Rayner Reckons

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.  

Aug 19

Listening in to Rayner Reckons

Posted on Wednesday, August 19, 2015

When I first started writing Rayner Reckons, I wasn't really sure what reception they might get from clients or the general population.  I'm happy to say that in general the feedback is pretty positive.  Not many people write comments on each post, however a lot more people often bail me up in person to mention something about a post they have read or enjoyed.

I'm very pleased that the blogs are useful and thought provoking.  I really want these updates to be about topics or ideas that can help answer a question or be a spur towards a new practice in your own program.  I also want them to showcase the amazing clients I get to work with and to highlight ways in which my business can help you run your program a little more efficiently.

I reckon one of the downsides with a blog is you do need to be able to access the internet and spend the time reading each post.  I spend a lot of time in the car or on planes travelling, and my opportunity to access the internet is a bit restricted.  

I tend to spend a lot of my travelling listening to audio books.  In recent months I've been listening to a lot more podcasts.  A podcast is basically a downloaded file that can be of a radio program, book, interview or lecture.  In fact a lot of things are now available to listen to on line as a podcast.

The has got me thinking, and knowing I'm not alone in wanting something to listen to when I'm travelling or for some people wanting something to listen to when they are out doing other things, or even at night drifting off to sleep.  

So this has lead me to developing a podcast of Rayner Reckons! Each week I will be recording a short podcast of around 10 minutes to discuss some of the topics I think are important for producers to know about.  I'm hoping as time goes on to record and share some of the thoughts of industry leaders and to even highlight a few of the visits and projects I have with RaynerAg clients.

The podcasts won't replace the Rayner Reckons blog.  I see it as another way of sharing ideas and keeping you on top of events and information.

If you haven't used a podcast before you can listen on line by clicking on the podcast you want to listen to.  If you'd like to download it and add it to your iPod or MP3 player, you can search for Rayner Reckons on iTunes and have the latest podcast downloaded for you to listen to when it suits you!

I'm quite excited about this new option for sharing ideas and information and I hope you get a kick out of listening to some of the points I've shared.  





Jul 30

How are you going with the sale catalogue?

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015

This time of year my mailbox fills up with catalogues for bull sales being held across the north west of NSW and southern Queensland.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be on the mailing list for so many different operations.  Its important I know what bulls are being offered and its important I'm able to know these things if I'm going to do my job properly advising clients of what sire decisions they should consider.

One thing that stands out for me, is the number of bulls available each year, and the overwhelming amount of information that is now available for producers.  Its impressive and exciting that we can make decisions about the genetic potential of a bull and not be wholly reliant on visual observation and pedigree.  

With the availability of EBVs, we now have much more information regarding the genetic potential of a bull to improve herd performance in numerous traits.  That information can be vital in making progress in your herd.  Especially when you remember that genetic improvement is both long term and cumulative in your herd.

However, in practical terms how do you work your way through a catalogue, let alone several catalogues that may arrive on your desk?  I thought I might spend a bit of time offering a few suggestions to make sure you use your catalogue to its full potential, and the bull sale vendors get a return on their investment of producing the catalogues in the first place!

The starting point, as obvious as it seems, is to know what breed you are actually interested in looking at for your next sire! In my case I have a lot of breeds to be across.  But for most producers there is really only a need to worry about bulls from the breeds they use in their herds.  This is important because you shouldn't be attempting to compare the EBVs of breeds against each other!  While the traits recorded may be the same, the EBVs that are published have different values.

When you choose a sire, you should be looking for a sire that will contribute the genetics to move your herd in a specific direction.  So ask yourself what is it you want to achieve with your herd?  Do you want to improve your growth rate to turn steers off earlier?  Do you need more fatness?  How big do you want your cows to be in your herd, and so what is the mature size potential of a bull daughters?  There are plenty of questions to ask, and you need to have the answers in mind.  

With these answers, you can start to look at a catalogue!  The front of the catalogues contain valuable information about the sale, and buying conditions.  They also contain the information on the breed EBVs.  This includes breed average as well as in the breed leaders across the traits.  This is designed to help you know if a bull is likely to offer you a genetic advantage in the traits you may be looking for.  

