'THE LAND' March 1, 2012 by Shan Goodwin
With the aim of turning off Angus and Angus/Brangus yearlings that meet the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grid by 12 months, predominantly from a pasture-based system, the Pratt family of North East NSW are integrating breeding, a rotational grazing program incorporating soilcare biological farming principles and some progressive animal handling techniques.
Critical to their operation has been a property plan, which has allowed for strategic placement of infrastructure and paddock division to ensure pastures are fully utilised and regenerated. That has resulted in easier stock handling procedures carried out with minimal stress, which eliminates the need for dogs. The Pratts' believe animal handling is a key component of maintaining meat eating quality and good daily weight gains and their farm is designed to that end.
Lynton and Di Pratt run the 435-hectare "Lyncoranne" at Theresa Creek, west of Casino, with about 250 stud and commercial breeders, plus sale bulls and unjoined heifers. Feeder cattle are marketed to butchers on Queensland's Gold Coast and in the Tweed Valley area of Far North NSW, with a 98 per cent MSA compliance rate. Calves are creep fed, weaned at nine months and then given ad-lib access to a feeder ration and silage in conjunction with pasture. Under optimum conditions, the operation is achieving an average two kilogram daily weight gain, with yearlings finished to individual butcher's specifications of 360 to 450 kilograms live weight, full.
"Lyncoranne" is mixed country - creek flats, undulating hill paddocks and sheltered ridge country with black soils, sandy loams, clay and basalt soils. About 120ha is native forest, selectively logged in accordance with a Private Vegetation Plan agreement. The property is an amalgamation of three farms, which the Pratts have divided into smaller paddocks with strategically located watering points to suit. Kikuyu, paspalum, Rhodes grass, clover and native grasses are the main pastures.
"Lyncoranne" is managed under holistic principles whereby biological activity is promoted and organic matter returned, with no chemical fertilisers and only spot spraying for weeds.
"We regularly measure pasture growth, moving cattle on when it is down to a level where it can regenerate, so rotation could be anything from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the season," Mr Pratt said.
"We only fine-tune by slashing when pasture becomes seedy and unutilised by our cattle in the rotation program process.
"The aim is to retain optimum nutritional value in pastures.
"We have four sets of stockyards - we basically took the yards to the cattle so we can muster with a minimum of stress."
Fence locations are designed to assist in the mustering of cattle into catch areas and laneways more efficiently, using minimal force and verbal commands only. Cattle are run in six single-sired genetic mobs, with each mob rotated across four paddocks.
"Being able to move cattle around quickly, effectively and with no stress to the animals is important when you are rotational grazing and in times of floods, when we need to get cattle to higher ground fast," Mr Pratt said.
The Pratts make every effort to use the best genetics for their stud and commercial herds, selecting for carcase performance, growth, early maturing, feed efficiency, fertility, conformation and temperament. Their objective is to consistently breed top quality commercial "carcase trait" yearlings. The herd was based on Te Mania and Booroomooka Angus bloodlines, with the Brangus content now being progressively phased out.
ON PLAN AT 'LYNCORANNE'
LYNTON and Di Pratt (pictured with son Corbin) first put together a property plan for their Theresa Creek beef operation, "Lyncoranne", in 1997 as a blueprint for their rotational grazing management system.
They have been using digital mapping software for the past two years, transferring their hard copy property plan to computer along with their computerised cattle and farm records.
"So many farmers have a plan in their head - putting it on paper it means both of us are working on the same page," Mr Pratt said.
"It also helped us obtain Northern Rivers Catchment Management funding for erosion control works."