Rayner Reckons

Aug 19

Should you use a consultant?

Posted on Monday, August 19, 2013

Following a couple of discussions I had at a recent bull sale, I decided this weeks Rayner Reckons could be a little different.  Before the sale one farmer wanted to tell me I should be still doing my job as a beef cattle officer and there's no way anyone can afford to pay for livestock advice.

It was an interesting conversation! As a Livestock Officer (Beef Products) with NSW DPI, I loved the opportunity to work with producers.  The role was not just about giving advice.  We did lots of problem solving, teaching new skills, and coming up with new ways to be profitable and sustainable in beef production.  When the Livestock Officer positions were completely deleted from NSW DPI, I knew I wanted to keep doing these things with producers.  And so I founded RaynerAg.

Shortly after that conversation, I was in a yard looking at some bulls, when another farmer came up.  He was someone I've known for a long time.  He also wanted to talk about my old job! But he wanted to know; now he didn't have a beef cattle officer, should he pay for a consultant.  I replied to him, "So you're asking my advice on paying for advice?"  It made us both laugh, and I'm off to visit him in a few days. 

So these two conversations have made me think.  Should you be using a consultant?  Should you be paying for advice?  Is it worth it?  I reckon anything I say to answer those questions might be seen as biased, so I wanted to share a link to a publication I found from the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/07-103).  Its basically a guide to finding and working with consultants on your farm business.

I reckon getting an independent source of advice is essential for your business.  Farming is constantly changing, and farmers have more than enough demands on their time, without adding on time to research and explore new ways or ideas to use on their business.  The independent advice a consultant brings isn't just a fresh set of eyes to your operation, its also a fresh set of ideas and experiences, which can help you get to your goals a lot more quickly.

Is it worth paying for advice? Good advice can result in more money.  I often see my advice being used to save a lot of money.  A couple of weeks ago Rayner Reckons looked at reducing the amount of hay which gets wasted when feeding cows.

After that article, I received an email from a farmer, which he was happy for me to share.  He told me that after reading that article, he worked out he was probably wasting $350 worth of hay a week. He only fed hay for 6 weeks and so he was shocked to realise that he was wasting over $2000.  I'm really pleased to help sort that issue out, and after a day with him, we've picked up a few other ideas, which will also save a heap of money each year.  

The RIRDC report highlights the reasons farmers use consultants.  Some of the reasons included 

  • needing advice to expand and diversify the business

  • having advice on the timing of decisions

  • having a fresh set of eyes

  • because the bank manager or accountant strongly advised them too

  • because farmers valued independent advice which wasn't linked to commission on sales of product

There are some really good tips and suggestions in this guide.  So if you identify with any of those points above, or you would like to push your program along, then maybe using a consultant is the next step.

It would be great if I was the person you'd like to work with. If you think I can help you save some money or make a some more, then please feel free to get in touch!

Aug 13

Don't waste your hay

Posted on Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Late winter can be the coldest time of the year in Australia.  The weather has been really variable in the last few weeks.  Last Thursday I was in Armidale and it was sleeting, while this week we've had temperatures in the low 20's!  The BOM has some great tools to use for farmers looking at the season ahead.  Its definitely worth looking at the BOM website http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/ahead/temps_ahead.shtml so you can plan ahead for the next few weeks.

Cold, windy weather often occurs over the next few months.  In these conditions, hay becomes an important option for farmers seeking to look after their stock more effectively.  Hay offers several advantages at this time of the year.  

Firstly good quality hay should have reasonable levels of energy (ME / DM). This is handy when pastures are short and green, as it can help meet the energy requirements of lactating cows.  Secondly hay is rumen friendly, so it can be fed without requiring an introductory feeding period (which you have to do with grain).  Most importantly for cold, wet and windy weather, as cows digest hay, the rumen is working a little bit harder and so generates more body heat.

