Rayner Reckons

May 20

Did you really tweet that?

Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I have to admit I get excited when I talk to people about social media and using it in business.  When I say social media, most people seem to roll their eyes as if to say, whats the point, or suggest the only value in social media is to have an online gossip or waste time.

I reckon that is a big underestimation of the usefulness of social media, particularly in business.  A quick look at some of the numbers in Australia, suggest that of the people who have internet access, 60% have a Facebook account.  The average use of Facebook is about 4 times a day and most people use it every day.  Other social media tools like Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube and Trip Advisor all have significant use by Australians in all walks of life.

The simple fact is, we are an age where people expect to access information and a connection with trusted sources of that information immediately.  If it is sharing family pictures or searching for information on the weather or a place to eat, people are turning to social media to get that information.  

This is the opportunity to tap into that demand.  Smart businesses see social media as a way of connecting with their customers and potential customers in a way that has never really been an option in the past.  It is pretty obvious that people want to connect with businesses and products.  They like to see images and stories of business and products they support doing well in the marketplace.

The best social media strategies encourage clients and other people to engage with a business.  That engagement needs to lead to a recognition of the business as a 'go to' for information and ideas.  

Well, thats what I am trying to achieve with RaynerAg and I have been teaching businesses how to do this in their own social media programs.

What does surprise me is how little though people give to the things they post and share on social media.  I've seen all sorts of things from tweets that contain swear words, to nasty comments, negative observations or criticism of businesses or government policy.  It seems some people confuse their ability to share their thoughts with the the impact their thoughts might have on their businesses recognition as a 'go to' source of information and ideas.

I reckon it is very unlikely that people are going to go looking for advice or to support a product when they see a series of negative posts or comments.  

Many people think it is just common sense that you don't post negative material or comments.  Yet every day I see them on Twitter, Facebook or on other sites.  So I reckon there is a gap between common sense and what really happens!

Ideally when I am teaching businesses how to use social media as part of their brand awareness, I want them to see the excitement that comes from sharing ideas and information across a much broader range of people than they could access from traditional advertising.  I really hope they become businesses that develop a reputation for information that is trusted and useful.  More importantly I want to help businesses or individuals avoid posting something that makes me ask "Did you just tweet that?"

May 08

Getting paid for the value of your cattle

Posted on Friday, May 08, 2015

I'm often asked by producers for my ideas on ways to increase the income they receive for their cattle.  Getting a better return is something most people want from their cattle.  And along with the desire to make a better return, there is always some new idea or marketing strategy that someone wants to do because they have heard it will make them more money!

Sadly I don't think there is one simple scheme, breed or idea that will guarantee you will make more money!  In my experience the way to make money in cattle production is through a combination of work and focus.  And while most people work hard, the focus is often the area that is most lacking.

So what should you be focussing on?  The first thing is your market.  Australian beef markets are well defined.  If you are selling cattle to a feedlot or to an abattoir, both of these destinations can clearly describe what type of cattle they want to buy and they can say how much they are prepared to pay for those cattle.  

Despite these specifications being readily available, many people don't appreciate what a powerful tool they are in helping you make money.

Specifications provide you with target weights and fatness.  This helps you determine suitable growth paths on farm for your animals.  It means you can use your feed reserves and make grazing decisions that will direct your animals to a market end point.  This is the focus that many people need to have but often don't.

Sadly I often see people who put cattle into a market and those animals are overweight or over fat.  This creates a few problems.  Firstly the animals are out of specification, and so will be valued at a discounted level.  So instead of an optimum price per kilogram, it is sometime much lower than the animals deserve.  

Secondly it takes your feed resources, and therefore adds to the cost of producing those animals, to get them to the weight you sold them.  So not only are they worth less per kilogram, but you also wasted feed getting them to that point.  

I reckon a lot of people don't notice they are losing money.  The extra weight, even though it has a lower value, will mask the lower each animal has made.  So that producers often miss the fact their animals didn't receive the optimum price.

Focussing on a market specification, either for feedlots of for processing, helps set realistic work goals.  Decisions about grazing management, feeding programs and other tactical decisions become easier if you are working towards an end point. 

