BIG is not necessarily better for this Angus breeder, writes FIONA MYERS
Don't expect to survive on Ken Nankervis's farm if you are bad tempered.
A flick of the tail or a wild eye if you are a cow will mean a ticket straight to the saleyards.
The former dairy farmer is strict on temperament and it shows in his herd.
Walk into the paddock and it's hard to get through the extraordinarily quiet herd of Angus breeders.
That's not to say the cattle are just sweet-tempered.
An emphasis on high Breedplan figures means the steers are always keenly sought at the store sales too.
It's the care that Ken takes with every aspect of his operation that makes this herd so special.
Ken and his family run a 160-cow herd on rolling hills in the Tallangatta Valley.
It's 950mm rainfall country, though in the past two years, 1250mm has fallen annually on the 250ha farm.
After surrendering his dairy farming credentials, he bred vealers using an Angus-cross cow, but found the range in offspring hard to market.
"We would get 50 good calves ready for slaughter and 50 that wouldn't be all that great," he said. "So someone suggested we get on to straight-bred cattle and that was the start of our Angus herd."
Rather than breed up from the existing F1 cows, the herd was sold off and Ken bought a line of young Angus cows.
"We were able to buy 100 heifers in one lot and they were really good quality," he said.
Initially, the Nankervises used Beartooth Angus bulls, but when that stud dispersed, they swapped to using Alpine Angus bulls from Porepunkah.
A couple of new bulls are selected each year. The bulls are used for three joinings until they are five, then they are swapped for new sires.
Each year, Ken gets the bull catalogue and spends time poring over the details to get a shortlist of suitable candidates.
The first to be ruled out are bulls with birthweights of more than +5.
If the bulls can't pass this first criteria, it doesn't matter about the rest of their figures.
"I'm very particular about birthweight and not using or choosing bulls over +5.
"It's better to have a small calf which is alive than a dead big calf.
"In the past three years, I've only pulled one calf."
Ken speaks from experience. He once was tempted by a bull that had great statistics but a big birthweight. Never again.
"We were pulling every second calf and that's when I really got a tough lesson and started to think about it a lot more," he said.
The next criteria to go under the microscope is the 600-day weight.
Ken highlights the bulls with the best figures for this Breedplan criteria, hoping to be able to secure them as his first preference.
But then there's the final criteria - price.
Ken won't go over $6000 for an Angus bull, which has become more challenging in recent bull-buying seasons.
He's got an alternative if he can't get the bulls he wants - and it doesn't involve compromising on quality.
At rates higher than $6000, Ken will use artificial insemination for the cows, using his skills from his dairy days.
"We have local people who could do the AI for us, and we could use some great sires for the cost of one commercial bull," he said.
At the moment, they join their cows naturally, with bulls put in for six weeks in the heifers and eight weeks for the cows.
This is a deliberate aim to keep the calving period compact, with the progeny a similar age and weight to market together.
The calving is split, however, with most calving in March, but some also calving in August, which helps spread cash flow, as well as maximising carrying capacity.
"We have the space to finish the steers and heifers if we do it like this, rather than having one big lot," Ken said.
Steers are finished on the best paddocks, supplemented with either silage or haylage.
This not only increases the post weaning weight gain, but also keeps the cattle quiet.
"Cattle do better when they are quiet and are not stressed," he said.
"If I can't walk up to them without them being spooked, they are on the truck."
Most of the stock in the Nankervises' cattle herd are relatively young.
There is no cow older than seven years because replacements are incorporated each year.
This helps to avert any issues with grass tetany. Bulls are turned over to keep buying in the best genetics, and to ensure fathers are not mated to daughters.
Surplus bulls are usually sold to other farmers in the district, with that money going towards buying new bulls.
Ken's attention to detail extends beyond the farm gate.
When selling stock in the yards, he prints off and laminates a sheet that provides the animals' health history, vaccinations and management.
He says as a buyer he would want to know these details, and it also helped to establish the reputation of his cattle within the saleyards.
"Why would you drench or vaccinate again when it has already been done?" Ken said.
The move to selling in the saleyards was strategic - to build a reputation and get a name for high-quality cattle.
And if a recent sale is any indication, word is spreading.
His pen of 23 Angus steers, which weighed 422kg, sold for $815, or 193c/kg, to be one of the best sales on that day at Wodonga
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