Advantages of taking it slow in cattle production

Cattle producer Russell Lethbridge a big believer in slower handling

Beef
Cattle in the Werrington Cattle Company operation undergo training and careful handling to help them better deal with the stresses of the business.

Cattle in the Werrington Cattle Company operation undergo training and careful handling to help them better deal with the stresses of the business.

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Well-known northern beef producer Russell Lethbridge believes that slow can be better when it comes to cattle production.

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Well-known northern beef producer Russell Lethbridge believes that slow can be better when it comes to cattle production.

Mr Lethbridge's family business, Werrington Cattle Company, comprises about 161,874 hectares (400,000 acres), with 13,000 to 14,000 head of cattle run across four properties in North and Central Queensland.

Mr Lethbridge runs pure Brahman cattle, selling into a range of feedlots. The operation's target market is providing steers over 450 kg to the 100 days on feed sector, with most of their heifers going into the 70-day domestic trade market across Darling Downs feedlots.

He said it's unfortunate that success in the industry is often measured by how fast things get done.

"We've all heard it, we drafted 1500 cows... and got it done in half the time," he said.

But Mr Lethbridge recalls a quote from a John Wayne movie- "The quickest way to move cattle, my boys, is slowly."

"That's stuck with me and it's very much relevant to everything we do," he said.

"We invest time and money into our people and then going on they will invest time into teaching and training our animals to handle the pressures of everyday stock handling and the environment changes that they go through.

"It's certainly not a cost because it pays us back many, many times over."

The same effort in training animals is put into trade cattle as well as the breeders.

"There are a lot of outfits out there in the north who are doing a great job in terms of training and handling," Mr Lethbridge said.

"We all need to do more in this space given the current social expectations and just because it the right thing to do. "

"I don't know of any other areas where you can achieve more gains in production than in getting the psychology of your animals right."

The company's holdings include 24, 281 hectare (60,000 acre) Werrington, 250km west of Townsville; their backgrounding block 30,351ha 75,000 acre) Rainmore near Alpha and recent purchase 101171ha (250,000 acre) Amber Station, Mount Surprise. Cattle are also being agisted on Howlong, Forsayth.

The purchase of Amber Station will allow the Lethbridges to run an extra 3000 breeders, bringing their total breeder herd up to between 8000 and 9000 head.

The operation has used genetics from the CBV Brahman stud, Belah Valley, Marlborough for the past 20 years.

Cattle have access to a phosphorus supplement year round, with a 30pc urea dry lick introduced in dry times. Mr Lethbridge said supplementing plays a dual purpose, also providing cattle with vital human contact.

Russell Lethbridge in Dalby for the lotfeeding industry's SmartBeef conference.

Russell Lethbridge in Dalby for the lotfeeding industry's SmartBeef conference.

Fertility's key role in building herd

When it comes to looking at bulls' estimated breeding values, there's one trait that's up there with temperament for Werrington Cattle Company- fertility.

Russell Lethbridge said the company is very strict on fertility, with the result an 88 to 92pc pregnancy rate in their heifers.

It also boasts a 73pc weaning rate.

Two-year-old heifers are put through a 12-week joining period starting from November.

The ones that don't have a calf by December the following year are culled.

Mr Lethbridge said that with such a strict culling program, it wouldn't be fair on their females if they didn't select bull for fertility.

Another key part of the equation is feeding heifers M8U as a supplement for three or months of the year to avoid reproductive issues that can occur if females are adequately nourished in their first 12 months.

"We have a responsibility to our heifers to do our best to help them with fertility," Mr Lethbridge said.

The bull percentage rate rests at 2.5pc.

"There's no point wasting bull capacity," he said.

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