Rayner Reckons

Jul 12

Some tips before your head out to the new job

Posted on Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Over the past few years I’ve noticed growing interest from many young people keen to make their careers in agriculture.  It’s exciting to see so much enthusiasm and excitement about cattle, cropping and agriculture in general.  I think it’s a great to see people with passion and excitement looking to make their careers in the industry. 

I’m often asked for some tips and advice from young people taking their first steps towards an agricultural career. I know every job is slightly different, and every person approaches situations from a slightly different level of skill and ability, but I reckon there are a few basic tips that might be applicable to anyone heading out to the stations.

There are plenty of tips for young people heading out to stations.  One of the best is from the regular blogs that are shared by the stations contributing to the Central Station Blog.  So if you are keen to make your way, check those tips out as you prepare.  Having said that, a few things have struck me and I think are worth sharing as well.

Tip 1: Be polite and courteous!  You’d think that would be a given!  But a lot of people these days seem to believe that a resume with their educational achievements and previous employment is all that is needed to secure a position.  Actually, your manner and your interaction with your new employer carries so much more weight than the CV. I reckon its important to remember that the opportunity to start your career shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Appreciate the opportunities and be respectful of the working environment you hope to enter.

Tip 2: Present yourself well & look after your gear:  As much as we would all like to believer that appearance isn’t everything, how you present yourself is often seen as reflection on how you care for yourself and any of the gear you might be trusted with.  If you are prepared to take a little time to be neat, tidy and care for yourself, it indicates you’re probably going to look after the equipment you’ve been trusted with.

Tip 3: Learn to Listen and Pay Attention!!  No one expects you to know how to do every job straight away! But equally, no one wants to explain how to do things over and over.  So when you get a new job given to you, pay attention the first time.  Watch, listen and ask questions.  Don’t pretend you understand if you don’t get something.  If you don’t get it, ask then and there.  Its better to ask the first time, then to go off and half do a job or stuff things up because you weren’t paying attention and you didn’t understand.

Tip 5: Don’t expect people to look after your gear!  In any job you are going to be trusted with equipment.  Some of it might be brand new. Some of it might be older.  It doesn’t matter.  If you are trusted with something, look after it and respect it!  Secondly, if you are using it, you’re responsible for it.  So don’t expect the boss to have to re fill water containers, charge radios, or check you have everything for the day. 

Tip 6:  Look for the jobs you can do to be useful:  In any job, there are often little things you can do to make the job a bit easier or quicker for the rest of the team.  It could be setting the gates and yards up before the cattle are bought close to the yards.  It might be putting on the lunch billy or switching over water troughs.  Get used to looking for the little jobs and doing them without being asked to.  It helps the team and it makes the job a bit easier for everyone.

Now I know there are plenty of other tips and suggestions.  But I reckon these few can be boiled down to the simple ones of be respectful, listen, learn, and ask; help each other and take responsibility for yourself.  Be part of a team.  These are the skills that you can build a career around.  In any job you go to, regardless of it being on a farm, a station or any other field of agriculture, these are the ones that will help you make your mark and lead you to a more rewarding and enjoyable career.

May 27

Data to Drive Innovation

Posted on Friday, May 27, 2016

Do you collect data on your farm?  What are you doing with it?  Have you ever stopped to think about what you are recording and why you’re actually doing it?

I’ve been thinking about farm data for a few days now.  I recently listened to a podcast featuring Alastair Campbell. If you don’t know that name, he was the former Director of Communications and Strategy for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  I’m happy to say the podcast was from the US University of Chicago called the Axe Files and I was listening to different approaches to leadership and communication. 

There was some really interesting ideas in these podcasts.  However the one that sticks in my mind was the conversation with Alastair Campbell.  He made a comment about collecting data. And why do it. 

His point was that in sports, data collection is essential and is used to drive innovation.  To make the athletes, the players or the team that much better and more successful in their pursuit of better performance.  Conversely his comment was that in his experience with politics, data isn’t used that way at all.  Instead of driving innovation, data was used to confirm a bias, and to preserve the status quo. 

I’ve found it really hard to stop thinking about this comment!  In some ways it makes so much sense.  Sport and any level is about getting better.  No matter if its just social cricket or professional soccer, sport is about improvement.  Think about it!  We practice, we train, we look for coaching. 

At the elite levels there are coaches of specialist skills.  I know my team, the Sydney Swans has kicking coaches as well as trainers and nutritionists and other specialists to monitor every part of the team with the goal of winning a premiership!

At the social level there is often someone coaching training, offering advice, recording the scores and monitoring the performances of the team.  All of that data collected in the search for continual improvement.  And often that search results in something innovative coming along that makes a difference.

So what’s happening in the farm business?  Are we doing the same thing? Is the data we collect being used to drive innovation and achieve improvement?  Or are we using it to conform our bias.