While hay is a great option for these reasons, it also has another advantage.  Hay is fairly easy to handle and to feed out.  Cattle don't take long to learn to eat hay, and so it's a pretty simple feeding option.

Just because hay is simple and effective, doesn't mean you can be casual about how you feed it to your cows!

Good hay isn't cheap. Yet some people seem to feed hay in such a way that up to 35% of hay gets wasted.  I reckon if you did your sums correctly, you wouldn't be happy about wasting this much money!

So how do you avoid wasting hay? There are a few things you can do. Firstly hay should be fed in ring feeders or racks.  Using a feeder can reduce waste from 35% down to around 5%.  Secondly you should have more than one feeder. This gives all of your cows a chance to access the hay.

Putting too much hay out will also result in increased losses.  Research from the University of Missouri (http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G4570) looked at how much hay is wasted by putting out lose on the ground vs using hay racks.  The study also looked at what happened when hay was fed every day vs every 7 days.  

When large round or square bales where fed in racks or rings, the waste was around 4.9%.  This compared to a rate of 12.3% when fed across the ground. These losses were just on 1 days worth of hay.

For 7 days supply, the waste level in rings went up to 5.4%. But for 7 days worth of hay spread across the ground, the waste was 43%.  

Sadly its not unusual to see a round bale dropped in a paddock, or rolled out across the ground.  This method of feeding results in waste from trampling and by contamination from dung and urine.  

I reckon its a huge waste of good feed, and a really unnecessary economic waste for any enterprise. 

Investing in some hay racks, or ring feeders will pay off very quickly once you work out just how much hay you can save.

The other handy thing about investing in hay racks or rings is they will come in handy when weaning comes around or to use with some hay to settle your new bulls into the yards on their first night in their new home.

Don't forget if you want some advice on feeding your cows, or anything to help your beef business become more efficient to give me a call.  I'd be very keen to share a few ideas and see how we can achieve your goals more easily.

Aug 05

How much feed do your cows need?

Posted on Monday, August 05, 2013

I really enjoy being out on farms at this time of the year.  In northern NSW and parts of southern Queensland there are plenty of little calves in paddocks.  I love seeing calves grouped up in nurseries, watched over by an older cow.  

When you see this, you know that the cows are off grazing, or possibly watering, and they will be back to let their calves get some milk shortly.

Grazing time is vital for lactating cows.  When a calf is born, a cows daily energy intake doubles.  

Its vital that a cow gets adequate energy from her diet in order to produce enough milk for her new calf.  

Spring calving can be a challenging time for cows, as the supply of feed can be quite limited.  

In many cases the extra energy cows need will come from a combination of daily feed intake and metabolising body fat.

I reckon its really hard to stop cows losing weight after calving.  Most pastures, particularly semi improved or native pastures won't contain the energy or the protein lactating cows need.  Using body fat will help address the deficit and ensure milk supply to the calf.  

The trouble with using body reserves is the flow on effect on the cows returning to oestrus for joining in late spring or early summer.   A big loss in body reserves will delay the cow returning to oestrus, and this can impact on your herd fertility levels.

So just how much feed do your lactating cows need?  This will depend on the live weight of your cows. Bigger cows need more energy for their own maintenance as well as for their milk production requirements.

To give you a basic idea, a 440 kg lactating cow requires a daily intake of 100 MJ ME and 700g of Crude Protein.

Heavier cows will need more than this!

Knowing what your cows need is just part of the challenge.  You need to know what your pastures can provide.  

For example a pasture comprised of Phalaris & Clover should have around 10 MJ/Kg & about 140g CP/Kg.  

If that 440kg cow ate 10kg of this pasture daily, her requirements should be met, and you wouldn't see too much wight loss, or issues with fertility later on.

This is all very good in theory.  In practice the quality of feed at winter, the amount of feed and the intake of your cows will vary.  I reckon the best thing you can do is recognise your cows need a lot of energy and be prepared to closely monitor your cows & their feed intake and be prepared to intervene with some supplements if you think the pastures are not providing all your cows require.  Intervention with supplements or moving to better pastures may prevent more costly losses later on with lower herd fertility.

