Friday, July 1, 2022

Next on the rank

The McGurk family tags calves at birth and use weaning weights to rank the performance of their breeding cows. While some cows remain in the herd for up to 12 years, their rank dictates the order in which cows are culled. The McGurks also cull any cows that lose a calf, dry heifers, and for age. Cows are cared for to ensure they have condition to get back into calf next season, but the McGurks are also mindful of ensuring they run an efficient herd that can help maintain pasture for breeding ewes and lambs.

John and Linda McGurk farm in conjunction with their eldest son Brent. They run a 135-strong Simmental-South Devon cow herd, including in-calf rising two-year-old heifers. Calving is usually about 90%.

Yearling heifers are mated to a Saler bull and averaged413kg when they went to the bull on November 1 last year, but John said it had been an exceptional season.

Hoggets and single lambs at weaning time January 4, 2004.

Their calves are weaned quite early, in mid-January, between 195kg and 207kg to keep condition on heifers and ensure they get back in calf. Calves born to the cows are weaned in mid-March; steers average about 250kg, and heifers 235kg.

Calving paddocks are shut up from May 20. The mixed-age cows calve next to 10ha of saved grass. As they calve, cows and calves are shed on to saved pastures, where they spend seven to 10 days before being spread out among the twinning ewes. Heifers calve on a similar system, but are given more room after calving before being spread out among ewe hoggets and their lambs.

John said having those saved pastures during and after calving helped reduce risk of metabolic problems and provided good nutrition for cows before they were put back to work maintaining pasture among ewes and lambs.

Weaner cattle are drenched every six weeks.

On their previous farm at Ohuka, calves were left entire and killed before their second winter between 280kg and 300kg, heifers between 220kg and 240kg.

Since moving to the Ruakituri Valley, the McGurks have opted to send half their weaners out for grazing in June (although they went in April this year due to drought).

This allows more grass to be carried through to winter for the sheep.

Weaners remain at grazing until they are sold store, mostly privately, before their second winter, although some of the heifers are sent for processing.

John said paying for grazing was proving viable and they still made a margin of $200 to $250 an animal.

The McGurks enjoy farming cattle, but John said sheep made about $40/su more, so it made sense to graze cattle out and have a higher ratio of sheep.

They might look at buying their own cattle finishing block in the future, which could provide a semi-retirement option for John and Linda.

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