Herd management critical

AS ONE of the leading vets in northern Australia, Dr Ian Braithwaite has focused for more than 15 years on ensuring his leading-edge clients deliver a good return on assets by concentrating on herd production systems.
Possessing a great depth of knowledge of the bovine and beef production systems of northern Australia, Dr Braithwaite began honing his skills during the 1980s while managing health and disease eradication in beef cattle across the north.
More recently, Dr Braithwaite has used his skills and experience working in collaboration with his clients to analyse their business on a holistic basis, concentrating on sustainable herd production systems, including financial management, human resources, training and rangeland pasture management.
One of the important roles he plays is being the interface between beef industry theory and implementing the theory appropriately on-farm.
During Dr Braithwaite's work schedule he sees many beef operations across northern Australia,and in his opinion the northern beef cattle industry needs to change rapidly.
He says business practices that were successful 30 years ago are now antiquated. New production systems that provide understanding of the cow herd, predictability of calf crop and various management options are now required.
The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) - originally designed with the traceability of meat in mind - now enables producers to monitor cattle and collect data when they are mustered.
The data stored and tracked using the NLIS during a beast's lifetime is becoming invaluable in managing and recording individual performance.
The successful northern Australian beef producers Dr Braithwaite works with identify and recognise the costs of operating their business, and are committed to high standards in animal health and welfare.
They are also dedicated to ensuring high standards in environmental practice, while 'sustainable' range and grass management is part of their business model.
These producers also demonstrate a high standard of human resource management, ensuring their staff are accredited and educated in modern rangeland and beef industry practices.
Dr Braithwaite says management of the herd is critical to a profitable business. He is concerned there is a dive in cow fertility in northern Australian beef herds, with many herds having less than a 50 per cent weaning rate, and many also carrying unproductive cows.
"Part of the rectification of this situation requires greater collaboration between stud breeders and commercial beef enterprises," he said.
"Genetics plays a critical role in correcting this spiral dive in cow fertility."
Dr Braithwaite says the minimum requirement for northern beef producers purchasing bulls should be to request a bull breeding soundness examination, including a semen examination test showing a minimum sperm morphology of between 50pc and 70pc.
He feels increased emphasis will be placed on the maternal and paternal fertility history of the bull in the future.
Northern beef producers should request from their stud breeders estimated breeding values that provide information on days to calving and the number of calves over the female's life.
"There is a need to select for genetic traits in Bos indicus bulls that have female offspring that have a moderate mature body weight for efficiency in rangeland farming which will be very important in the future," he said.
"Pregnancy testing heifers and cows provides significant steps forward in data recording and the ability to identify underperforming female cattle from the system."
The breeding management programs established by Dr Braithwaite's leading-edge clients ensure their cattle are ready for market early in the season to capitalise on high prices.
This model ensures cattle are sold at optimal weight and are some of the first cattle to market after the wet season, which assists in subsequently reducing pressure on rangeland grasses.
Dr Braithwaite says the model his clients have adopted provides their enterprise with a system that can deliver predictability of livestock flows, which in turn leads to predictability of cash flows, which is an urgent initiative and priority for many beef producers in northern Australia.
Dr Braithwaite says Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) recognised for a number of years that the northern Australian beef industry was experiencing structural and financial difficulty.
In 2008 MLA commissioned a beef situation analysis study on the northern beef industry and published the findings the following year. This report revealed a significant percentage of beef producers in northern Australia had been making a loss for six out of seven years between 2000-2008.
Given that up to 50pc of the beef cattle bred and grown in Australia are produced in northern Australia, this is a critical issue for every enterprise involved in the beef meat and live cattle export industry supply chain, he says.
One of the initiatives the MLA has instituted to assist in turning around profitability in the north is conducting two-day business workshops to assist producers to better understand their business.
Since June 2011 MLA has conducted five workshops with some 100 participants taking part.



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