Think about you farming business as if it was your favorite sporting team.  I did this thinking about my firefighting championship team.  We have a team of 6 people.  I know them all very well.  I know who is fast, who is strong.  There is one member who can be relied on to do one job perfectly without fumbling!  I know where we prefer to compete and who does what.  In short we know the team well.  Secondly, we practice and we try to keep ourselves at the level where we are doing the right thing every time, until we don’t need to think about it too much, it just happens. 

I reckon your team might be the same.  You would know the strengths of all your team players.  You would know what they were good at, what they can do well.  If there was something that needed improving you would all talk about it and practice it until it improved.  You probably all have a chance to share advice.  And I guess you might have a coach who is watching everything.  The person who looks at the data and the things you are doing and gives you the guidance to improve after seeing all this objectively.

So now, I want you to think about your farm business.  Firstly if it was a team, can you confidently say you know all the strengths and weakness of your business?  Do you know how you stock, your pastures, your environment responds to different challenges.  If you had to be objective could you point to a specific area that needed improvement?

Next, how do you know this?  Are you observing the performance of your business objectively?  Remember its pretty hard to be objective about your performance while you are in the middle of the game!  If we quickly look at sport again, when you are playing you don’t always get the luxuary of stopping to see if you are doing the right thing to help your team win.  You tend to be focused on the game and need the input of the coach to help you get it right.

So in your business, if youre so focused on day to day operation, are you really as objective as you should be? Can you think of a coach or even some specialist coaches who can monitor you and your performance and work with you to refine your approach and decisions?

The other key part of this is what data are you collecting.  Now most farmers tell me they keep good records. I know some farmers keep amazing records.  I also know plenty who don’t keep anything!  Its true!  I’ve been to places to preg test, and the owners has had no idea about how many cows we will be testing let alone think about fertility rates!  Seriously!

So records or farm data. Some of it is comprehensive.  Some of it is lacking.   But what do we do with it after its collected?

Are you using it to measure your performance?  What are the trends?  What does the data show you, and are you looking at ways to tweak your business. Tweaking is about finding ways to be innovative and do better. 

The best example I can think of is a client I’ve worked with on the New England tablelands.  We identified an issue where the MSA scores of cattle sent off tended to fall during several winter months.  Now that was a costly issue we wanted t solve.  Now strangely enough the fall wasn’t so much as a direct result of the cold weather. 

When we looked at the MSA data, and compared it to the farm weather records, we couldn’t blame the snow and sleet.  In fact the MSA scores were a little better on average when the weather had been a bit bleak.  What we found was when the bleak weather came, my client offered some supplementary feeds and this resulted in less stress on the cattle and so the pH and the MSA scores were a bit better.

The more we looked across several records the more we could see that whe it was a dry winter, MSA scores were a bit lower, because the client wasn’t adding any extra feed to the paddock feed.  So energy was a bit lower at slaughter and MSA scores were lower as a result.

We ended up developing a late autumn – winter feeding program for this enterprise.  Yes it cost a little to feed the stock, but the increased MSA scores and payment on quality offset it.

That to me is tweaking and using data to be a bit more innovative!  We found a way to increase performance. 

I reckon that’s the difference.  When I think of so many places I go to that collect data.  When I preg test, they keep percentages.  But I don’t know many people who are showing me trends, or comparing preg testing results against seasonal conditions or heifer joining weights or any other comparisons that could be made. 

In some ways that data is just used to prove bias.  That might be to prove that joining time is ok.  Or that the heifers were heavy enough.  If results are bad well someone might change a few things, but often it’s just a result that on its own doesn’t mean much.

So can you use the data and not maintain your status quo.  What can you look for that will make your business perform better?

Second who is helping you be objective about what your recording and what you are doing?  If your social cricket, football, netball or hockey teams have a coach, then surely it makes sense that your business needs one as well.  Getting someone in to help you use your data t drive innovation might be the thing that really lifts your business and helps you achieve some of the goals you are aiming for.

Ultimately innovation doesn’t have to be some sparkly new piece of equipment or technology.  It might be a simple change in approach or attitude that is the innovation. If you don’t think about using your data to seek that innovation, well I reckon your wasting your opportunities.

Feb 15

Busting the myth of the local show

Posted on Monday, February 15, 2016

I was listening to the local radio last week.  One of the presenters was talking about local shows, and how they were struggling and in many cases dying.  I have to say I was astounded to hear such a comment!  I've been involved in the agricultural show movement for almost 25 years, and I don't think I've ever seen a more vibrant, exciting or livelier time for agricultural shows!

I think there was a time not so long ago where local shows were struggling.  And no doubt there are some individual shows who are facing an uncertain future, but to make a sweeping generalisation about the show movement?  Well I think it shows a general lack of knowledge or understanding of what is going on in the show movement.  So this I reckon its a good chance to highlight a few things that make the show scene so exciting!

Firstly, the local show is a community activity.  The show is exactly that.  A showcase of all that makes a local community a vibrant exciting and happy place to live.  Every show is a little bit different.  

The competition events might be broadly similar with competitions to judge livestock, poultry, cooking, arts and crafts.  But have a closer look at each show.  The competitions are often based uniquely around local themes. 

