Good livestock management is critical for grazing enterprises, as it determines the type and number of animals produced and sold their market suitability and consequently the business income. Livestock management must be integrated with grazing management, animal health and welfare and business management.
This module covers five key areas that collectively influence livestock performance and the profitability of a beef enterprise.
Key area 1 – Markets and marketing
Determining the market/s that will give the best overall business performance requires an understanding of:
- specifications of markets available and price reductions for non-compliance e.g. weight, fat and dentition
- production capability of the property and ability to meet market specifications
- selling options available
- selling and transport costs for each market
- variability in returns over a year and from year to year
- sustainability of each market, such as whether it is a long-term market or short-term opportunity.
Key area 2 – Managing reproduction
Reproduction is a key driver of profitability in a livestock breeding enterprise. Key breeder management strategies are:
- Manage cow body condition so they are in condition score 3 or better at calving (3.5 at mid-pregnancy). The most important factors in managing cow condition are stocking rates, time of weaning and appropriate supplementation.
- Determine the best time of the year for cows to calve and manage the herd so that most calves are born during this period. This will usually be about six weeks before the expected peak rainfall period.
- Manage heifers from weaning so that they grow well enough to conceive early at their first mating and are aligned with the joining time of the main breeder herd.
- Select and manage sires so they are fertile and sound and will improve herd fertility i.e. have good fertility trait EBVs.
- Know about the fertility diseases that can affect breeder performance and use appropriate management strategies.
- Use culling strategies based on performance and age to optimise productivity, sale returns and reduce mortality rates.
Key area 3 – Weaning and weaner management
Weaning is an integral part of breeder management. Weaning should be done with the body condition of the cow in mind coupled with a plan to feed and manage the weaner. The age and weight range of calves at weaning varies according to the inherent fertility of the country and seasonal conditions. On higher fertility country calves will usually be over 200 kg and 6 to 8 months old at weaning but on poorer country calves may be regularly weaned down to 100 kg and 3 months.
In poor seasons calves can be weaned down to 60 kg liveweight. The reduction in cow nutritional requirements due to weaning reduces the need for supplementation and lowers the risk of mortalities.
The standard of weaner management must be high particularly if weaned at an earlier age and if production targets are to be met and the welfare of the calf not compromised.
Key area 4 – Managing nutrition
Managing nutrition in a grazing system is based on knowing the nutrition available from pasture and how this will vary throughout the year, knowing the nutritional requirements of the animal classes being run and setting realistic production targets based on this knowledge. Grazing can then be managed so that animals have the best opportunity to meet these targets. Supplements can be used to fill nutritional gaps and address deficiencies but they must be used wisely to be cost effective.