More importantly at a strategic level you can start examining your genetics and your herd.  Are your bulls helping you achieve the correct growth rates and level of fatness required by your target market?  Do you need to be selecting a different type of cow in the breeding herd?  

Are your pastures capable of supporting your growth program?

These are important decisions that can help you target your financial resources more effectively in the long term.  While in the short term you can focus on hitting a market specification that will return you the greatest return.

I recently worked with a client who was aiming for a specification for a feedlot.  The optimum price was for steers that were 400 - 449kg.  Over 450kg the price difference was 5c/kg lower.  Initially this didn't seem to bad, however we started to look at the feed resources we had to use.  The extra cost in this instance to get steers over 450kg, effectively worked out to be the equivalent of a 25c/kg discount!  We started to look at how we were growing those steers, and by aiming for an earlier turn off at the optimum weight we were able to save around $70/hd on the steers that normally would have been in the heavy category.  To wrap this story up in past years about 10 - 15 steers would always have been too heavy, so we saved around $1000 by making a few changes and staying more focused on the plan!

There is no doubt we had to work a little bit harder and change a few management practices.  However I reckon using resources more efficiently, and targeting a specification more closely, has helped realise better returns on farm.  

I reckon working with producers to be more focussed and efficient in their work programs has helped gain a better return for the clients I've worked with.  

Apr 16

What do you expect at the local show?

Posted on Thursday, April 16, 2015

I love agricultural shows!  I'm not really sure where that love came from.  I have an early memory of going to the Picton Show as a small child, and I remember seeing cattle being judged.  I'm certain they were Charolais because in my mind they were big white animals.  While Picton is now close to the outskirts of Sydney, the Royal Easter Show was too far for us to go to until I was much older.

As a school student my desire to be involved in agriculture led me towards the school cattle showing team. So much of my extra curricular activity involved preparing steers, and weekends away at local shows in the Southern Highlands, and finally taking steers to the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

Somewhere along the way, I made a switch from being an exhibitor and competitor in the showing, and became one of the organisers.  In my final year at university I was holding the position of Secretary of the Picton Show.  

When I moved to Glen Innes, I was a member of the show society and at one stage was responsible for the Prime Cattle Section and Feedlot Competition.

Now my involvement with shows is through my role as a Councillor of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW.  So almost 25 years after this picture was taken I'm now helping to run the competitions that in many ways launched my career into agriculture.

So with that background and passion for agricultural shows, I am always interested in the comments and often criticisms that get levelled at shows.  I reckon a lot of it is unfair.  I am equally ready to admit there are always things to improve.  If you think something is perfect, then I reckon you aren't trying hard enough to progress.  

Today I saw some criticism on social media about local shows.  The comments ranged from the poor numbers of animals being exhibited, through to low prize money and lack of sponsors.  

This comes off a recent series of discussions by dairy industry representatives regarding farmer interaction and industry promotion that started in a blog, and spilled over to The Land.

So my question to people is what do you want from your show?

Shows initially were one of the only ways farmers could benchmark their production methods against their peers; to obtain expert advice and critique from judges and to learn from others new ways to go about their businesses. There certainly is nothing like competition to bring out the desire in individuals to do better!  

The reality is, industries change.  For many producers there are other ways that they can learn new techniques, can benchmark and measure their production systems.  Unlike the agricultural landscape of 50 years ago, access to experts is not restricted to a judge in a competition.  

Sadly this means some competitions decline or disappear.  And while that is sad, it is reflection of the direction of agricultural industries to move forward with technology and research.

The critics often want to say the problem is there should be more prize money and sponsorship on offer.  I think we would all like to have more money and sponsorship for our competitions!  Again, the challenge is to find businesses that can afford sponsorship and money to support competitions.  In local communities, small businesses can only afford so much on advertising and sponsorship.  

Often that money has to be spread across a lot of worthwhile community events, not just the show.  The reality is, does the show deserve more money than the local sporting teams, or to support local service clubs or even just to advertise business in traditional formats.
Having said that, its certainly not all doom and gloom!  Agricultural shows seem to respond to the changes in their industries in different ways.  New industries often find a way of promoting themselves into the area through local shows and establishing competitions.

Alpacas, utes, goats, young farmer challenges, are some of the more obvious competitions I can think of. More unusual ones include home brewing and wine making.