Classes for baking or for cakes might reflect local traditions, or ingredients.  Photography classes almost always have several sections for local themes like landscapes and people.  These local classes are designed to encourage people to get out and see their local surrounds, to take pride in their environment and to capture and share what they see.   

Almost every part of the community gets involved and has a presence at the show.  The show provides the opportunity to connect with supporters, clients and recruit new members for many of the organisations that support a town throughout the year.

So strong vibrant communities are integral to a show.  And equally true, a strong vibrant show is essential to rural communities as a showcase, and as a vehicle supporting the community.

The vibrancy and excitement I see in the show movement is not just through the embrace and support of local communities.  I see it in the way that so many shows have evolved and sought to encourage new traditions, attractions and activities to highlight within the community.  For many people the shows attractions would be side shows and rides as much as competing and displays.  

Now a local show is just as likely to be showcasing gourmet food, hosting cooking competitions or undertaking wine tasting with some of the national identities in food and fine dining.

I've enjoyed watching and even being a participant in food cooking competitions at a local show.  Its been amazing to see a crowd of a few hundred people gathered in a tent to watch local identities and food critics from the state capital competing to prepare local ingredients in a variety of ways.  

At the end those spectators then moved to support and watch other events and attractions.  

Where else but your local show could you attract a huge crowd, entertain them, inform them and capture their support and pride in their community?

The other myth I heard was that local shows are old fashioned and don't welcome young people.  I continue to remain astonished that anyone could think this is a fact!

The youth movement and support for local shows is overwhelming.  Its the most exciting thing to see and be part of.  In shows across the country, young people are involved in almost every aspect of the show.  Young people serve as Office holders in roles from the President and Secretary through to committee roles and Chief Stewards of competitions.  They organise events from the traditional ring events to the new events like the young farmer challenges.

The strength of the youth in ag movement is so strong that for the past few years, Australia as a member of the Agricultural Societies of the Commonwealth has sent delegates to share their experiences of the show movement to other countries.  So far young Australians have been helping at shows in Papua New Guinea, India and South Africa. 

I reckon its both exciting and extraordinary to see the opportunities the show movement brings to local communities and to individuals passionate to build and grow a career in agriculture.  

To say that shows have committees that are unwilling to embrace change is quite simply wrong.  To suggest the show movement is dying, is quite simply wrong.  To say shows offer nothing worth while is quite simply wrong.  

I reckon that before anyone makes these statements and adds to the myth of the show, they need to step out and visit a local show.  Look beyond the surface and find out what makes each show tick.  Its commitment and place to building and maintaining community.  The passion and commitment of the volunteers that organise the event. Look for the young people dashing around helping in events and making the day tick along, or stop and watch the dedication of these young people preparing their entries to exhibit or to continue in their journey to develop their skills in agriculture.

I reckon when you do that you will see the show movement is a strong, vibrant and exciting movement!  I really hope next time I listen to a rural or regional reporter on the radio I hear these stories, and not the overworn, outdated and incorrect comments that shows are dying.  That myth is surely one that needs to be busted!


Jan 03

Agvocacy or Ag-Intimidation?

Posted on Sunday, January 03, 2016

I'm often excited by the power of social media.  The ability to share ideas, stories, pictures and information with other people, quickly and broadly is incredibly powerful.  I like that we can connect with like minded people across the globe.  As someone who enjoys sharing information, I've really come to value the tools that make social media so essential to sharing information and ideas.  

At a training course designed to help producers use social media in their businesses, I was asked to describe how I saw the social media platform Twitter.  My description is that Twitter is like your local pub.  In physical terms we visit the pub to catch up with friends.  To hear their stories and share in the events they have experienced.  When you next drop into your pub, you'll notice that its not just your friends who you interact with. Most pubs will have other conversations occurring between groups of people.  You may listen in tho those conversations, you may even join in.  Generally this social interaction is rewarding and positive.

Occasionally the pub is less pleasant.  Generally that happens when an individual starts to make trouble.  Either through their attitude, their willingness to dominate conversations or to single someone else out for ridicule or even abuse.  I guess when that happens it is pretty unpleasant and can have long term issues for everyone exposed to that aggression.  

Pubs can also be unpleasant when you walk in and are immediately forced to listen to one or two noisy dominant people forcing everyone to listen to their opinions or agree with their view on the world.  Its not pleasant, and its certainly not my idea of sharing or even good interaction.  

So if you think of your pub, you can get a pretty good idea of twitter!  As a platform twitter is a great way to share ideas and interact with your friends.  I have great interaction across the world with friends who I share information with.  And just like sitting in a pub catching up, our conversations - or in the case of twitter - my timeline is often influenced by other conversations happening at the same time.  

Its good to see those other conversations.  Its part of sharing knowledge and information.  However I've noticed a disturbing trend in my twitter timelines.  My timeline is now being filled with angry exchanges, aggressive assertions and domineering opinions by a small number of individuals.  