The following pages contain information such as reference sires, and this often helps you determine what pedigrees and what breeding objectives the bulk breeder has in mind.  

The majority of the catalogue is then made up of information on each bull on offer.  Each description includes the Lot Number, Registered Name, Pedigree and Breedplan information (EBVs).  Most entries also contain the breeders comments or thoughts.  

There are different considerations here.  If you are following pedigrees and using specific sire lines in your herd, the pedigree is important information.  

Most people in a commercial operation don't need to spend a lot of time on pedigree.  Instead look at the EBVs.

The EBVs you should look at are the ones that are important to your breeding direction!  If for example you want to improve yield and eye muscle area, these are the EBVs to look at!  If it helps, highlight the bulls that fall within your desired range.  Often this will be the bulls that have a high accuracy of EBV data and are above breed average in that trait.  

If the bulls don't have the genetic potential for your herd direction, then don't spend time worrying about them!

The reality is, most sale offerings of bulls will only have a small proportion of bulls suitable for the direction of your herd.  Its not to say there are bulls that are no good.  It means not every bull will suit every operation.  So spend time looking for the right one.  Remember a bulls influence can last up to three generations, so choosing the right one is important.  

There is another way to find the sires in a catalogue.  The electronic version is to use the BreedObject website.  BredeObject allows you to search the catalogues in your breed, and rank animals on either $ Index values, or around the EBVs that you have identified as important in your herd direction.

Basically BreeObject lets you automatically search the bulls being offered and identified them.  When you have a result, you can highlight those bulls in the catalogue and take that list of bulls to the sale.

The most important part of the process is to not worry about all the other bulls on offer at a particular sale!

Trust your list and your identified set of animals.  These are the ones you know will be genetically most suited to your herd direction and production goals.

When you get to the sale, take the time to look at the bus you have identified.  This is your chance to look critically at each bull and assess if his physical attributes are best suited to your herd.  

If you have any doubts or you can clearly see the bull doesn't suit your cow herd, then yo can move to the next bull on your list.  By the end of the process you should have a purchase list of bulls in order, and it should be a list you can have a lot of confidence in, based on the genetic information available and on your physical assessment!

Its true this approach is perhaps a little more structured than many people are used to.  But if you want to make the best decision and purchase a bull to take your program forwards, then I reckon you should do a bit of preparation!  If you're not sure where to start, then feel free to give me a call and get some advice.  When you do put the work in, you will find your catalogues to be a key stone in the preparation and on the day you buy your next sire.

Jul 17

Setting a few benchmarks

Posted on Friday, July 17, 2015

Do you have a benchmark for production?  How do your management practices sit with best practice or against similar operations?  These are the types of questions I'm often asked by producers.  And these are questions not just being asked by my clients, I often get them in general discussions at field days, the saleyards, pretty much anywhere where a few producers might be chatting.

So how do you compare against others?  Does it even matter?  Well I guess what matters is if you are operating a financial and environmentally sustainable enterprise.  If you are doing that I reckon it doesn't really matter what everyone else is doing!  

Having said that, for most producers I know, there is always scope to improve their management or their production systems in some way.  Benchmarks can be a really useful tool to make those improvements.  

When I mentioned this to someone this week, their response was how are benchmarks useful? I reckon one of the best responses is that to create a benchmark, you have to make the time to consider what is being measured and actually respond with some real data.  

The very fact that real data is required actually causes producers to start considering what is actually happening in their programs.  It is very easy to overlook parts of the enterprise - the little things if you like, that on their own don't seem that important.  But when you accumulate a few of those things, they can have a massive effect on the overall business.

I reckon comparing your performance against a benchmark gives you a chance to objectively measure where your program is heading.  The way this needs to be done however is not to think that a once only assessment will mean very much.  

The first time you compare yourself to a benchmark you are really only comparing yourself to a single point in time.  You might be on par with that point, you could be above it or below it.  Whichever way you compare, the first time is really just the starting point.