So I reckon the first thing is, if you don't think theres enough competition or focus on agriculture, why is that?  If you can recognise your area has a different focus on agriculture, and you want to see competition, than maybe joining the committee and helping arrange competition is a start.

I know some people feel committees are dominated by older established identities who don't like change.  I think that is an unfair thing to level at committees.  Many committees, and certainly every show society I have been a member of, has been welcoming and pleased to have new people becoming involved and sharing the work load!  The challenge is to join a committee and not expect to be running the show straight away!  

I also think the recent discussion regarding farmers expected to share industry messages and promote the industry to the broader community.  Its a bit of a tough one.  Producers who choose to compete are there for reasons that range from promotion of their operation to potential clients, not necessarily promotion to the broader population.  They are at a show to demonstrate or test their skills, ability or their knowledge.  

I reckon you have to focus on your reason for being there.  Yes interact with the public, and answer questions when you are asked.  Thats not just common sense, its also politeness.  But can you spend your time interacting with large numbers of peopled provide the messages that the industry wants shared with the community?  I don't think thats a realistic expectation to place on exhibitors or on a show society in general.

If an industry, like the dairy industry, or the red meat industry wants to share messages with the public, then it should be the role of the industries marketing and promotion bodies to do this.  Thats why they are funded through levies!  

The role of the show societies is to encourage those organisations to be part of local, regional or state hows, by providing the venues and assistance to share those messages.  But ultimately to expect a show committee or an exhibitor to do broader promotion is asking them to take on new roles, and potentially detract fro the roles they should be focussed on.

So what do you expect from your show?  I reckon if you are treating your show like an agricultural zoo, wanting to see examples of industries that may or may not exist in your community, then you are being unrealistic. If you are expecting big prize money on offer, but begrudge paying entry fees or offering to help find some sponsorship, you are being unrealistic.  If you expect a committee to offer competitions or events and then don't support them of contribute to them, then don't complain when those events are no longer conducted.  

I guess in short, we all expect a lot of things in agriculture.  Our local shows, our regional shows and our state shows, are a way of celebrating our industry and demonstrating the excitement that should exist every day in agriculture.  But the show can only celebrate these things if people are prepared to keep it relevant and to help shape the show in a way that celebrates the way agriculture is practiced in your local area.  

Apr 10

How often have you stopped and taken the time to consider your farming business?  If you can answer that question, then I reckon you're a member of a pretty small group of farmers nationally!  When most people stop to think about their farm as a business, its around tax time, completing a BAS statement or as part of financial discussions. 

Assessing your financial performance is not just important, its vital for your business.  But its not the only thing you need to be assessing.  Every farm is made up of systems that contribute to the level of production and the financial returns your system producers.  

These systems are the obvious ones such as the livestock your carry, the pastures and soils that you rely on, the infrastructure that supports your programs.  Less obvious are the systems that bring it all together, your management skills, as well as the specialist skills that you need to manage your livestock, your pastures and soils as well as the specialist marketing skills you need when you look to make a return from your production.

So how do you assess if your enterprise is running to its full potential?  
When you are making your assessment, how objective are you?
The four steers in this photograph are all the same age, and were all from the same property when this photograph was taken.  The variation between the four of these steers is obvious in the picture.  

However variation like this is common across the herd.  The flow on effect of that variation impacted on sale times, sale weights and income on the steer and surplus heifer sales.  It also impacted on joining weights and the conception rates recorded in the fixed time joining that was being followed.

One of the problems in rectifying this situation was the owner was so used to seeing the herd, the variation was no longer obvious.  The flow on effects were being ignored or not addressed correctly, instead the owner focussed on other areas to manage.

I reckon the problem is that most people are so used to seeing their operation every day, they lose their ability to see the variations, or to be objective about the strengths and weaknesses that exist in their systems, and in their farm as a whole.  When you can't identify your strengths or your weaknesses, it makes it very hard to capitalise on the opportunities that exist for you, or to prepare for the threats that may be coming.

One of the key roles of the RaynerAg business is to provide producers with an objective view of their program.  Helping reduce the variation in a program is one practical approach.  But its not just about working through the cow herd and taking out the extremes!

