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The Mole Partnership - Garry and Leanne Hall, Warren NSW

OPTIMISING FERTILITY AT THE MOLE

BY REBECCA SHARPE and STEPHEN BURNS, THE LAND  August 2015

ON THE western edge of the Macquarie Marshes, Angus cattle have proved their performance record for Garry and Leanne Hall, “The Mole”, Warren.

Since the Hall family bought the property in the 1930s, various breeds of cattle have been run but, for the past 25 years, black has been the colour of choice at “The Mole”, established on Ardenside and Wallaroy genetics.

Depending on the water situation at Burrendong Dam, Mr Hall said he ran a herd of between 600 and 800 self-replacing Angus breeders on the 5250-hectare property.

With a focus on producing quick maturing calves, Mr Hall balanced moderate growth traits with fertility to fit the landscape of the property, located 114 kilometres north of Warren.

“We have a focus on gestation length and calving ease – we want to get the calves out early,” he said.

“I try to stay away from extreme growth traits because they’re the ones that won’t calve in tough times.”

Mr Hall said he was conscious of meat eating quality of the cattle he produced, overlapping that with high fertility.

Pregnancy testing had been common practice at “The Mole” since the early 1970s, and maintaining a high level of fertility in females had always been at the top of the breeding objectives list.

“We are aiming for females whose energy requirements are not too high,” Mr Hall said.  “We want cows that, in a marginal environment and an average season, can still get back in calf as soon as possible.”

The Halls join their females in late September by fixed-time artificial insemination for a July calving and then back up with a natural joining from October.

Heifers are joined at the same time, at about 15 months-of-age, and run separately from weaning until they produce their first calf.  Heifers that failed to produce a calf, or cows that did not conceive each year, were culled.

“We get reasonably good conception rates but still back up with a natural joining.”

Mr Hall said while optimising fertility was the main focus when culling, traits like conformation and feet were also considered.

Calves are weaned in February for a minimum of 10 days, at about six months old.  “They start off in a small yard then they go out into a small run-out paddock and get locked up each night,” he said. “The main part of that is the handling of them and exposing them to different things such as dogs, horses and children.”

During weaning, they are fed a combination of barley straw and locally grown cotton seed. “Cotton seed is easy to feed and they can’t get too much of it.  “We’ve found barley straw softer on young cattle and doesn’t scratch around their mouths as much.”

Since 1990, the Halls have been targeting feedlots with the steer portion of the annual drop, selling them at about 420 kilograms live weight.

“We have a good relationship with our markets but we will sell to whoever offers the most money,” Mr Hall said.

Steers being prepared for the feedlot grazed on forage crops, which usually included about 200ha of barley or oats when the season allowed.

The heifer portion was assessed and either kept as future breeders or culled and sold through a number of avenues.  One of these avenues was offloading to fellow Team Te Mania members.

As a part of Team Te Mania, the Halls could access both live bulls and semen from the Te Mania program, as well as expand marketing opions for steers and females.

“We have a few options with the black heifers such as live export, restockers or anybody else in the Te Mania team,” he said.

Mr Hall had established a good relationship with previous restocker buyers of his heifers and occasionally contacted them to offload his stock.  “We offer them to other Team Te Mania members first,” he said.

“While I do like to see them go to other breeders, they are a by-product of our business and we need to make sure we leave enough room on our property for the ones that have been classed in as our future breeders.”

Access to top genetics without spending up big

GARRY Hall can’t justify spending $20,000 or more on bulls, so he leases them instead.

As part of Team Te Mania, Mr Hall is able to satisfy his sire needs without needing to spend big dollars to access top genetics.

Following the 2008-09 drought, Mr Hall became involved in the program.

“We skip ahead a generation in genetic gain because we are using the latest bulls from Te Mania,” he said.

The alternative was to purchase bulls at $20,000 and greater but Mr Hall said he could not justify the expense.  “I couldn’t compete with the top price although I would have liked to access the genetics,” he said.

Mr Hall compared the cost of purchasing bulls at $5000 to $7000 each with the cost of leasing them for the three-year period offered as part of the Team Te Mania deal.

“Ultimately, the costs were on par, so the benefit was getting the latest genetics because we were turning over our bulls every three years,” he said.

Costs like transport from the Victorian border were also factored into his comparative equation.

Mr Hall said any bulls that brokedown were replaced by Te Mania so he only had fully fit sires in his battery.

Besides the benefits of group marketing, the knowledge sharing between members was positive and goes a long way to improving the viability of their operations.