These exchanges are often part of the agricultural conversations that I listen in to.  Instead of sharing ideas or exchanging knowledge, or even just sharing a few stories, the individuals seem almost determined to attack each other personally on their views on everything from climate change to how to go about the business of farming.  All of them claim to want to promote agriculture and the opportunities that can be had in agriculture.  Yet really I'm starting to think, all they are doing is promoting a toxic environment that no one wants to be exposed to.

I'm not really sure why this is the case.  I do know its having an impact on the way I listen to their conversations, and more importantly on the way I see those individuals.  In a real pub I'd go somewhere else or stop going altogether.  And I would probably decide to avoid dealing with those people in my day to day life.  

The direct cross over with twitter is that I can choose to do that.  I don't need to bully anyone into believing agriculture is a fantastic industry to be involved in.  And I don't need to listen to people who want to bully others into thinking that way either.  More importantly, what you say on twitter is a reflection of who you are, and I guess that means I don't really need to deal with those people in real life.

I reckon if you do want to advocate on how good your industry is, do it with positivity and with professionalism.  You don't need to aggressively ram your views down people's throats.  And if you are going to be aggressive in your approach, chances are its going to leave you in an empty pub wondering where everyone has gone!

Dec 11

A few tips on fodder

Posted on Friday, December 11, 2015

I have to say I really do like fodder conservation.  To me being able to conserve pasture or crops and use it to top up a feed shortfall later on makes a lot of sense.  Storing fodder can also be a pretty cost effective way to undertake supplementary feeding when you compare it to purchasing other supplements and transporting them to the farm.  In my mind I like options that offer a chance to be more efficient and utilize on farm resources first, so making hay or conserving silage is always something I get a bit excited about.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 20 years talking to farmers about getting the most from their hay or from their silage.  Even though both silage and hay are commonly fed on farms throughout Australia, I’ve found that farmers don’t always consider the best ways to use these options in their programs.  So I thought it’s definitely worth spending some time to touch up a few basics on fodder, how to use it and things to keep in mind when you do use it to support your livestock.

I reckon it’s worth starting by asking you why you might choose conserve fodder? There are I guess two approaches to fodder conservation.  The first is to specifically prepare a crop or pasture to harvest and store as either silage or hay.  The other approach tends to be more of an opportunity to use excess pastures or a failed crop as a fodder source.  At least that way the resource isn’t totally wasted and you can get some use from it.

The difference in these two approaches is important.  Like anything, good quality hay or silage is the result of hard work.  If you have prepared your fodder source for harvesting – say growing a lucerne crop to make hay or silage, it will be of higher quality and have greater feed value than you might expect from pasture hay or silage.

So my first tip is if you are going to make hay or silage, the better the quality of the feed, the better the quality of fodder you will have.  It’s important to remember that the higher the quality of a fodder animal performance will also be better.  If you want to look at the economics, its actually much cheaper in the long run to make better quality fodder because the return you get in animal performance pays for its production. 

My second tip in regards to making fodder is to check the economics first.  I know I said a minute ago that conserving fodder on farm is often a cost effective strategy.  Well it is if you do it right.  That means again thinking about the quality of the fodder you are making.  If you are going to use a low quality feed source, so something that is low in digestibility, has a lot of dead leaf or stem and seed head as its main bulk then fodder you are making might not be worth much as a feed source, and so could really be a waste of time feeding it.  Or if you do use it, it might need another supplement to accompany it. 

All this means you need to plan your fodder making.  Consider what you will use and how much it will cost you to make it.  And what will you do with it when you have made it.  If you can answer these questions with a positive response then go with it. 

I think its really important not to overstate the capacity of fodder you are making.  Cutting a pasture or crop for hay or silage doesn’t automatically make it a magic feed!  If it is poor quality before you cut it, then it will be a poor quality fodder and so you have to recognize that before you get disappointed and complain about the process!

I have a few other tips to consider if you are making hay or silage.  Make sure you cut your intended feed source at the right stage of growth.  The more mature plants become, the less digestible they will be.  This means there will be lower energy values per kilogram of feed and as a result will be less valuable as a feed. 

Now I can spend a long time talking specifics about making hay or silage.  Instead what I will say is that for either form of fodder conservation you need to make sure you follow best practice by allowing the cut feed to wilt or cure before you bale it or collect it for storage as pit silage.  Its really important you work t the best practice as the longer you leave a cut feed source on the ground drying out, the more chance you have of having the feed you have grown loss its quality through decay.  You really need to get it baled, wrapped or stored properly as soon as you can.

I guess the big thing is to not expect your conservation methods to improve the feed you’ve decided to make into hay or silage.  Remember its only ever going to be as good as it was when you cut it.  And if you are a bit casual about the process of making it into hay or silage, well you’ll probably make it worse!

You should also think about what else could potentially be going into the bales you are making.  One of the big causes of livestock deaths is due to botulism.  Botulism is a disease caused by Clostridial bacteria and produces a toxin that can kill livestock very quickly.  The bacteria spores that cause the disease germinate in moist, low-oxygen environments such as rotting carcasses or decaying organic material. 