To get some value, and make useful decisions, you need to do some comparisons over a couple of years.  This will show if there is a trend up or down.  

Having said that, if there are some things that you identify as being well below the benchmark, its a chance to get in and try address those issues as quickly as you can!

The other question many producers ask sits around what do you benchmark yourself against?  There are plenty of people throwing around benchmarks and production levels.  How current are those levels, how realistic are they?  These are all things to consider.

Personally I am a little unsure of what the realistic measures are for the producers I work with.  And there seems to be a fair bit of variation in what people are doing.  So this July I decided to conduct a benchmarking survey of RaynerAg clients and producers who use RaynerAg for advice.  I have to say, its not a short survey!  But if I'm going to collect data that I can use to help producers and have some meaningful benchmarks, well it has to cover a few things.

So far I have had some useful responses.  I am getting much better picture of some general practices that we can all improve and a few useful trends on fertility that might provide some easy but effective strategies for breeders.  Keep watching this space over the next few months and I'll share some of the findings as I complete the analysis.  

If you haven't completed the survey and you'd like to be part of developing these benchmarks, please feel free to click on the link and complete the survey.  I reckon we are all going to get a few useful results from the exercise! 

Jun 23

Keeping out of the cold

Posted on Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How do you cope with cold weather?  Some people seem to cope better with cold weather.  After working in the New England region of NSW for many years, I don't mind the cold too much.  I find that I can always put on some extra clothes, find a pair of gloves and even resort to a fleece lined hat for those cold bleak days!  And on the days when it is too cold, wet or miserable to be outside, there are always things to do inside to stay out of the cold.

However, for your livestock, the cold is an entirely different matter.  Livestock are impacted by cold weather, and if cold conditions are accompanied by some rain and wind, the impacts can be fatal.

Many people think sheep are the animals that are the most susceptible to the impact of cold.  However cattle can be just as susceptible.  

Several years ago I was told by a producer about an experience where some cattle were imported from a station in north Queensland to the New England.  These cattle were brahmans just older than weaner age.  The day after they arrived a snow event occurred and sadly some animals couldn't cope and died.  

So cold conditions, wet weather, wind can all combine to have devastating impacts on your animals.  And unlike the northern hemisphere, bringing animals inside is not really possible in Australia.

Can livestock cope with cold weather?  The answer is they certainly can.  The process of rumination does help them cope, as the rumination process releases plenty of heat that helps the animal stay a bit warmer.  The other things that help animals cope are the condition that the animals are in.  Livestock in average or better fat scores will cope more easily than lean or low fat scored animals.  

Animals that are at risk are those that are in low condition. Young animals and older wake animals are also at risk, as are lactating animals or sheep fresh off shears.

So how can you help your animals cope with the cold?  There are a few things you can do.  These include:

  • Provide hay for your livestock.  Hay is slower to digest, which means the rumen will produce more heat as digestion occurs.  This is especially important when the paddock feed is limited.
  • Put animals in sheltered paddocks.  If you have ever been in a paddock sheltered by some trees you will know the difference in temperature, particularly getting out of the wind.  Grazing your stock in sheltered paddocks, with timber or protections that can reduce the wind chill will make a big difference to your animals.
  • Avoid importing livestock from environments that not as cold!  Livestock need some time to adjust to a new environment.  They may not eat the new pastures, may be unhappy after transport and may have had time to explore their new home in time to find the sheltered paddocks or places in the paddock.  Being hungry, cold and stressed places these animals at risk, and if they are young, weak or light in condition, the cold is a real threat.
  • Draft your herd into fat scores.  Its always good management to draft your herd so that you have them in similar weights and fat scores.  The low conditioned animals, and the lighter ones need to be given particular care at the best of times, but during cold, this care is particularly important.  These are the animals that should have first option for shelter and definitely need your attention.