More importantly, I reckon its my role to help identify the strengths and weaknesses that impact on the whole business.  And then to work with the producer to come up with a plan to use the opportunities available to be more productive and profitable, and to be prepared for the threats that could be coming.

If I can help my clients take a more objective look at their business, and to do that on a regular basis, I reckon I've done a good days work!

So if you're part of the large group of Australian farmers that haven't had an objective look at your business in a while, why don't you get in touch?  I'll be happy to help you see the variation and work out ways to fix it.

Mar 17

Crossing into profit!

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Last week I was part of a road trip with Shorthorn Beef, delivering several workshops on crossbreeding.  We were holding these workshops on properties in southern NSW and in Victoria.  The three places we visited were all running crossbreeding programs to target specific markets and to capture the advantages of hybrid vigour in their herds.

I reckon crossbreeding is a concept that many producers know of, and in many cases, are actually strong advocates for.  If you're a little unsure of what crossbreeding really means, I reckon its important to know what it actually is, before you implement a crossbreeding system in your herd. 

Crossbreeding uses two (or more breeds) to produce a calf that displays the attributes of both parents.  The impact of two breeds on that calf results in an expression of hybrid vigour, which means the progeny will perform to a greater degree when compared to straight breed animals. 

This extra performance is often seen in the important traits associated with beef production, such as improved weaning weights, improved growth rates and greater longevity in a herd.  

If you use crossbreed female in your breeding herd those traits also influence your fertility rate.

So there are positive benefits from crossbreeding!  If I needed to go a little further, one of the more obvious advantages of crossbreeding is to introduce new traits to your herd, such as adaptation to heat or pests, or to capture other production traits that are important to you and may take a long while to select for within a breed.

While crossbreeding systems offer these advantages, many people grow discouraged by crossbreeding.  I've wondered for a long time why that might be.  I reckon there are a few reasons.  Firstly, there are different strategies involved in crossbreeding.  The most simple is to use two breeds generating an F1 calf.  These calves display all the hybrid vigour effects and surplus females are always in demand for people wanting to use them in breeding herds.

In this simple system, there is a positive return from extra growth in the F1 progeny.  These extra kilograms result in an increase in gross margins when compared to the straight breed program.  

However the big increases start to occur when producers look to use crossbred females in the breeding program.  

When they do this, its very quickly apparent that the hybrid vigour effect in both the parent and the progeny result in increases across the range of production traits.  

The downside is, these systems need to be planned and followed in the joining program.  It seems that many people move away from crossbreeding systems because they forget to follow a plan, or they find difficulties in making the system work to their benefit.

So instead of using a crossbreeding system that allows you to have increased weaning weights, improved longevity in your herd and greater fertility in your cows, (both of which mean keeping less replacement heifers) many people step back from crossbreeding because they are frightened by a perception of complexity!  

Maybe the other concern is that people have dabbled with crossbreeding and have been disappointed by the results they have received.  I know of a few producers who have bought cheaper bulls to use over their second choice cows, "just to see what would happen".  While the progeny did grow well, the results weren't everything they expected, so it becomes a program that isn't "all its cracked up to be!"

Well, I reckon there are a few simple messages.  One,  is that if you want to increase your kilograms of beef producers and earn a greater return in your enterprise, you should be considering or implementing a crossbreeding strategy.  The only exception may be where you have a target market for straight bred animals that suits you and rewards you well enough already.  

The second message is you need to elect the best quality sires and dams from the breeds you want to use. Don't use second rate genetics!  Rubbish crossed with rubbish still results in rubbish!  

Thirdly follow the plan.  Most crossbreeding problems occur when people deviate from the plan, for example by keeping heifers that should have been sold or introducing a new breed without thinking about what will be done with the progeny.  

If you want to consider crossbreeding and if it will take your herd into a new direction of production, take the time to discuss options and ideas.  I've helped a few people in the last 12 months weigh up their options and we have come up with some very nice programs that will be exciting for their results and for the profits they will generate!

Feb 20

How much does it cost to buy cattle?

Posted on Friday, February 20, 2015

There's no doubt the prices for cattle have been a major talking point in the last two months.  The average sale yard price for cattle of all descriptions are significantly higher than the average over the past 36 months.  In some cases records are being broken and many people are struggling to remember if prices have ever been so high.  

