It’s as dry as it’s ever been at South Dell and Bogarella, north of Augathella, but Rob and Lois Grummitt are still turning off young organically certified cattle that are returning great statistics on the killing floor.
At the start of September they put six decks of two-year-old steers through the Arcadian Organic and Natural Meat Co system that weighed a healthy 295.6kg average, which was 20 kilograms more than Rob had expected.
As well as that, they had a 67mm fat cover average.
While the supplementation door is pretty well closed to the Grummitts and other organic producers, Rob believes a concentration on management strategies means that’s not an insurmountable problem.
“Before we went into organics 10 years ago we fed a lot of supplements,” he said.
“I tried to help those cows to be as healthy as they can be.
“When we stepped into the organic world, we had to implement a different management strategy.
“Apart from lightening off our stocking rate so you don’t get into tough times too early, we mate our cows early and then wean early.”
Bulls go in at the start of October, no matter what how favourable or otherwise the season is, and first calves are hitting the ground on July 14, with an expectation that they’ll be weaned onto green grass at the end of February.
That gives the cow a minimum of six weeks with no calf and some grass, which Rob calls a natural “hayshed”.
“That way her body score builds up and she goes into the breeding program next year with a bit of fat on her.”
He is a strong believer in having a beast that will lay down fat as simply as possible, saying that without that, she’ll eventually not breed for you.
“Her brother will not be a kill article if he doesn’t lay down fat in an average time.”
The only cattle they buy in for the 32,375ha aggregation are a few bulls, predominantly Brangus, which they say suit their environment and markets.
Any of these cattle with black in them have a lot of good inbuilt traits
“Any of these cattle with black in them have a lot of good inbuilt traits,” Rob said. “We try and source those middle of the road cattle, not big cattle or little cattle, frame score-wise.”
They came to Bogarella in 1990, right at the time record flooding was sweeping down the Warrego River, and added South Dell in 2004.
While they had to spend a lot of money to get it operational – Rob said the place had only 60 portable panels and 8km of new boundary fencing on its eastern side – it’s now a base for their weaner steers, thanks to its all-weather access.
“That’s worth a fair bit,” he said. “The two properties complement each other well.”
Different rainfall patterns – Bogarella is only 40km from South Dell as the crow flies but receives 50mm more rain a year on average – are also complementary.
Rob’s daughter, Kira and son-in-law Stuart Reddan, are managing Bogarella, and the two properties do a lot of rotational grazing.
In general, they run around 8000 breeders, depending on the seasons.
Polls important for organics
Some 80 to 90 per cent of the Grummitts’ cattle are naturally polled, a trait they find increasingly important in the world of organic certification.
“There’s a separate certification for animal welfare,” Rob explained.
“There’s all different levels, the highest being what they really would like people to have, and that would want you to “debud” your calves under six weeks of age.
“That’s kind on the calf but to physically do it on the scale of things here, you’d have more mismothering and more losses and all sorts of dramas.
“So we have been chasing the poll thing for a while. That’s been on us for five or six years now.”
Temperament is very important to the Grummitts as well, both from a management point of view and to complement their organic approach.
Rob believes that a docile, contented cow is less susceptible to parasites, or more able to fight them off.
“The non-adapted cow – if you keep screwing that fertility knob, she will eventually turn up empty,” he said.
Personal contact a bonus
Having direct contact with customers, in Australia and around the world, is important to Rob and Lois Grummitt.
While the bulk of their meat goes to the US, and they have met some of that country’s wholefoods representatives, they have hosted guests from South Korea and China as well.
Rob said that at different times, Arcadian have had three or four different people from America come and do a tour around, a personal contact he was pleased to make.
“When you see it firsthand you can understand it a lot more,” he said.
“We had Shannon Bennett, one of the Masterchef fellows, come here one day.
“He’s doing a build-up program for his burger chain, called Bennie’s Burgers.
“He wanted to come to the grassroots and see where the organic meat was produced.
“They arrived here one morning at six o’clock – they wanted to see a sunrise in western Queensland. We had to go find some cattle.
“This is a private man, an Australian man, building up a chain of burgers and he chose to see where these cattle are growing.
“He could ask questions of the old cockie and get an idea of how committed he was to the organic world.
“He can then go to his promotion team, and say I’ve been and seen, show them a photo and say this is where we’re getting our cattle from.
“He can give confidence to his buyers then.”