Friday, July 1, 2022

Seeking continual improvement

Hidden in the hills and pines of Diggers Valley in the Far North, Eddie McCarthy and neighbour John Bookless breed and rear calves which top their local Broadwood weaner fair every year. There are few places more remote in New Zealand but their cows and calves thrive in the warm winters and fruitful springs. With about seven months of growing at an average of 1.5kg a day, the weaner bulls regularly go over the Broadwood scales approaching 350kg LW and are keenly sought by buyers and their agents in the whole of the upper North Island. This year the widespread drought reduced prices but Eddie and John still claimed top place with $930 for a pen of Simmental-cross which weighed 351kg and were worth $2.64/kg.

Another pen made $845 at $2.50/kg over 338kg average LW and a third pen $760 at $2.45/kg for 310kg LW. The average for the whole sale for those vendors was $837/head, only $20 down on last year.

A week after the male calves the heifers sold at Broadwood to a top price of $590 ($1.88/kg, 313kg LW) and a sale average of $551, whereas last year the top was $760 and the average $708.

Eddie and John specialise in whiteface cows (Friesian x Hereford) mated with Simmental bulls bought from John and Sarah Hammond, Owhata Simmentals, on the west coast beyond Herekino.

They buy in 15 to 20 replacement heifers every year, some of which are in calf to Charolais. The time for that buying is in April or May and the partners paid $1100/head in 2012.

That was the year in which they achieved their best weaner price of $1018 for bull calves, which weighed in at 348kg LW and were valued at $2.92/kg by the winning bidder in a keen contest.

Eddie and John run 150 breeding cows on 136ha effective which contains some river flats and gentle sheltered slopes up to bush-clad tops.

Eddie and Angela McCarthy put their home farm under pines in 1995 and now partner in livestock with John Bookless who farms 4km down the valley towards Herekino.

The Bookless farm is subdivided down to 2.5ha, which can feed 150 cows for a day. The whole property is ryegrass with kikuyu dominance in the summer and autumn when the cows are the best users of the rough feed.

The cows in the herd have an average age of six years with some up to 12 years old and they must produce a calf a year to stay in the herd.

Four bulls are kept for stud duties and they go out to the cows at Labour weekend for six to eight weeks.

Calving is from August 1 and weaning is not until they are trucked to the Broadwood fairs in March.

This is strictly a store stock property and Eddie and John believe the weaner fairs are their first and best opportunity to generate maximum income from sale stock.

“The intending buyers are prepared to pay a premium for good weaners out of the Far North because we are early to market.

“The competition is keen from all over the upper North Island because farmers want weaners which will get to killing weights before their second winter,” Eddie said.

Cows then have five months regaining weight over autumn and winter before calving again.

Calves get five-in-one vaccines and coccidiostats at six weeks of age. Seven weeks later they get the second all-purpose vaccine and a pour-on drench, with another drench early February at dehorning.

Eddie calculates the total animal health costs at $8 to $10 a calf, plus three times through the yards and the cows get rotavirus injections and coppers.

The business plan calls for continual genetic improvement through the Simmental sires and for constant farm management improvement expressed in calf weight gains and condition.

“Our increasing weights just keep up with the growing expenses.

“Costs go up and despite record prices in the US market for beef schedule prices never get above $4.50/kg CW so we just have to concentrate on what we can do better on farm,” Eddie said.

However, both men believe the rising cost structure and lack of reward will eventually drive the cow-calf operators out of business.

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