Most cattle deaths from Botulism are a result of ingesting preformed bacteria and toxins.  This can happen when cattle chew bones they may find in paddocks.  But it is often common in intensive situations like dairies and feedlots.  It’s a result of a decaying animal carcass being included in a role of hay or silage. 

So have a think about what might be in the paddock.  If you have any dead animals that might be in the paddock then it’s probably an idea to dispose of it rather than let it decay and potentially end up in a fodder bale.  You might want to drag it to another part of the farm to be buried or if its safe for burning.  Either way just leaving it to decay could put your fodder and more importantly your livestock at risk. 

Botulism can also be caused by poorly made silage.  It’s really important if you are making silage to minimize air pockets in wrapped bales and to seal pits well.  Rotting organic matter, which happens when air can access the material can create the right environment for the Botulism bacteria to produce.  In silage it’s often an issue if silage hasn’t reached adequate acid levels of pH 4.5 or less. This occurs when the level of soluble sugar in grass is insufficient to produce the acid necessary to preserve the silage. 

This means your harvesting is important, but also you want to make sure you plants are at the right stage of growth and you don’t leave it to wilt to long because the sugars will burn off.  At worst you can make it possible for botulism to occur, and at best you’ve just made an expense mulch or compost, and that really isn’t what you wanted to make!

The other thing to consider about hay and particularly silage is that if you bale up unwanted weeds, the preservation process wont destroy the viability of the weed seeds.  So don’t think you can use silage or hay to destroy weeds.  If it’s hot enough to destroy weed seeds your fodder is at risk of catching alight!  At the other end, if you are feeding a fodder that may have weeds in it, then Id suggest you be prepared for weed seeds to be capable of establishing a new foothold on you pastures.

That really brings me to one my last points about feeding out hay or silage.  Just remember the time, effort and money it took you to grow the feed, to cut it, bale it and store it.  Every kilogram of feed you make has a dollar value.  So don’t waste it when you feed it to your livestock.

There is nothing that frustrates me more than seeing a round bale dumped on the ground with half the feed being trampled into the mud, dunged on and ruined before it can be eaten.  Some really good research is available that shows how much hay you waste by feeding it on the ground. 

In general wastage is anywhere from 11% to 34% of the amount you are feeding.  The research say that the more hay you put out, the more you waste!  So if you dump a 200kg bale of hay or silage in front of your cows you can expect that around 60kgs will just be wasted. 

If you add the wasted hay or silage up over a 3-month period, you’ll work out just how much money you have thrown away. 

My feeding suggestions are to put your hay or silage into racks so that cattle or sheep can access it easily without wasting it by trampling, laying or crapping all over it!  If you are worried about weeds, especially if it’s a bought in fodder source, in that case I reckon you should try and confine feeding to a few selected paddocks.

The last thing, I guess its more just to reinforce my point about feed quality, is to make sure you know what you are feeding and adjust your livestock feeding program accordingly!  If you have made it form the best feed source you could grow, you preserved it and stored it well then you can expect your livestock to get excellent value from it.  But if you made it from a more ordinary pasture or crop, then you need to adjust your expectations accordingly.

If you do buy in hay or silage, ask questions about the feed.  I think its worth sending a sample away for testing for feed quality and then you will know for certain exactly what the energy and protein levels are.  I think it wont hurt to do that with your own fodder as well.  A test will help you set some benchmarks for your standard of production as it is.

If you are buying in fodder, especially silage, I’d also think about vaccinating your cattle against Botulism.  If you don’t know what’s in a bale, then it’s a good idea to protect your cattle before they start eating the feed.

Sep 25

Don't switch off around cattle

Posted on Friday, September 25, 2015

I really enjoy working with cattle.  Getting cattle to move through yards, or into new paddocks does take some skill. I firmly believe there is no such thing as a born animal handler.  I reckon the skills you need to work with animals are developed, like any skill, through practice, observation and continually trying to do better.

What I think some people may be born with is a higher degree of patience, as they develop their skills.  I think some people are also more empathetic to cattle or animals, and are willing to work with the animals, trying to understand the animals movements and directing them in the desired direction.  It is important to be patient and to understand the animals you are working with.

Being patient doesn't mean your work has to slow down to a crawl!  Patient in my mind means taking a mental breath and thinking through what you are trying to achieve with the animals you are working with.  It means responding to their actions and anticipating what the animals are likely to do or want to do in response to you, to other people or to their environment.

I reckon its also a bit of self awareness.  Are you actually prepared to take some time, a few breathes to think about things.  To consider the impact your actions might have, and to learn from mistakes or from the past.  

Some people just don't seem to be willing to be patient. And this has created so many issues for them, for their cattle and for the people around them.

If you really want to develop better skills in working with cattle it takes patience, understanding and practice.  I've talked about patience.  So what about understanding?