With this strong market, I've received a lot of requests from people wanting to buy and sell cattle, as well as people looking to understand the industry a little better, to advise them on what an animal is worth.  

In the case of commercial animals, I rely on the NLRS market reports, that are available online every day.  These are the reports you hear on the ABC Country Hour or read in your weekly rural papers. I reckon these reports are the most useful guide on current market prices, and when we are looking at cattle in a paddock, its the best option to work out a value.

But how do you put a value, or budget on buying new breeding stock such as a new bull or some new cows?

There's lots of people who have an opinion on what a new bull should cost you.  As you can imagine the range in opinions is pretty broad!  I had some comments on the RaynerAg Facebook page on this topic, with suggestions about buying from smaller studs where the price will be lower, through to the importance of recognising the value of long term genetic improvement.

So how do you value the cost of a bull?  

Well there are a few things to consider.  The first thing is you are investing in an animal that will have an influence on three generations of your herd.  So you need to recognise that you are buying an animal that offers value over a long time.  

More importantly, the traits or genetics that bull has, may allow you to produce more kilograms of beef more quickly, or hit your market specifications more efficiently.  These improvements in your herd can earn you more, so spending on genetics might well be justified.

I reckon there are some things to think about when determining your spending limit.  Firstly how many cows will your bull be joined to in his working life?  Unfortunately the average working life of bulls is only around 3.5 years.  Many bulls seem to break down physically after this time.  This means if you want a bull to have a longer working life, you need to focus on structural soundness as much as on genetic potential.  

How many cows will your bull be joined to?  On average most producers join bulls at a rate of 3% to their cow groups.  Some bulls get slightly higher numbers, but this is pretty much a common joining rate in southern Australia (NSW, Vic, SA, Tas and southern WA).  From that we can work out that a bull will probably sire 30 calves a year for 3.5 years.  Which means an average bull may sire about 105 calves in his working life.

According to Beef Central, the average price for a bull across all breeds in 2014 was $4639.  on current market prices, the salvage value of a bull, that is what it is worth at the end of his working life is around $1500.  From this we can work out that the bull is actually worth about $3,139.  From this, you can work out the value of every each calf he sires.   In this example the cost per calf will be $29.89

If that is the cost of an average calf, then why would you spend more?  It now comes back to how much you want to improve your performance.  Not every bull is average!  Some bulls will grow faster, be leaner or fatter at the same stage of growth, some have better temperament and some have more muscle.

Genetic differences are the key to how productive your herd is.  Finding a bull with the genetic potential to move your herd can now be budgeted.  

It might be that if you can produce calves that will grow slightly faster than the average, you could turn your steer progeny off 3 weeks earlier.  This earlier turn off might allow you to capture a higher market return, and the extra value on those steers justifies spending more than the average on a new bull.

I reckon the challenge in determining how much it costs to buy cattle, isn't about the round figure sale price everyone likes to quote.  Instead I reckon its about working out: 

  • how much your calves cost you?

  • can better genetics help you achieve your target more efficiently?

  • is there a financial advantage to be had - either in the paddock or at sale time?

If you can answer those questions then I reckon you can work out the price you can afford to spend on bulls.  And if you don't really know how to start answering those questions, I reckon you should give me a call and I'll help you come up with some results to take you forward.

Feb 04

Why show cattle?

Posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Being part of agricultural shows has been a huge part of my life.  I'm fortunate to have not only been a judge of cattle showing in judging rings across the country; I've been a ring steward, show official and even prepared and exhibited cattle for judging.  So I guess in almost 30 odd years of being around livestock judging I've heard the comment "its not commercially relevant" once or twice!

Last week I saw a few people share this article from the UK with some comments about showing cattle from an Australian breeder who has a firm opinion that breeding decisions should be made on objective data, particularly EBVs.  

I've heard this before, although to read that selecting animals by eye was holding the industry back did surprise me more than a little!  

I reckon there were some important points raised by this article.  Firstly nobody can argue that EBVs are one of the most important tools producers have to identify the genetic merit of animals they wish to use within their breeding herds.  