Don't forget, if you have any questions after reading this, or about how to manage your cows during this time, you can always contact me for some advice.


Jul 26

Sharing ideas & experiences

Posted on Friday, July 26, 2013

I'm very passionate about sharing information, ideas and advice which can help producers run their businesses in a better way.  I was told once by a farmer that there are not many ways in which you can save $100, but if you can find 100 ways to save $1 you will come out in front!

I reckon that's not a bad piece of advice.  Finding ways to save a dollar or to be more efficient with the money you invest in your business is a rewarding part of my job.  I also get a big lift when I can share an experience or an idea I've seen somewhere which can be used to make an impact on someones operation or to solve a new problem.

In the last few years I've been using social media to share some of those ideas, experiences and images.  I reckon one of the great things with Twitter or Facebook is the chance to share events as they are happening.  Good decisions come about from accurate and timely information.  I reckon if I can highlight cattle in a paddock, or an event as it happens, then I've helped producers access that information more quickly and efficiently which might help them make a better decision for their business.  

The other great thing with social media has been a chance to connect with new people who have ideas and experiences with similar challenges to the producers I work with. Being able to share ideas and experiences isn't just good for decision making, but its also important to keep us connected.

In the last few months I've delivered several workshops with producers to work through the opportunities to connect and share their experiences and ideas through social media.  While I've really enjoyed the workshops, I've got so much more pleasure seeing and reading their stories long after the workshops.  It helps me feel connected and involved and every now and then it gives me an idea which I know I can use to help someone else.

Jul 16

Make some time before the sale

Posted on Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Late July, August and September are three exciting months in the annual cattle calendar. Calving for most herds occurs over this time.  At the same time, the majority of the regions annual bull sales take place.  

Buying new bulls is exciting.  The chance to acquire new genetics to lift your herd performance should be exciting. Having said that, I reckon buying a new bull is a process that should start well before sale day.

In earlier posts I've discussed the impact a bull will have on your herd over a few generations, and on the importance of putting a plan in place to bring your bull home from the sale.  Planning shouldn't start when the catalogue arrives in the mail.  It should be on going as you monitor the growth of your cattle; their performance and suitability for your environment and your target markets.

This close attention to production indicators will help you select potential bulls from a catalogue based on their genetic suitability to your enterprise.  Not every bull in a catalogue will suit you.  When you have found those bulls, try and have a look at them before sale time.  As I've said before most bull breeders will be very happy for you to have a look. 

If you don't get a chance to see the bulls before sale day, you really need to make plenty of time before the sale actually starts to get into the yard and check your selected bulls out properly.

Ideally you are looking for a bull that displays the physical attributes which complement the genetics identified in the catalogue.  

I reckon you need to be assessing each bull for his maturity pattern; structural soundness; testicle size and sheath; muscularity and for temperament.  

You should spend your time looking at the bulls which you've selected from the catalogue.  By doing that you will be looking at bulls which you know have the genetics you require for your herds development, and you wont be distracted by bulls which might look good, but genetically don't really suit your enterprise.

Its never a bad thing to take someone along to the sale with you to bounce ideas off and to make sure your assessments don't miss anything.  It can be hard and really isn't fair to ask the vendor on sale day to give you time to go through the bulls.  Some vendors arrange to have an independent industry advisor on hand to help you make your assessments.   Its a role I'm undertaking for several sales this season.  I'm looking forward to helping producers choose the right bull for their operation and environment.  

Once you've made your choice, make sure you have a chance to have a cuppa and catch up with other producers.  Be relaxed and bid only on your chosen bull when the sale starts.  If you do miss out on your chosen bull, don't bid on anything! That desperate last bull may set your operation back a long way.  

If you do miss out, chat to the vendor about what you were looking for.  That personal contact might help find some options which really suit you and your operation.  