There are some basic things to understood with cattle.  Firstly cattle are prey animals.  Which means they are used to running away from danger.  They need to be with others, so they can all look for danger, and if they can't get away from the danger, then they will use their size and speed to attack the predator.

Its not rocket science!  We all know that, and everyone wants to talk about flight zones.  The area between an animal and a source of danger or threat.  Some animals have a bigger zone than others.  

Its pretty clear what happens when you step into that zone.  The animal either moves away or does its best to get away.  

But some animals will react differently.  There may be past history or circumstances that cause that animal to take on the source of threat.  It could be a cow with a new calf.  A bull with some cows in a mob.  Or it could be a cow kept in a pen on its own and it is so frightened that everything is a threat.

In the last few months I've heard of two people in NSW seriously injured by bulls.  Now I'm not sure what the circumstances are for both of those incidents, and I reckon its not for me to make an assumption.  What I will say is that often injuries occur when people switch off to their cattle.  

When I say switch off, its not paying attention to what the animals are doing in response to you.  Maybe you switch off because you take things for granted.  Maybe its because you assume your skills are excellent!  Maybe you haven't even switched on because you don't think about the animals as much as you should.  What ever the reason.  All I know is that you shouldn't switch off.

If you are using the animals responses, moving in and out of their flight zone in order to direct them to another place, then changes are you are switched on to the cattle and you can react to animals that might not want to move away and instead want to take you one!  On the other hand if your approach is to push, shout and intimidate your animals, being unaware of how they perceive you as you force them into complying with you, then one day you could find yourself in a dangerous or unpleasant situation.  

So next time you're out with your cattle, try and be more switched on. Be a little patient and think about your skills and the animals reactions to you.  That mental pause for a breath might be enough to turn your cattle chore into a good day out for you, your cattle and for everyone else!

Sep 18

Is your bull ready to work?

Posted on Friday, September 18, 2015

The 2015 bull selling season is going to be remembered for the record prices on offer for sires.  This year the Shorthorn breed broke their on farm average price twice in two days.  While the Angus breed saw a new record price for a bull sold for $150,000 while the average at the same sale set a new all breed average at $14, 876! 

With these amazing prices there's little doubt that producers are thinking a lot about bulls and this years investments.  However I reckon its important not to overlook the bulls that you already have on farm, and spend some time making sure the ones you have are ready to work!  With joining time rapidly approaching for breeders who aim to calve in spring next year, its time to check all your bulls over and make sure they are ready to work.

Its pretty important that you bring your bulls up into the yards and spend some time giving them all a complete check over.  Key areas to assess are:

* His eyes and mouth.  You need to be check that there are no injuries or inflammations around his eyes.  His teeth need to be sound

* His sheath and testicles. Put him in the crush and with the vet gate shut, so you can't be kicked!  When it is shut securely, check both testicles and make sure there are no swelling or unusual bumps, or that the testes are not soft and spongy.  If they are, your bull may be sub-fertile and you should avoid using him!

* Look at his sheath and penis and make sure there is no swelling, unusual appearances or damage.  Again if there is, your bull may not want to join cows, and he shouldn't be used.

Its important to check your records and make sure his vaccinations for vibrio are up to date.  If he needs a booster its best to do it before joining, so a pre joining inspection is a good time for this to happen.

I reckon the other key thing to do is to make the bull walk in front of you.  You need to see that he walks without any sign of lameness or stiffness. I find its much easier to check for that by making your bull walk briskly across a yard.  So you need to watch him from the side and from behind.  You will be looking for stiffness, or favouring a leg or unusual gait. 

Remember if he has trouble walking, the demands of a joining program will test any injury out.  Its likely a sore bull will be less willing to work and so you could have some issues with low conception rates as a result.

If you are using a number of bulls in joining mobs, the time joining mobs could be established now if you have the paddock room to do this.  The bulls will take a couple of weeks to sort out their new pecking order.  So if you can get that done before joining, then the bulls are more likely to get straight to work!

As a producer who might chose to do that, try and use paddocks big enough that they can get away from each other and not become injured fighting!

For producers who feel thats not an option, just remember that your bulls will spend some time at joining establishing a pecking group. So when you do put bulls out, think about matching them for size and number.  The recommended number is 3% bulls to cows.  

By checking your bulls now, I reckon you can have some time up your sleeve to plan out your joining program.  Remember joining should normally be 9 - 12 weeks, so it isn't a long time and you want to make every day count!  If a bull isn't up to the job, you need to know now so you can find a replacement or re plan a work program for the bulls that are fit and ready to work.


Sep 11

Look beyond the hype

Posted on Friday, September 11, 2015

The Australian cattle market has certainly offered a lot of excitement in the past six months!  The value of cattle has steadily increased, and so to has the excitement and hype around beef prices.  Without doubt this is one the best periods I've ever heard of for producers looking to sell cattle!  Pretty much every type of animal is finding a ready demand, from restocking animals, to slaughter cattle.