However, EBVs are only part of the selection story. EBvs don't actually identify if an animal has 4 feet!  If it walks correctly, its structural soundness or its maturity pattern relative to your herd.  Its for these reasons my advice to bull buyers has always been to find the animals that fall within the EBV range for the traits you desire, and then go and look at each bull to critically assess his physical attributes.

So where does the show ring fit into this debate?  I've spent a lot of time considering this question.  I reckon there are several things to take into consideration.  

Firstly it is one method of promotion. Promotion for individual breeders and for a breed generally.  Its important not to discount the generation of interest in a breeder or a breed through being displayed in front of many people.

Secondly it does give potential buyers the chance to see a number of animals from a number of breeding programs in one place at one time!  As part of my masters research I asked farmers about the time invested in researching new information.  Using their time wisely was one of the most common discussion points.  So how many producers are able to afford to take a week off and travel around widely dispersed breeding programs to look at the cattle and then hopefully remember if the two year old bulls they saw at the start of the week are comparable to the bulls at the end of the week?

In a single day at a show, producers can see a range of breeders and cattle.  Regardless of the ring results, they can follow up on their own preferences by talking to the exhibitor, checking the animals EBVs for the suitability to their herd and making a more complete decision about following up on a breeder or not.

Exhibiting cattle exposes breeders to another form of feedback.  They are exposed to not only the commentary of a judge; but to the comments, suggestions & criticisms or other breeders and industry observers.  It can be a fast way to obtain feedback on everything from sire selection decisions to nutritional programs and structural soundness.

And while EBVs can be used to show the genetic differences in animals, visually seeing those differences as animals stand side by side in age classes can be an valuable lesson to many breeders.

A final point many overlook comes down to the importance of connecting with the broader community.  I reckon we are all pretty quick to complain that city people don't understand or care about farming.  It is harder to connect with people outside of agriculture.  The success and long term survival of the industry is not so much dependant on producers simply doing their job.

It depends on the broader community wanting to purchase our products, and to understand and support our industry.  Exhibiting livestock gives farmers the opportunity to demonstrate in the most visible way, their commitment to animal welfare and their on going goal of producing the food for people to enjoy and desire.

So for that reason alone, I reckon showing is commercially relevant.  Because if we cant engage with the broader community to tell our story and show our pride in what we do, in the long term we are all going to struggle more than we need to!

Jan 22

Dealing with bloat

Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2015

If I had to describe the feeling around the cattle industry at the start of 2015, I think I would have to say it was optimistic, tinged with relief.  I think these feelings are a direct result of the combination of rainfall & pasture growth over a wide area.  Combine this with some of the highest prices many people can recall being offered for cattle of all descriptions and its hard not to be relieved and optimistic about the future. 

The rain certainly hasn't reached everyone, and there are still large parts of Northern NSW in drought conditions.  Sadly I've had to help clients make the difficult decision to completely de-stock.  The only positive is the market strength ensured this decision was rewarded with a good financial return.

Seasonal conditions on the western side of the North West Slopes of NSW and on parts of the plains, still look much like this picture.  The frustration of seeing the rain skirting around is immense.  

My advice has been to continue to follow the drought plan developed for the property, and to look to reduce numbers through selling.  At this stage feeding cattle is fair too expensive and with the market as strong as it is, its financially the only sensible option to consider.

While I have been working with producers on drought plans and market decisions, I've also been spending time with producers struggling to utilise the rapid growth of feed they now have as a result of the rain.  

In some case pasture mass is still average or patchy, but the rapid daily growth of pastures is now starting to see herbage mass build up.  Keeping pastures grazed is a challenge, and there are various options we have been discussing.

For most people the rapid growth is good news. However there are a few tips worth considering as you start to use this pasture growth for  livestock production.

The most commonly referred to issue is bloat.  Bloat is caused when grazing young lush pasture, and is more prevalent in pastures with high legume content.  That is pastures with plenty of clover, medics or lucerne.  One of the by products of ruminant digestion is a large amount of gas.  Normally cattle can belch this gas out.  

Unfortunately the nature of legumes results in a foam developing in the rumen which traps the gas. Cattle cant really belch the gas or foam, and the pressure build up causes the rumen to press against the lungs.  If the pressure cant be relieved the animal will die, generally from the pressure on the lungs and obstruction to breathing and blood flow.

