ON Tonga Station; in Victoria’s famous High Country near Mansfield, Mark Calvert-Jones is only too aware that insurance is the bet you have to lose to win.
He and his team have just finished cutting and baling their incredible annual ryegrass surplus on the back of the two best seasons they have had in their 25 years on the property.
Next step: dig a seriously big hole, drop the large bales in, cover with plastic and bury.
And he’s hoping he doesn’t have to dig it up again for a very long time.
“The last lot we did went into the ground in 2010 and we didn’t have to pull it up until 2019; and you really have to need it because it’s a big job getting it out of there,” Mark laughed.
Mark and his wife Louise today run 1000 spring-calving Angus breeders and as members of Team Te Mania since 2005 have seen their herd grow from its nucleus 550 in that time as they fast-tracked their genetic progress with the Team’s advance access to the next-generation genetics from Te Mania Angus.
Their goal has been a bigger frame, but not at the expense of the right structure; decent-sized hips, straight across the back, good feet – the whole package.
He said being able to incorporate the Angus industry’s most dominant estimated breeding values “goes without saying” when using Te Mania Angus sires
While adding the proof was in the cattle, he said many people may not realise the level of scrutiny you are under as a potential member of Team Te Mania.
“Te Mania Angus assesses all our cattle – all of them – and they look at feet, teats, back, markings and especially temperament,” Mark said.
“All heifers are graded from one to five; ones and twos enter the breeding program, while fours and fives are usually sold,” he said.
“This was also how Team Te Mania and its members determined which bulls were joined to which females for the best genetic improvement – enabling us to go after as good an animal, with the figures, as you can get.
“But, up here, she must have also have fertility, calving ease and calves with growth – all the cattle are synchronised for joining, which involves yarding cattle three times in nine days. Although this increases labour, improved conception rates more than make up for it.”
Mark said now between their AI program and back-up bulls they are realising 90-92 per cent conception rates “and you can’t do a whole lot better than that”.
Tonga Station has 4000 acres across two properties; one 15km due south of Mansfield on the Delatite River and the other about the same distance due north.
He said the northern property, which he sees as their primary finishing block, is set up for cell grazing with an excellent water supply network of troughs “and it is much flatter than the land at our home”.
Mark also credits a lot of Tonga’s success on farm manager Troy Mahoney, who joined them 15 years ago as a jackaroo out of Dookie Agricultural College.
“Truly valuable staff are hard to find; and even harder to keep; and Troy does a brilliant job with the farm and has his hand on everything; which helps make things so much easier as we do a lot of moving stock around between the properties as well as the workload for joining and calving and all the other nuts and bolts of the beef industry,” Mark added.
“We target the lucrative marbling market, with our steers headed to Rangers Valley at Glen Innes; aiming to turn off spring-drop steers the following Christmas at 450-550kg for either the domestic trade or feedlot entry.
“But we have also established a very successful annual female sale on December 3; which has been running with AuctionsPlus since 2015 and this year (2021) we offered and sold 250 females to a high of $5220 for 6.5-7.5 year females; with calves at foot,” he said.
“It was an amazing sale, and even though our agent had forewarned us the market was strong, who would have thought it would be this big?
“We identify the females to be sold before joining and their calves are tagged at birth and we work out how many will actually be going – and staying.”
Tonga Station was already using Te Mania Angus bulls but, since joining Team Te Mania, Mark said there had been significant improvement in several key areas.
“Calving, for example, is so much easier; and our frame is getting better and better every year,” he said.
“We have to acknowledge we are price takers – so we are focused on getting the best price we can and the most kilos we can as fast as possible and the Team Te Mania partnership with Rangers Valley is a valuable asset.
“And, if you can produce a good line of cattle other people might be interested in, you keep your options open.”
Just as he is taking out his insurance, in a silage pit, because even though Tonga has had two incredible seasons; nothing is more certain than death or taxes that the next average, or worse, season could be just around the corner.
“But right now we’ve got the sunshine, we’ve got plenty of grass to do silage and hay, we’ve got water; we’ve got a red-hot market – it doesn’t get much better than this.”
Calving Period: August to September
Number of breeders: 1000
Team Te Mania since 2005