I happened to have a look at the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator - the EYCI ending yesterday the 10th of September 2015.  The EYCI is a 7 day rolling average, that looks at the prices paid for young cattle (vealers, yearling heifers and steers) that are heavier than 200kg with a muscle and fat score of C2 - C3.

The EYCI has reached 584.50 c/cwt.  Thats an incredible figure!  

So its really hard not to be excited and not to be caught in the hype of a strong market, that continues to offer such great returns.

Having said that, there are some lessons worth paying attention to, and I'm encouraging my clients to remember those lessons despite all the hype!

The most important one is to never forget your customer!  Yes there is a demand for cattle, and there is good money on offer!  But, there are some producers who have been disappointed with the returns they have made.  Its important to remember your customer is looking to buy product for a specific purpose.  Thats why they have set specifications for the cattle they want! Its really important to remember that even though the market is strong, there are still discounts for cattle that aren't suitable for a customers needs.  

I reckon some producers are not thinking about this part of marketing cattle as much as they would have done in the past!  So just because the money is good, don't forget you still need to do some homework and send cattle to the right places!

If cattle don't meet a customers needs, then send them somewhere else, or prepare them to meet the customer. That way you won't drop your returns and you will get the rewards you have been working towards!

I've also noticed a recent article by Beef Central looking at the prices for grained cattle custom fed for 100 days.  Its a really good article that looks at custom feeding on a quarterly basis.  

The analysis done by the Beef Central team predicts a loss of $20 / head on custom feeding cattle.  There are various reasons for this outcome, one of the big drivers is the cost of feeding cattle, particularly in grain prices.  

There are a few things I wanted to touch on from this article.  The assumptions used to make this prediction are pretty standard across the industry.  However, the margins on feeding cattle are so slim, as seen in this analysis, that it doesn't take much to take a budget from a positive to a negative.  It could be grain price, it could be purchase price of cattle.  

In my experience the big variables are actually the performance of the cattle themselves!  A lot of producers over hype how good their cattle are! 

Not all cattle perform well in feedlots.  Poor growth, poor health, behavioural issues that make them unsuited to feeding through to lack of yield.  These are all issues that frequently occur in feedlots, and in the case of custom feeding, these issues impact directly on the profit of the activity. 

I reckon its important to do some homework and look into your marketing plans more closely.  Don't get caught up just on the cattle market and the value of the EYCI!  Just because the market is strong, it doesn't mean you can switch off thinking about ways to do things better, or to market your cattle to the most appropriate destination!

Personally I want to see producers receive as much return as possible, and not waste any opportunity to make a strong return.  But if you're going to make that happen, you have to stay switched on and not let the hype and excitement prevent you making the right decisions.

Sep 04

Time to update to the current LPA NVD

Posted on Friday, September 04, 2015

Earlier this week I was talking to a beef producer from the New England region about our markets.  With current prices it seems everyone wants to discuss the value and opportunities of beef production!  And lets face it, its exciting to see the demand and value flowing through for cattle.  One of the things we talked about was the point that domestically, Australia can only consume so much red meat in any one year.  The simple reality, which we both reckoned, is that sometimes, its easy to forget just how dependant we are on our overseas exports!

The Australian beef industry sends about 70% of all beef produced overseas, to over 100 countries.  For other red meat producers, such as shipmate its around 97% while lamb producers have about 54% exported.  For goat producers that figure is an extraordinary 95%!  So maintaining the confidence of those overseas consumers and purchasers of red meat is essential for all of us!

A key component in maintaining this confidence starts wit a vendor declaration.  The National Vendor Declaration (NVD) is the opportunity for you as a producer to stay some facts around your animals, and the way in which you have produced them.  It also covers the important things like veterinary treatments. feeds that may have been offered and if there are any issues associated with chemical residues.

The NVD is also required for any movements of stock between properties that have different Property Identification Codes (PIC) or through saleyards or to processors.

NVDs help provide a clearer understanding of livestock and support the traceability of animals.

Completing NVDs isn't really a new concept for most producers.  National Vendor Declarations have been around for a number of years.  The have been updated and revised as markets and consumer expectations change.  

What is changing is a requirement for all producers to now ensure that they are using the current version of the LPA NVD.  All older versions of the LPA NVD are being phased out over the next two months.  

And from the 16th of November 2015 all older versions will no longer be accepted by the industry.  Which means no processors, feedlot, saleyards or other producers will accept them!  Which is going to make marketing or moving cattle, sheep or goats pretty difficult for you if you don't get organised now!

So how can you tell if you have a current LPA NVD?  

If your LPA NVD has the number 0413, it is the current version and you will be fine to continue to use the form when moving or marketing livestock.  In the picture above, you will notice a C, which stands for Cattle.  The Sheep & Lamb NVD has an S before the 0413 code.

So what do you do if you don't have the current LPA NVD?  Well I reckon the first thing you need to do is check that you don't have it!  If you are definitely using older NVD forms, then you need to get in touch with Meat & Livestock Australia and order the current forms.   

