Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Growing prime beef

There is nothing complicated about the beef cattle policy on North Canterbury’s Montrose Station. Ben and Jenny Rutherford run a straightforward breeding and finishing policy – but do the job very well with a strong focus on feeding stock to the best of their ability. The couple farm 2800ha running 650 Angus cows and 4200 Romney ewes and 1200 hoggets.

Ben is grateful his father has always favoured moderate-size bulls and cows.

Now, as the trend has moved toward smaller cows, Ben finds he is competing with others for the bulls that meet his requirements.

Ben sources genetics from a range of studs, seeking bulls that have good conformation and structure and moderate EBVs for maternal traits such as mature cow weight and birth weight.

“They’ve got to have a bit of grunt along with a good constitution and temperament.”

Many of the bulls he selects for using over heifers will go on to be used as herd sires, as he selects bulls with smooth-shoulders and average birth weights.

The bulls go out to the heifers in late November and to the mixed-age cows in the second week of December.

This year there were just 4% dries over all cows.

The in-calf heifers winter on easier hill country and are brought onto the flats for calving behind a wire. Last year they tagged the calves at birth which proved to very easy and labour-saving.

Ben was particularly pleased with the growth rates in the progeny of the first-calving heifers this year, as between November and February they were growing at very respectable 1kg/day.

The Rutherfords are pleased with the performance of their breeding cows. While Ben says he would like to see a more even line, he does acknowledge they are pretty close to where he wants them to be.

The cattle complement the sheep side of the business, which over the past 14 years has gone from a Corriedale to a Romney flock with an associated lift in lambing performance.

Where 110% used to be a good lambing, they are now averaging 140%. Last year they tailed 150% but Ben would rather have fewer, larger lambs than too many smaller ones and feels 140% is about right.

The couple run a flexible hogget-mating policy depending on the season.

Before a split four years ago, Montrose was double the size and running close to 30,000su which meant Ben was spending much of his day organising work rather than doing it.

When his sister and brother-in-law returned to Montrose it was essentially split in half, making for two very manageable units rather than one large one.

Ben says it has worked incredibly well and has allowed him to get on and farm rather than just manage staff.

Each couple now employs one shepherd and between them they employ one full-time tractor driver.

While Montrose has been well developed by generations before him, Ben is continuing this tradition and is developing hill country as finances allow. Matagouri on a block acquired in 1999 is being gradually sprayed out and the area subdivided, growing more feed to further drive stock performance.

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