Boosting efficiencies across board

For northern beef producers Owen and Brigid Price, the Northern Breeding Business (NB2) program provided the opportunity to confidently implement management changes within a quicker timeframe after they purchased an additional property near Rockhampton, Queensland.

“Moving from the brigalow belt to coastal country meant there were gaps in our knowledge base that the NB2 program helped bridge,” Owen said.

“By leveraging the combined wisdom of industry experts and experienced producers, NB2 allowed us to confidently implement management changes within a quicker timeframe than if we were having to rely on trial and error.

“Everyone who moves to a new area has a steep learning curve. There is generally a time lag involved in the education process so NB2 came along at the right time for us.

“The other great thing that appealed to us with NB2 was the fact we could bring our 19-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter to the meetings.

The whole business could participate, and we could bring the next generation along so we’re all talking the same language and give them an opportunity to learn.”

The family appreciated the opportunity to ask practical on-the-ground questions at the NB2 meetings held at participants properties.

“NB2 provides exposure to other business models so you can benchmark your business against other producers and see how they do things and challenge yourself to give it a go,” Brigid said.

“It’s a great time to be a beef producer and we’re maximising this opportunity to invest back into our business.

“Being a family-owned and operated business, we need efficiencies across the board.”

Kicking goals

The Prices had a development plan ready to implement upon purchase of the new property. In the past 12 months they have:

  • commenced a fencing program, extending the laneway system on the property to make mustering easier and achieve greater grazing management control
  • implemented a phosphorous management program and a herd management program with controlled joining
  • replaced the predominantly bos indicus bull herd with the tropically adapted bos taurus Belmont Red genetics to increase female fertility.

Doing data better

Building on conversations within the NB2 group, the Prices have started to use more data, moving away from a herd-based data model and adopting an individual animal data model.

“The NB2 group conversations challenge us to question why we do things a certain way and give us insights into other operations,” Owen said.

“NB2 discussions have complemented where our business management plans were heading.”

This year, the Prices adopted an individual animal data recording system using the APS Gallagher app and AgriWebb.

“Having those frank discussions with other producers is really beneficial and the conversation around individual animal data records cemented our decision to implement a system that could work at scale for us,” Brigid said.

Faster tech adoption

The Prices have accelerated their uptake of technology on-farm in recent years as they strive to obtain efficiencies across all areas of their business.

They have implemented the following data-recording systems and tools:

  • Optiweigh to monitor live weight gain
  • AgriWebb and APS to record individual animal data
  • Cibolabs to measure pasture biomass to assist with pasture budgeting
  • electronic pressure sensors on pumps to extend the range of water flow
  • remote water monitoring
  • all water pumps converted to solar pumping with electric pressure shut-off.

“A beneficial outcome is the automation of data recording. We no longer record information in notebooks or on mobiles which had to be transferred to spreadsheets later,” Owen said.

“It’s definitely a time saver entering data straight into the app or having it done in real time at the source.”

Ag-tech supports labour efficiency

It’s just Owen and his son Rob in the paddock, so adopting on-farm technology is important to gain labour efficiencies.

“We’re increasing the number of properties we’ve got but we’re not growing our permanent labour units, so we’re developing properties to make them really efficient,” Brigid said.

“We’ve recently purchased Ceres satellite tracking tags to put in our bulls to monitor them during the controlled mating period.

“There are inefficiencies in our business because we have a lot of range and escarpment country with rivers in our forest and brigalow blocks, which makes finding the bulls challenging on the days you set out to remove them from the paddock.

“We could spend 10 days looking for a bull, but with a satellite tag we’re hoping to be able to roughly work out where he is and muster him that day.”

Accuracy over gut feel

The in-paddock Optiweigh system has made a huge difference in terms of when the Prices market cattle and ensuring target weight specifications are met.

“Previously we would have a small percentage that fell outside the grid.

Now, we’ve eliminated this problem and reduced the number of times we need to put cattle through the yards,” Owen said.

“We can forecast when we’re going to sell cattle within a two-week period and we can get them as close to the maximum specification as possible. Plus, we can draft and truck all in the one day.

“We’re not driving around making best guesses anymore. We’ve got hard data to make good decisions.”

More cattle in spec

When it comes to weight loss, the Prices now know exactly how much weight the cattle lose, not just when they truck them but also from the paddock to the yards.

“From having accurate data, we worked out we were losing 4% in weight from the paddock to the scales in the yards, this is on top of the 5% lost in transit to the feedlot,” Brigid said.

“We are now making confident selling decisions without having to bring cattle into the yards to weigh them before they’re marketed. Knowing how much weight they’re set back each time they’re yarded or even moved between paddocks has been surprising.

“The data has allowed us to get a better group of cattle into a weight range and not blow them out the top of the grid which we occasionally did in the past. Now that’s not an issue because we’ve got such a good handle on average daily gains in the paddock.”

Data-backed grazing management

Owen said the average daily weight gain data also allows them to rotate cattle through paddocks before feed quality negatively impacts performance.

The Prices equate using Cibolabs to guide stock rotation with having someone else ‘looking over their shoulder’ to help check how their feedbase is going.

“Cibolabs helps streamline the stock rotation process for us as it’s constantly updating pasture biomass information, so we know exactly how much dry matter there is in each paddock,” Brigid said.

“With more than 28,000ha and 20 mobs of cattle to monitor it makes things easier and ensures we comply with the new Reef Regulation laws in Queensland.”

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