If you want hard copies, which are the books you will fill out (they come in triplicate) you can order them online.  They cost $40.  The other option is to use an E-declaration (an electronic form).  Known as E-Decs, they can be a more cost effective way of ordering forms, particularly if you prefer doing work on line.  

Which ever way you choose to go is up to you.  I reckon its a matter personal preference on this one.  However, I also reckon you don't have time to do nothing.  If you are planning on selling or moving stock after the 16th of November you need to have the LPA NVD up to date.  So don't leave it until the last minute before you sort yourself out!  

According to industry figures, around 70% of producers already using the current LPA NVD forms.  This is largely helped by processors such as JB Swift and Teys Australia only accepting current forms.  But it still leaves 30% or 3 in 10 producers who haven't updated.  And that might be due to marketing only once a year or not moving stock between PICs and you haven't had to update until now.

If that is the case, or you're a small producer or hobby farmer, and you haven't worried until now, you need to make a coupe of calls and decide if hard copies or E-Decs work best for you. As soon as you decide that, get onto MLA and order the current LPA NVD.

I reckon the sooner you can do that, the less stress you'll have and most importantly you are doing your part to protect the confidence consumers have in your product.  

Don't forget, if you have any questions or you's like to discuss your options to get in touch with me!

Aug 28

What have your heifers been up to?

Posted on Friday, August 28, 2015

This week I've doing some training to gain qualifications as an assessor for Auctions Plus. Its been good to gain some new skills, and I'm looking forward to soon offering a new serve to clients looking to sell their cattle on line.  However, today's Rayner Reckons isn't about my new service, but about some points I picked up over the two days.  

Specifically, about the pregnancy status of your heifers and your cows.  This isn't a new area for me to think about!  One of the biggest issues for people buying cattle is the uncertainty of the pregnancy status of females they are buying.

In many ways you would think that people would know if their cattle are pregnant or not.  However it actually appears most people are not really sure at all!

If you have a chance to chat to a feedlot operator and you're talking about feeding heifers, I reckon it won't be long before their concerns will be expressed!  Many feedlots have run into issues with heifers coming onto feed that turn out to be pregnant.  

This can cause a real issue for the feedlot.  Looking after a new calved heifer and its calf places extra work and stress on the delete management team.  Besides the concerns for the animal, a newly calved heifer isn't going to able to complete the feeding program and this can represent a big financial cost for the operator.

Being surprised by pregnant females isn't just something that happens to feedlot operators! Unfortunately many producers looking to buy replacement female with a specific plan in mind, such as joining at a more appropriate time for their region or to join to a certain bull, can also have their plans thrown into disarray by heifers calving unexpectedly or out of sync with the program.

Along those lines can be producers who have specifically purchase PTIC (Pregnancy Tested in Calf) females that have been joined to a certain breed of bull.  The disappointment often occurs when those females calve down cross bred calves! Or calves clearly sired by the wrong bull!

So there are risks associated with purchasing females.  Unfortunately the way many purchasers offset that risk is to offer a lower price on females or in the case of some programs (such as a number of feedlots) avoid buying heifers at all.  

The issue for producers is that surplus females (both surplus heifers and cull cows) can make up to 30% of the income associated with a beef enterprise.  Its no small amount, and its not something I reckon you would want to take an price reduction on.

So producers looking to sell surplus females really need to think about the expectations and needs of the people they may be selling to.  A few things to consider include:

  • How old were the heifers at weaning?  Was their any risk the were exposed to a bull before they were weaned?  

This is an issue for people who have extended joining and calving times.  Did the bulls go back in white there were heifer calves in the paddock?  Some heifers can be cycling and fall in calf at 9 or 10 months!

  • Have you ever had a neighbours bull visit?  Even if only overnight!  

I know it is easy to blame visiting or wandering bulls, but it does happen.  Bulls will jump fences and if your heifers are close to a boundary, or if you have ever noticed a bull close or even in with your heifers, you need to assume the worst!

  • How long has it been between pregnancy testing and sale time?  

There are plenty of occasions where cattle have been pregnancy tested not in calf.  Unfortunately there is a delay between pregnancy testing and sale.  In that time the female has been exposed to a bull and is now pregnant.  

I guess there are other things that do happen.  No matter what the cause, when it comes to selling your unwanted females, surplus heifers or cows, you need to ask is there a risk they could be in calf.  If you are unsure then you really need to organise to have them pregnancy tested before you offer them for sale.  

If you think about your females as a buyer would, I reckon you would want to know whats going on with the feels your are about to buy.  If you know and you can see a pregnancy test result and a date of the test, I'm certain you would bid with more confidence on those females.  Its the certainty of a purchaser that is important in securing and possibly increasing the value of the females that matters.  

So if you don't know what your heifers have been up to, or if you think there is a risk, then I reckon its worth finding out before you sell them!  Spending that time to do some testing might actually increase your credibility and strengthen your reputation among cattle buyers.  Sometimes thats the difference between an average sale and a great sale.  More importantly its often the difference between a once off sale and repeat sales.  


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