Twelve years ago, Ted and Sheri Fogarty – who run Palmer Valley and Mount Ebenezer stations near Alice Springs in central Australia, and also have another property at Walcha – started using yearling bulls.
“We run the bulls with the breeders all year round and find the younger they are, the better,” Mrs Fogarty said.
“It means we are able to get them acclimatised and they handle it better (than older bulls).”
The 3000 square kilometre Palmer Valley Station and 1600km2 Mount Ebenezer Station are home to 5000 Angus and black baldy cows.
The aim is to turn off about 4500 weaners each year depending on the season.
Yearling bulls are generally introduced to the stations in autumn or spring, which Mrs Fogarty said was the best time for them to arrive in order to avoid and prepare for the severe heat conditions.
Since buying Palmer Valley Station in 1995, the Fogartys have worked on introducing quality genetics to convert the original “licorice all-sorts” herd to its present state, producing consistent lines of Angus/Hereford calves.
Yearling bulls are sourced from NSW breeders Ben Nevis Angus, Walcha; Rennylea Angus, Culcairn, and Wirruna Poll Herefords, Holbrook.
Mrs Fogarty said they purchased their bulls from herds that have “done their homework” and that structure was one of the top priorities when selecting new sires.
“We don’t have high milk figures because the aim is to ensure bodyweight and fertility remains relatively high,” she said.
The yearling bulls are joined to heifers and stay with the same mob for their entire life.
“It means they grow up together and acclimatise together; that’s more of a gamble with older bulls,” Mrs Fogarty said.
“If we can educate them when they’re younger it makes them much easier to work with.”
To this end, at weaning the Fogartys make sure they take the time to walk through the weaners to get them used to people and noise.
Mrs Fogarty also makes use of her iPod and said she sometimes kicks a soccer ball around.
“We also try to make sure the cattle remain fresh and aren’t in the yards for more than 24 hours at a time.
“This ensures they have a good experience in the yards and so they are easy to do anything with from then on.”
Depending on the season, the weaners are sent to the Fogartys’ Walcha property at nine to 12 months to be finished on grass, before being sold over-the-hooks to Sanger Australia at 500 kilograms, plus milk to four-teeth and fat cover of five to 15 millimetres.
Mrs Fogarty said the “Palmer Valley” and “Mount Ebenezer” country had a lot of trees and bushes which provided adequate shade for the cattle.
“It does get hotter here which can be a concern if there isn’t any shade, but we have plenty,” Mrs Fogarty said.
“In fact, in some parts we have more shade than our Walcha country.
“The Angus survive well.”
Pastures consist of several different species including buffel grass, woolly oats and varieties of saltbush.
Different types of herbage also grow in winter, ensuring cattle have a variety of feed.
In drought years – Mrs Fogarty said about three out of 10 years are drought – the Fogartys have to control numbers, but there is still a lot of top feed.
“That’s another benefit of the yearling bulls; they come out here young, learn to acclimatise and how to forage, so they can handle those tough years,” she said.
“In those years – when we get 5mm to 10mm of rain a year – we don’t source bulls and rely on those we have to tough it out.”