Fortunately the cold weather in Australia doesn't last for too long.  Snow is an occasion and doesn't bury pastures for months on end.  The big risks are the cold windy days as cold fronts sweep up from the Antarctic.  I reckon we are also fortunate in knowing when these events are on the way, so there is time to plan ahead.  I reckon if cold is an issue for your stock, you need to think if you can help them cope more easily with hay and shelter.  And if you are thinking of purchasing or moving a few animals onto your place, I reckon if you can consider the traditional impact on cold and determine if it is the best time for your region and for your animals to do that movement.

If you're happy with all that, and you've helped your animals cope as well as they can, I reckon you've earned some time inside by the fire!


Jun 16

Where were you this time last month?

Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How much do you trust your memory?  I reckon most people would say they have a pretty good memory.  But can you remember what you were doing this time last week?  What about last month?  Now ask yourself if you remember everything about the last time you worked with your cattle.  Can you remember how many animals you saw; how many you treated; how many were below average in weight or fat score.  

I've been listening to a podcast series while I've been driving called Serial.  Its produced in the US by a journalist exploring the story of a young man arrested for the murder of his ex-girlfriend.  The podcast has explored the case and the evidence around the case.  There have been interviews with witnesses, the young man, the police.  Its been fascinating to listen to.  

What stands out for me, is how unreliable peoples memories actually are.  Where they were, what they did, who they talked to etc.  And these are not unimportant details!  These things are important to find the murderer of a young girl and to prove the innocence or guilt of another person.  That person could face the death penalty or life in prison.  So remembering things is important!

Yet in lots of cases, people weren't really sure of events.  They couldn't remember, or they assumed it sounded correct and so on. In any event it proves to me that we can't always trust our memories, especially with details that happen every day.

I started thinking about this following a few client visits this year.  A big part of my job is to help make better decisions regarding the herd and the way the herd is managed.  

In some cases, my clients weren't really sure of important details.  Details such as length of joining; number of cows in the herd; average turn off weights into the feedlot or the number of cows sold out of the herd for non pregnancy.  

Its not to say they didn't know the answers, its just that in a few cases, there was a little uncertainty. 

Uncertainty troubles me!  More and more in agriculture we need to find ways to be certain.  Either to prove the integrity of our food production systems; to prove compliance with market programs; or simply to prepare a budget so we forecast income and meet the bills as they come in!

Its often in the little things, these details, that opportunities exist for improvement.  Individually these opportunities may not be very large.  However the accumulation of these opportunities often results in a significant difference in production or in profitability.

The key to all this is your records.  How good are they?  Without good records, you are reduced to relying on your memory. And if you are still thinking about just what it was you did with your cows this time last month, you might feel your memory is a little bit unreliable.  The other downside with memory, is it is very hard to analyse your memory to identify trends or anomalies that might indicate a developing problem.

One of the keys in decision making, is to make an informed and timely decision.  This is so true in agriculture.  In your own business the best source of information will be your records.  If you can't look at them, question them or get some advice on what your records are indicating, then your decisions will never be as good as they should be!  

So my challenge to you is to think about the last time you worked with your cattle.  If you kept records and can be confident in what you did and saw, then think about if you can use those records to make good decisions for the management of those cows. If you didn't keep records and you're not entirely certain of what you did, do you have total faith in your decisions for the best management of your cows.  If thats the case, maybe its time t discuss with me the options for keeping records in your business.

Jun 11

Do your capabilities match your ambitions?

Posted on Thursday, June 11, 2015

In the last few weeks I have had four conversations with producers who are incredibly enthusiastic about a new plan.  The plans were all different of course, but the enthusiasm was very similar.  I love enthusiasm, and I am incredibly passionate about aiming for a goal.  But!  There are times when I do wonder, if the plan is realistic!

No doubt you have seen business coaches, life, coaches and other people sharing inspirational advice.  Its not uncommon to see them as a motivational quote.  You know the sort of thing, "Dream big" or "The only thing holding you back is yourself". There's nothing wrong with these motivations.  It is vital to aim at goals and work towards them.  

Having said that, dreams don't just happen! In a business, your ambitions are realised through hard work, through focussing on achieving targets, and on ensuring your capabilities meet your ambitions!