I reckon bloat is one of the hardest things to manage, and there are no absolute methods to prevent it occurring.  Very early or mild cases can be treated with an oral anti bloat preparation, which helps break the foam up.  Animals more affected will need veterinary attention.  

Managing to minimise bloat often involves a combination of strategies.  These include:

* Restrict pasture intake by limiting grazing time or strip grazing

*Don't place hungry cattle onto lush green pastures, particularly if it is high in legume content

*It can be useful to allow cattle access to older grass pastures or hay when grazing potential bloat risk pastures

Some producers have had good success with bloat capsules, bloat blocks and medicating water supplies with a bloat oil.  Its important to remember these options have limitations.  Bloat capsules are not always available when you need them.  They also take a few days to take effect and this means animals are still at risk just after they receive the capsule.

Bloat blocks or water treatments rely on animals consuming them.  Not all animals will use blocks, and on lush pastures or if cattle can access water in other ways, they may not use medicated water in troughs.  Every situation will be slightly different and if you are concerned about a pasture and its risk, get some advice and develop a strategy that works for you.  NSW DPI has a useful guide on bloat which lists some treatment options if bloat becomes and issue.

Most people blame bloat for cattle losses when grazing lush pasture.  While bloat can be a cause of death, many more animals are killed by the Clostridial Bacteria that causes Pulpy Kidney, or to give it its technical name, Enterotoxaemia.  

The bacteria that cause this disease normally live in the intestine in low numbers.  Sudden changes of feed allow these bacteria to multiply rapidly.  As they do they produce toxin faster than the body can deal with and death of the animal occurs very quickly.  Unfortunately there isn't really any treatment for this disease.  The first sign is often finding dead cattle.

Its important to prevent the disease by making sure your animals have been vaccinated with 5 in 1 and if they are grazing lush feeds or changing diets, that you give them a booster shot before you make the change.  There may be times when you have to give a booster every 90 days.

I reckon that the growth we are getting in most areas will be the biggest help for producers.  So to make the best use of it, just remember that some simple strategies, combined with an appropriate vaccination program will stand you and your cattle in better stead for the rest of the growing season.


Jan 14

Safely working with cattle

Posted on Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Its great to be back after a short break over Christmas and the New Year.  Starting 2015 has been really exciting with a few new projects.  I've been catching up on some of the agricultural news from around the country and internationally.  One particular story did catch my eye.  

It was about a producer in England who had been forced to cull his herd of cows as a result of their aggression towards himself and his staff.  The story described these particular animals as the German Heck breed,  and were breed in the 1930's and 1940's.  With the links to the Nazi party, the strangeness of the breed and the danger to people this story has had world wide attention!  

I'm not really in any position to make a comment on the animals, the farmer or the story.  Rather it was a story that made me start thinking about handling cattle and the importance of focussing on temperament within a herd.

I reckon temperament is one of the most important things you should be selecting for in your herd.  It is a highly heritable trait.  So focussing on breeding cattle with better temperaments will show improvements within the herd.

There are plenty of ways you can focus on, and select for better temperament.  Within your herd the most obvious starting point is to identify any animals that show aggression towards you or other people.  

These animals really have no place in your herd, and are dangerous.  You should remove them from your herd and if your records are good enough, look at the behaviour of the progeny and consider their temperament in the overall direction of your program.

An objective method of assessing temperament is to record the behaviour of each animal in the crush or the race.  Let each animal come up and stand in the crush or the race by itself.  Note down the ones that stand calmly, the ones that are restless and the ones that can't settle and try to jump or exit the race.

If you do this with every animal you can identify the quiet ones through to the ones with much poorer temperament.

Other methods to assess temperament include a flight speed test.  This basically is two light beams set apart at the end of the crush.  When the animal leaves the crush it breaks the first beam, and then shortly afterwards the second beam.  How quickly it breaks the beams is related to its speed and overall temperament.  Many breeders have used both crush scores and flight speed to identify animals for breeding, and these scores can be submitted for inclusion into EBV records.

Selection for better temperament and removal of individuals are the two key strategies for improving your animals temperament.  However I reckon its just as important to remember that how you handle and treat your animals will also impact on their behaviour.

