby grass. Scott said the weeping grass was a particularly valuable feed, but had to be carefully managed.

‘‘We take the cattle off the native pastures on Melbourne Cup day and return them six or seven weeks after the autumn break,” he said.

Fertilisers are a major cost. Soil testing dictates heavy applications of superphosphate and lime, though Scott said he was also looking at other fertiliser options, including chook manure.

He said there was little more they could do on the breeding side. That might be a good thing, as it allows Scott and Les to put all their energies into the health of the herd, pasture management and weed and pest control.

Scott said although they had invested heavily in the control of rabbits , blackberries, bracken and capeweed, there was still more to be done.

In keeping with the objective of boosting marketing options for the cattle, Habbies Howe is EU accredited, carries a Beef Only Johne’s disease status and is Certified Australian Angus Beef-accredited.

Team player on the money, by Brian Clancy, The Weekly Times, August 26, 2010

Photo: ScottMcKay looks over his Seymour district property, Habbies Howe – courtesy The Weekly Times

  • EU Accredited
  • Johne’s Status – Beef Only
  • CAAB Accredited
  • Calving period: Autumn and Spring

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