One of the discussions I had last week focussed on producing cattle to meet a certain market specification.  The specification was pretty tight for weight and fat.  Underpinning that requirement was the need for the cattle to be certified as PCAS.  The top price on offer was almost $1.00/kg carcase weight above the normal rate.  It was a really attractive option, and if you could produce cattle that met the certification requirements and more importantly hit the specification, the return was going to be significant.

However, there were a few issues.  the most easily resolved was gaining PCAS certification.  It required some paperwork and a bit of homework, but the effort involved was more than offset by the potential market opportunities.

The bigger issue was simply to do with the cattle that the producer owned, and the feeding regime the cattle were on. 

Quite simply the cattle were never going to hit the specification for weight and fat.  Most of them would have been too lean at the weight, and the grid discount for under finished cattle was pretty big.

At the same time the cattle were grazing a feed that was declining in quality, and were not gaining the weight needed to finish in time.  They really needed a supplement to get the best use from the feed, but the options for the producer are limited by the PCAS requirements and the availability of supplements.  

So there were a few things going wrong.  The cattle, the feed and the restrictions of the program meant that the ambition to produce to that market wasn't going to happen easily.  

The discussion I had with the producer was really interesting.  The conversation started with the disappointment that was felt by the producer over the whole process.  They felt they had wasted their time and there was some blame being levelled for that. Blame on themselves for wasting time and more interestingly, for listening to the wrong advice.  The comment was "I should have never listened to them.."  and "they said that.."

I'm not sure who these mysterious advisors are.  I have a sneaking suspicion that advice was given by a range of people, from neighbours, agents, articles in the paper and perhaps a drinking mate in the local pub!  

I have learnt that people listen with half an ear to things, often hearing what they want to hear.  If it is a way to get more money, or in this care to chase a more lucrative market, the listening is often filtered through this filter of "getting more money".

The other conversation that stood out this week was with a producers wanting to complain about a market price at auction for steers sent to a show.  The issue was a poor return and that it wasn't fair to see a low price for these animals after all the hard work that had been done to prepare them.  It was an interesting conversation!  Again, the issue was a bit more complex.  The steers in question were under weight, had little fat cover and weren't really ready for the market.  However the exhibitor had been told, that by preparing them and taking them to the show, the returns at the sale "shouldn't be too bad.."

That advice had come from someone who hadn't actually seen the exhibitors steers, didn't know the weight of the steers or even what they were going to be shown for.  Yet the exhibitor accepted their advice and as result had a disappointing experience as a result!  Again there was a lot of self blame for listening to bad advice and for asking the wrong people for input.

So what do you make of those experiences.  I guess there are a few things.  Firstly, if you are embarking on a new plan or working for an ambition you hold dearly, you need to be realistic about your capabilities.  Can you really achieve that outcome with the resources you currently have to hand?  Do your cattle really suit that market?  Are your pastures really up to that level of production?  Does that certification restrict you too much?

A more deeper question is what are you trying to achieve?  If you want to make more returns and better profits, is there another way, that uses your resources efficiently and effectively?  Can your ambitions and capabilities be more aligned in a different way?

I also have to ask, who are you getting advice from?  If you are getting advice from someone who doesn't know what they are talking about, then really, what do you expect?

Just owning cows isn't always a qualification!  Can your advisor explain the challenges and opportunities for your business. Have they looked at your animals and pastures?  Do they really understand your system?  Do they actually understand the market, or is it just pub talk?  So many people talk a lot of rubbish that they have half heard or over heard in the pub / cafe / saleyards.  

I reckon most people wouldn't make business decisions on gossip.  Equally I don't think you would ask for computer repair advice from a plumber!  So if you are looking for advice to help you match up your capabilities and your ambitions look for someone who actually can come and give you what you need.

Don't be afraid to invest in the right advice.  Part of the disappointment in the conversations I had this week was a level of regret for lost income, lost opportunity, and more importantly for lost time and resources.  Investing in the right advice at the right time would have made a big difference for both of these producers.  I reckon free advice isn't always good advice.  And when you lose money, you will always be further from your ambitions!




  


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