Cattle are herd animals, and don't like to be left alone, particularly in strange or threatening places. If you do have to put animals in a yard, try and put them with a mate.  This will help them feel more safe.  

Cattle have a flight zone which they rely on to keep them out of danger.  Any perceived threats, including people, results in them moving away.  If they can't move away, such as in the yards, then they often fall back on the only option which is to threaten the thing causing them fear.  This is why formerly quiet animals may suddenly become more anxious or aggressive.

Cows will be very protective of young calves around people and especially dogs.  Again the quietest cow can become very threatening if she perceives her calf is in danger.

So it is important to understand how to work with cattle, to recognise the difference between an animal trying to give itself space from a threat, and an animal that is genuinely aggressive. When you take the time to learn how to work with cattle safely, you can avoid causing yourself and the cow unnecessary stress or anger.  And the ones that are genuinely dangerous, sell them out of your herd as soon as its safe to do so.

Dec 19

2014 - What a year!

Posted on Friday, December 19, 2014

Looking back on my diary for 2014, it has been an extraordinary year!  I established RaynerAg in March 2013, and that was a big year in itself.  I really hoped 2014 would be a year to build on.  Looking back, I'm a bit blown away to see so many goals achieved!

The year commenced with pregnancy testing across the North West of NSW.  Pregnancy testing took me from Tamworth to Gunnedah, up to Barrabra and the Horton Valley, across to Boggabri, over the Liverpool Plains and down as far as Wellington. 

I really enjoyed this work.  I met a lot of new people and I got a chance to see new areas and to talk about managing fertility, plans for managing pregnant cows and nutrition programs for the season ahead.  

I'm already taking bookings from some of these producers to do next years testing, and I'm really pleased to be going back and building on those relationships.

The continued drought across much of eastern Australia tested many of the producers I worked with.  We spent a lot of time working on plans to mange the season, developing rations and strategies to cope with the impact of the drought. 

Every drought is a learning experience, and this year I learnt new things about feeds such as grape marc.  While we hope to see drought conditions ease soon, I am happy to come and help anyone revisit and renew drought plans or rations if the season hasn't changed in the new year.

This years bull selling season provided a few opportunities to support producers making decisions on buying bulls.  I'm really grateful to Kilburnie Angus; Yamburgan Shorthorns & Elite Poll Herefords for engaging me to support their sales and assist their clients.  

This years bull sales were a challenge.  According to Beef Central numbers sold nationally were down around 9.7% on last year.  However the good news was prices lifted slightly (around 3.3%) on last year.  So that I guess suggests continued confidence in the industry.  Some big improvements on prices were Brahmans with an increase in average sale price of 14.6%; Shorthorns by 7.9% and Charolais by 7.5%.

These are good increases.  Although it might be that price is a result of smaller catalogue numbers, improving the quality on offer and increasing competition.  

I've greatly enjoyed the chance to participate in a number of industry training field days and events this year.  I had a couple of trips to South Australia for the SA Junior Heifer Expo and then for the South Australian Beef Assessment School at Mount Compass.  

I reckon these events are really important for the beef industry.  Not only for sharing knowledge and skills, but for connecting people and making sure we have a network that supports each other in production and socially.   I really have a lot of fun at these events and I'm appreciative of the chance to be involved this year.

There have been plenty of other big highlights in 2014!  Supporting local agricultural shows is an ongoing focus for me.  I have been pleased to be a judge at several local shows, as well as the Brisbane Ekka.  The commitment to the Sydney Royal Easter Show gives me a great chance to see some of the best agricultural exhibits anywhere in the country.  

I have to admit I am very excited about my involvement with the team from ClassiMate  and the project to develop a cattle assessment system.  I am positive this will present a lot of opportunities for breeders next year, and I can't wait to meet some new people who are already asking me to assess their cattle.

I reckon this year has been an amazing year.  There have been some big highlights, and a chance to share lots of ideas and suggestions with people all over the country.

However the best part of the year has without doubt been the support and encouragement of producers.  

I appreciate the trust shown in me to invite me onto your farm to observe and comment on your business and your livestock.  I'm very glad that I've been able to help you all achieve your goals and I look forward to continuing to support you throughout the year ahead.  

I hope you, your family and friends have a happy and safe Christmas and a very successful and rewarding 2015.

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