If you make your plans and know what you are looking for, get good advice and find the right bull, you will make an investment which will take your herd forward to a new level of performance.

Jul 09

Managing your first calf heifers

Posted on Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Last weekend I was working with a producer, pregnancy testing this years maiden heifers, as well as a large group of first calf heifers.  Unfortunately a large number of the first calf heifers were found to be not in calf. 

First calf heifers, especially those which calve as 2 year olds, can be very difficult to rejoin successfully, and often have lower pregnancy rates when compared against older cows.  

There are a couple of reasons for this.  Cattle in a Fat Score (FS) range of 3 - 4 should take around 50 days to commence cycling after calving.  Younger cows, may take up to 20 days more than this.  If the Fat Score of those cattle is lower than FS 3, the time taken to return to oestrus is increased.  

In a controlled joining program, usually a 12 week program, these delays often see many females failing to go into calf.

I reckon that the first calf heifers are the group of cattle that deserve the most love and attention in a breeding herd.  

Close attention during calving needs to be complemented with access to good quality nutrition.  If pasture quality and quantity are limited, then supplementary feeding is essential.

I also reckon its a good idea to keep the first calf heifers in a separate group to the older cows from calving to joining. This way you can manage their needs more closely and get them ready for joining more efficiently.

Pregnancy testing is a key tool in managing your breeding females.  Finding the non pregnant females early can allow you a chance to either remove those females from the operation, or make some decisions about rejoining.

If you do decide to sell those non pregnant females, consider ways which allows you to capture a higher value.  

After the pregnancy testing on the weekend, I was able to sit down with the producer and we worked out a plan which covered both managing the non pregnant females and some strategies for the pregnant cows and this years group of maiden heifers.  I was really happy to be able to help with that planning and I definitely reckon its one of the most rewarding parts of my business.  

If you do want to discuss some options or put a plan in place for your first calf heifers, feel free to get in touch with me and we can set something in place.

Jul 03

Looking after your calving cows

Posted on Wednesday, July 03, 2013

In Northern NSW, calving is just starting in a lot of beef herds.  I really love seeing new calves appearing in paddocks as I drive about visiting clients

In terms of major events on the cattle calendar, I reckon calving is probably the biggest event.  Its important to manage this event well, as a good calving season will impact on your short and longer term productivity and profitability.

You should aim to put your cows into paddocks where you can supervise them during calving.  

Ideally you should be able to access yards easily if you do need to provide assistance.  

Your calving paddocks need to have good shelter, access to water and most importantly sufficient pasture.

Many people don't realise how much extra energy their cows require once a calf is born. Once that calf arrives, the energy requirements of the cow will effectively double.  If the amount of available pasture, or the quality of the pasture is insufficient, your cow will lose weight and she may also produce less milk which will impact on the growth of your calf.

In the longer term, weight loss post calving will impact on the fertility levels of your herd.  Cows which are in low fat scores at calving, eg Fat Score 2, will take much longer to return to oestrus.  In practical terms, this will see less cows going into calf at joining time, or a longer and more spread out joining which then impacts on next years calving. 

Calving is a challenge particularly for first calf heifers, especially if they are calving as 2 year olds.  This group of females requires a lot more attention, both during the calving period, and immediately post calving.

I reckon managing feed for your newly calved cows is the most important task.  Using an appropriate supplement can help your cows use paddock feed more efficiently and meet some of the energy requirements placed on them as lactating cows.

Ensuring your cow nutrition is correct will help ensure your longer term goals for a fertile productive herd can be met more easily.

The critical time of calving is the during calving and immediately and the months leading up to joining.  Well supervised, well fed cows will be much better suited to joining, while their calves will be better grown and more robust which is important for your future enterprise goals.

I've been spending a bit of time talking with producers about the best ways to manage their calving season.  So if you'd like to get in touch, I can help you develop a plan to manage your newly calved cows.

