Friday, July 8, 2022

Japanese beef well done

Finishing beef for Japanese consumers has given a Southland couple a range of new skills. Key points Buy in calves, finish for Japanese contract Use a wintering shed and mixer wagon to lift growth rates High spring calf prices led to dairy heifer grazing increase Increasing mob size and subdivision About 900 beef and dairy cattle on the 360haSouthland farm Gary and Tania Coker finish cattle on their 360ha rolling hill farm for the Aleph company in Japan through a contract with Canterbury Meat Packers. Aleph requires cattle produced in a low input system rather than an organic one. Also whole grain feeding is not allowed as Aleph values grass-fed beef. It is the Cokers eighth year at Dacre since shifting from Mid Canterbury (they appeared in Country-Wide October 2010). Last year they wintered 600 cattle. Normally they buy cattle in autumn and spring then take them through to the next autumn.

The 75m by 18m wintering shed cost $100,000 to build in 2008 with another $40,0000 for the concrete. Polythene and PVC’s latest pricing for a shed 75 m by 27m is $150,000. They allow four square metres per cow.

Gary and Tania didn’t let on what prices they are paid for their beef cattle but are confident that over the years it is has been comfortably above schedule.

A major advantage has been the ability to plan and work off a contract price.

Aleph’s farming requirements mean better control of inputs and a drop in farm costs. They used to drench the cattle more, when they thought the animals needed it. Now they faecal egg count and drench only when they have to.

Dairy heifer calves are regarded as a higher risk by the Cokers for infecting paddocks with internal parasites. So when they arrive they are kept separate from the beef cattle until older. With adult dairy cows they can be more flexible.

All the drenching is the responsibility of the dairy farmer – the Cokers just have to get the heifers to the yards.

Having a good stock water supply is a key part of the farming operation.

Beef cattle drink a lot of water, about 70 litres/day, dairy cows about 85l/day. Tania says on a hot day they can drink more.

“You can go looking for leaks but turns out it is just the cattle drinking water.”

A pump stopping and the stock running out of water is always in the back of Gary’s mind.

“If it is hot and we are down on water it is hard to catch up.”

An electronic monitor tells Gary the water level in the tank. And it is wired up to stop pumping if the water gets to down to 40% in the main tank. That way they know there is at least half a tank of water until the leak is fixed. 

Quiet please

Care has to be taken not to spook the cattle when working around the feedlot.

Fortunately, there has been only one major breakout in the early days when Gary spooked them. Tania looked up from the feeding trough to see 100 nine-month-old calves running towards her and had to take quick evasive action. Sudden loud noises, strangers and even one of them jumping over the fence into a pen could set them off.

Snow on roof of the wintering shed could be a potential problem but so far the only damage has been from wind and Gary with a front-end loader.

If the animals are inside there should be enough heat to melt the snow on the roof. If no animals are in they have been advised to cut the plastic as it is easier to replace than the structure.

The effluent pond has capacity well above the consent for 330 animals to capture the run-off from the wintering shed. The solid waste is held by giant concrete blocks made by Firth from concrete left over from other jobs.

EID has also been a good addition to the operation as they can follow individuals and lines of cattle through the system. It gives instant information at weighing on each cattle beast.

“As soon as they step on the scales we know what they have done (in weight gain) whether it is 10 days or two months since their last weighing.” (More on their EID system and others in Country-Wide May.)

Gary and Tania now have a fair idea which lines of calves are better to buy than others but don’t have any farmers contracted to supply directly to them.

“These guys still want to go to the sales,” Gary says.

He is a member of the local Beef Improvement Group. The rest of the group are all breeders so he now has a better understanding of their operation and problems such as mating heifers. They ask him what type of cattle beast he wants to buy. Temperament is the priority as wild cattle don’t do as well as quiet ones. 

A fair ribbing

At times the job is not without its hazards. Gary was tagging from outside the race with no crush. One needed turning round so he jumped into the race, as he has often done, and got rammed right in the ribs and broke one. 

Off farm investments

The Cokers are equity partners in a dairy farm and the couple recently bought another 263ha, 19km away which they will take over on June. The plan is to build a shed and a similar finishing cattle operation.

Tania and Gary run the farm themselves with a little help from casuals.

Tania says they haven’t employed anyone permanent but with the extra farm they will have to look at that.

“We are already working hard enough.”

Their two sons James, 21, and Leighton, 20, are interested in farming and likely to be involved more. The new farm will be run with the home block with gear shared between the two farms.

Their two girls Alexandra, 16, and Charlotte, 14, are also keen to help out around the farm.

Initially about 10% of the farm was covered each year in pasture renovation when they took over it but now it is about 7%. It is probably not enough to warrant buying a direct drill even with buying the new farm.

But, as Tania says, Gary suffers from “metal disease” and if it were used for contracting as well, he might be allowed to buy one.

The Cokers have no regrets moving from Mid Canterbury to Southland. Gary likes the benefits of natural rainfall even though little had fallen for the year when Country-Wide called in.

“In Canterbury I was cutting trees down to make way for irrigation. Here I am planting them for shelter.”

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