RICHARD McFarlane is not letting the grass grow under his feet.
Although, after four long, very dry years, he is more than happy to see plenty of that sprouting on his property, Wellington Lodge, near Tailem Bend in South Australia.
The sixth generation of McFarlanes on the historic setting at the junction of the Murray and the Coorong, Richard and his wife, Emma, have set about returning it to its former grandeur with the purchase of almost 3000ha of adjoining country. Bringing the aggregation to a paddock or two under 9000ha. Which also means he needs cattle, a lot of cattle, to make the most of his purchase.
“The farm was broken up three generations ago, one of those things where various family members wanted their piece,” Richard said. “So the opportunity to get back this productive slice of adjoining country, it only settled on September 20, was too good to miss. “Fortunately this year there is a lot more water and the lake (Alexandrina) has filled again, so that is good timing.” Mind you, Richard has only seen his new land twice. He has been otherwise engaged artificially inseminating 600 Angus cows. Although this year has been easier – in normal seasons it would be 900-plus. “We have had to run the herd down because of the drought,” he said. “The past four years have been pretty tough in this corner of the state. “You would think with the lakes in your backyard that wouldn’t be the case but they all but disappeared.”
Wellington Lodge was a foundation member of the Team Te Mania commercial alliance, giving it access to the cutting edge genetics coming out of Mortlake’s Te Mania Angus. Which explains the total AI policy. “Since joining Team Te Mania we have been able to fast-track the genetic profile of our herd at a speed no-one would have thought possible only a few years ago,” Richard said.
My parents, Keith and Janet, took us into the Team in the 1990s and we have not looked back. “It means our steers are sought after by feedlots, with most going straight to Rangers Valley, which wants them for their structure, their growth, yield and marbling.
“But it also makes Wellington Lodge females just as sought after.” Last December, for the first time, Richard entered the Southern Angus Breeders Sale at Naracoorte, winning best-presented pen of pregnancy-tested-in-calf heifers with a line of 17 along the way. So he is planning a return visit this year.
They also sell females in the Team Te Mania online commercial female sale in autumn, as well as in other female sales in South Australia.
But right now, the thing which is setting Wellington Lodge apart in the commercial Angus industry is its phenomenal, and relentless, drive to ever-earlier weaning. Richard said they have got the program to the point where calves are now being weaned at 2 1/2 months. He said doing it before joining made life a lot easier for their AI program. It has also helped carry the nucleus herd through the drought. But the big plus was it allowed them to step up to a calf every year. “Our cattle ran on a 15-month mating program,” Richard said. “Calves were being weaned initially at 4 1/2 months but now we have really brought that down. “I don’t know of anyone else doing it this quickly. “We have also discovered that mating straight after weaning is having no impact on our high conception rates. “At a calf every 15 months, when we crunched the numbers, was a better result because our pregnancy rates were so much higher – it’s just that now we can do that even faster.”
Wellington Lodge has also switched from four calvings to three – in March, June and September. Dropping one calving saved calves from summer heat and gave the McFarlanes and their staff a welcome break from the same weather. “We have learnt some important lessons along the way. “One is that we have set a limit of 80kg for our calves to be weaned, because we have found it is very difficult to keep an animal going forward if it was under that. “Anything less than 80kg at weaning (usually the later calves) is kept on its mother, she gets with the bull and we sell the unit PTIC with calf at foot. “This also means we are culling our cows that calve too late and improving our overall fertility. “It usually equates to about 5 per cent of the mob at each weaning. “We see no variance in the weights of weaners from heifers compared to those from cows.”
Richard said weaners must also be well transitioned from the feedlot to the pasture. This means slowly reducing their grain diet as they are put out to pasture. This prevents them from going backwards and speeds up the time it takes to get them to a saleable weight. “Weaners in the feedlot cannot handle a very rich diet,” he said. “Ours are fed on ad-lib cereal hay and 1kg of barley/lupins per head per day.
“We have also found mineral trace element supplementation is very important, and we do this through the water.” Speaking of water, with plenty of it back in the lake, Richard is also hoping to return to his normal management program. And with a better season, more land and a desperate need to rebuild the herd that means getting a move on. Water also means reactivating the property’s irrigation cropping. Traditionally that has been lucerne, and Richard is already planning a summer crop. That’s on top of 1300ha-plus of canola, wheat and barley.
And, in his spare time, making sure son Tom, six, the seventh generation of McFarlanes at Wellington Lodge, starts getting a feel for the business.
Article and photos courtesy of WeeklyTimesNow
Photos – Water returns: leading South Australian beef producer Richard McFarlane weans calves at two-and-a-half months.
Family tradition: Richard and Emma want to improve Wellington Lodge for their children, Tom, 6, and Skye, 3
- Breedplan recorded, Angus Commercial Register
- EU Accredited
- Johne’s Status – Beef Only
- CattleCare Accredited
- Calving period – Mar, Jun, Sep