Jun 27

Bringing your new bull home

Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013

In the last few posts I've talked about the things you should consider when you are looking to purchase a new bull.  Its great to hear from several clients who said they found that advice helpful as they look for this seasons new sires.

Several of the producers I've been working with have already bought bulls in preparation for Spring joining.  I reckon its important to mention the things you need to consider when you bring your new bull home.

The first thing to remember is you own the bull from the moment the hammer falls, so think about how you want him to be cared for and transported home.  Consider some transport insurance as well.

When you do get your new bull home, remember he will feel pretty unsettled.  Its best to let him into the yards with a few steers or some older cows for company.  

If you have bought bulls from different properties, you need to make sure they are put into separate yards.  

Give your new bull some hay and make sure there is water in the yards and then leave him (or them) alone to settle down.

Its important to undertake routine health treatments, and you need to speak with the vendor before hand regarding any treatments for worms, fluke, lice and health treatments such as 5 in 1 and Vibriosis vaccinations.

Remember your new bull will take a little while to settle in to his new home.  

So when you work him through the yards give him space and time to learn the new way of doing things.

When you do let him put of the yards, let him into a well secured paddock with good feed and water with a few steers for company. Not only do the steers provide some company, but they will help your new bull find the water and settle into his new home with much less stress.

The other good thing to do is to have a quick follow up call to the bull breeder.  They do like to know that you and the bull got home safely as well as knowing about how he has settled in to his new environment. 


Jun 24

Doing your homework

Posted on Monday, June 24, 2013

I spent most of last week visiting seedstock producers across the New England and North West Slopes.  The opportunity to spend time looking at this years sale bulls is vital for a number of reasons.

A bull makes a contribution to your enterprise which is longer lasting than just next years calf drop.

The influence a bull brings into your herd extends up to three generations.  So making sure the bull has the genetic and physical attributues to take your herd forward is a essential step prior to purchase.

I reckon the other important part of pre sale inspections is the chance to develop a relationship with the bull breeder.  A strong relationship is good for buyer and seller.  You can share information about the bull you need and pass information on regarding performance and suitability.  

So in my mind, a week to look at peoples bulls a few months out from sale time does two things.  I get to see plenty of good bulls, some of which I'll try and encourage my clients to look at.  Secondly I had a chance to catch up and learn about the directions and ideas of our bull breeders, which will help me give better advice to my clients.

If you are looking for a bull this year, and you haven't made your mind up on the right bull for you, I suggest you call your breeder, jump in the car and go and have a look.  You might find the right bull, and you might also develop a relationship which helps you out in years to come.

Jun 17

Some Tips for Feeding White Cottonseed to your cows

Posted on Monday, June 17, 2013

In the last few weeks I've had quite a few people asking me about using White Cottonseed in their supplementary feeding programs.  

White Cottonseed is a great feed, and I reckon is one of the more versatile options for graziers undertaking a feeding program.  White Cottonseed is rumen friendly, which means it doesn't require introductory feeding or building up an amount each day.  White Cottonseed has good energy levels, around 13 MJ/ME and good protein levels, generally around 20% CP.  

This means White Cottonseed can help your cattle utilise poor quality pasture more efficiently, and it adds some extra energy into their daily intake.

White CottonseedBecause White Cottonseed is fluffy, the grains cling to each other.  The practical upshot of this, is you can't store it in a silo or feed it through a self feeder.  

You can feed it in dumps straight onto the ground, or in troughs.  Ideally you would feed it every second day.

The daily rate for feeding White Cottonseed shouldn't exceed more than 30% of the animals daily intake.

Its also important to know White Cottonseed needs a functioning rumen to be properly digested.   This means DON'T feed it to calves under 150kg live weight; to horses or to pigs.

The NSW DPI has really useful fact sheet on feeding White Cottonseed to cattle,  It has the recommendations and amounts for all classes of stock.


Don't forget if you do want some advice on White Cottonseed or supplementary feeding I'd be happy to have a chat with you.

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