Like all northern Australian beef producers, pastoralists in WA are dealing with increasing costs of production and myriad financial pressures.
For this relatively small group of producers with some of the largest land and cattle holdings in the country, there appears to be a relatively straightforward strategy to help ease some of these pressures.
Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) Development Officer, Manus Stockdale, said a recent benchmarking project in the region highlighted the potential for pastoralists to improve herd genetics and that this would directly lift fertility and productivity by as much as 20%.
“Sub-optimal reproductive rates are a major constraint to the profitability of Kimberley and Pilbara cattle enterprises,” he said.
“Herd modelling showed overall weaning rates were about 60% and 62% respectively in each region and there was scope to lift this by 20%,” Manus explained.
“Strategies to boost herd fertility include more emphasis on culling empty dry cows, good weaner management and more attention to breeding selection criteria.”
He said adoption of appropriate grazing land management strategies would also boost herd performance, optimise production, help achieve turnoff weights close to 350kg for live export and contribute to long term sustainable businesses.
“A big challenge faced by northern beef producers is the ability to match available feed with herd numbers to optimise pasture use in a variable climate,” Manus said.
“We found there is an ongoing need for promotion of grazing land management (GLM) principles and strategies to help pastoralists manage the risks and impacts of failed seasons.
“Infrastructure development and planning is a vital part of this and will lead to improved animal productivity through better control of the breeding herd and grazing management.”
These solutions come from a DAFWA and MLA supported project that aimed to build an accurate picture of the production and financial performance of WA’s northern pastoral businesses and by tracking a selection of those businesses understand what factors would have the greatest impact.
With support from consultant Phil Holmes, benchmarking groups of five pastoral businesses were set up in each region to analyse three to five years of financial records.
Some of the challenges identified for long term sustainability included the ability to generate cash flow after capital expenditure, reduce costs of production, manage the risks associated with failed growing seasons and reduce reliance on the live export trade.
“Pastoralists need viable and profitable alternatives to the live export trade,” he said.
“We need to address the factors that are limiting pastoralists’ ability to sell into southern domestic markets, including breed, age and cost of transport.”
“There are northern pastoralists successfully supplying these markets, whether it is direct to slaughter, backgrounding or to feedlots, and from their experience we can develop profitable models for other pastoralists to use.”
Manus said the survey findings and benchmarking situation analysis would help to set the priorities for the Kimberley and Pilbara Research, Development and Extension (RD&E) program being developed for the next five years.
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