Mr Hall said he was using a combination of leasing bulls and artificial insemination (AI) in his annual joining program.  “Straws at $13 are a fantastic deal,” he said.

“We get reasonably good conception rates but still back up with a natural joining.” The females are chemicallyco-ordinated to cycle at a certain time and all are inseminated during that period.
Costs included $30.85 per cow for the drugs and insemination, plus travel of $200 per day.

OBJECTIVES IN FOCUS AT WARREN

(Article courtesy The Land, By Natalie Elias, January 2011)

AS THEIR Angus enterprise expands, Garry and Leanne Hall, “The Mole”, Warren, are keeping their production objectives firmly in focus to ensure a harmonious rise in herd size and quality.

This was the first year the Halls had joined 800 females – an increase from 550 – on the 5250-hectare property, which has been in Mr Hall’s family since 1936.

Pregnancy testing had been common practice at “The Mole” since the early 1970s, and maintaining a high level of fertility in females had always been at the top of the breeding objectives list.

“We are aiming for females whose energy requirements are not too high,” Mr Hall said.  “We want cows that, in a marginal environment and an average season, can still get back in calf, and as soon as possible.” Any heifers that failed to produce a calf, or cows that did not conceive each year, were culled.  Mr Hall said while optimizing fertility was the main focus when culling, traits like gestation length, survivability, good conformation and constitution were also considered.
The Halls, who have a strong focus on performance genetics, in the past had drawn on bloodlines from Wallaroy and Ardenside studs.
For the the past six years, however, they had used bulls from Te Mania.  Mr Hall said the bulls had always performed well.

In early 2010, they had also joined Team Te Mania – an alliance of Angus producers from across Victoria, NSW and South Australia who used Te Mania genetics.

All the members had access to the latest Te Mania genetics through a bull leasing program and
collectively marketed their beef.  They also worked together to advance the fertility and performance of their herds, resulting in more cattle reaching commercial targets in shorter periods.

The nucleus herd also benefited from vital production feedback, which was then used to further finetune the genetic program.
Mr Hall said at first he was slightly apprehensive about signing up to a group, feeling that it might mean relinquishing some control of his enterprise.

“It was a big decision for us, as we are particularly conscious of the quality of animals we bring on to our property,” he said. Nearly 12 months on, however, he had no regrets and felt a better article and improved market access would result.  He also enjoyed engaging with other team members.

The Halls aim to grow steers out to 420 kilograms before selling direct to Rangers Valley feedlot, Glen Innes, for finishing.
Any surplus cattle were first offered to fellow Team Te Mania members before being sold at the Walgett feature store cattle sale.
Cows were joined at a ratio of about 50 females to one bull in late September for a June/July calving. Breeder heifers were joined the following September at 15 months.

Artificial insemination had never been used at “The Mole”, but only because Mr Hall felt limited by the property’s location.
Cattle were raised mostly on the Macquarie Marshes’ water couch grasslands, which dominated most of the grazing country on “The Mole”.  Steers being prepared for the feedlot grazed on forage oat crops.

Mr Hall, keen to reduce his production costs, believed Meat and Livestock Australia’s cost of-production calculator was a useful tool in this regard.  As part of a cattle management plan, all male progeny are sold at the end of the year in which they were weaned – a decision driven by the fact the Halls had found their cattle did not gain much weight over summer.  Mr Hall said it made more sense to turn the cattle off rather than have them essentially take food from the mouths of next year’s cow-and-calf units.

Early handling pays dividends

GETTING in early is the key to having a well-behaved herd, according to Garry and Leanne Hall, “The Mole”, Warren.  Cattle are weaned at “The Mole” in February – at which point the Halls implemented what they describe as their most important management tool.  They believed intensive management of cattle at weaning had a substantial impact on herd temperament and greatly improved stock handling.

In the past, weaning at “The Mole” involved yarding the weaners for four to five days before they were turned out – a practice employed by the Halls for 30 years.  During the drought years, however, they started spending more time with the weaner cattle.   For three to four weeks the weaners were given high exposure to horses, dogs and young children.  They believed this instilled discipline in the cattle and made them easier to move as a mob later on.  As a result, feeder steers were much calmer when being loaded, reducing transport losses. Mr Hall is pictured moving bulls recently.

(Below)  The Halls, Teague, Garry and Jet, mustering in the bumper season, December 2016.  Photos by Leanne Hall

             Richard Eldershaw, Rangers Valley with Hamish McFarlane, Te Mania Angus and Garry Hall, The Mole