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Te Mania Alliance a Winner, by Cara Jeffery, Stock and Land, February 9, 2012

ALTHOUGH Ian and Pam Robertson have dabbled in prime lamb production and breeding red cattle, it is blacks that now hold pride of place at the couple’s property west of Hamilton.
Investment in quality genetics from the well-known Te Mania stud has seen the Robertsons’ enterprise, Wave Hills, Tahara, rise to prominence in less than a decade, with their stock highly sought after.

The Robertsons began breeding Herefords 40 years ago and for 30 years ran separate Hereford and Angus herds, but they quickly swung over to pure Angus in 2000 once the drought hit.

“When we ran into severe drought, something had to go and we sold the Herefords,” Mr Robertson said.

This year, the Robertsons will join 700 Angus breeders for a split calving in autumn and spring. The females will be joined over a tight six-week period.

Mr Robertson said about 250 cows and heifers were artificially inseminated each year by a technician, using the very best young Te Mania sire semen.

The couple also lease bulls from Te Mania as part of the Team Te Maina Alliance they have joined. The Robertsons have used Te Mania genetics exclusively since 2005, when they became members of the alliance.

Mr Robertson said the alliance gave them access to discounted semen from Te Mania’s top young sires such as Ada, Berkley, Emperor and Dacquiri. The bulls are leased for three-year terms from Te Mania and run with the females for six weeks after the AI program has concluded.

Fixed-time AI has been practised by the Robertsons since May last year, achieving conception rates of about 80 per cent.

Since the Robertsons joined the alliance, they have retained all their heifer calves and the older cows have been replaced by Te Mania-sired young breeders.

The Wave Hills herd is now completely Te Mania-sired. “We have embraced the Team Te Mania concept with enthusiasm,” Mr Robertson said. Mr Robertson attends a two-day Te Mania workshop in Victoria each year as he is eager to learn the best practice cattle systems.

The Robertsons say using Te Mania genetics makes for a very marketable beast in the saleyards. “We have really noticed the repeat buyers at sales competing for our cattle,” Mr Robertson said.

To keep the herd uniform, heifers are culled before joining based on a strict selection criteria. Mr Robertson said a strong emphasis was placed on conformation, including legs and feet. “We only join heifers that we would be happy to place into our own herd,” he said. They have now reached the point where only 5pc of heifers are culled.

Mr Robertson said subsequently calves at weaning were now uniform in size and cows were ready to enter the AI program 12 weeks after calving.  Any empty females are sold through the prime market, with the exception of a first-calf heifer that may be given another chance at the next joining.

In autumn last year the Robertsons offered a line of joined heifers for sale on AuctionsPlus for the first time. Mr Robertson said they reached a satisfactory $1405 a head and were purchased by a local district buyer.

The Robertsons’ average rainfall is 700 millimetres – a level they have already exceeded this year. Their main property of 565 hectares at Wave Hills consists of ryegrass and clover pastures, which are spread with super phosphate every second year. The 200ha of leased land at Condah is low-lying strawberry clover country. All young female cattle are grown out at Condah and transported back to Tahara, 40 kilometres away, for calving. Cattle were supplementary-fed hay only in winter last year.

As for the future, Mr Robertson said the cattle market needed to hold at current values for the industry to remain viable for producers.

Pam, Ian and Devan Robertson with Andrew Whan of Miller, Whan and John

Andrew Gubbins and Pam Robertson, Wave Hills