Since Danny Locke took on the role of manager at large-scale commercial beef enterprise Melinda Downs Pty Ltd 11 years ago, for owner Peter Hickson, production has gradually shifted towards emphasising the use of the Droughtmaster.
Situated 140km north of Cloncurry, the 13,000 hectare property currently runs close to 900 predominantly Droughtmaster breeders and their progeny with 35 stud and herd Droughtmaster bulls on black soil and Gidgee ridges, with ample mitchell, flinders and buffel grasses available for grazing.
Droughtmasters were introduced to Melinda Downs before Danny arrived, where they were being used alongside several other breeds.
“We decided to focus on the Droughties so we can produce good even lines of cattle, which has made things easier when we’re trying to sell.
“We chose the Droughties for their durability, high fertility and good quiet temperament, they’re soft enough yet they can still handle the tough conditions we face here at times.
“We’re currently getting fertility rates between 80 to 85 per cent but we’re trying to improve that by putting more pressure on the breeders.”
Danny said they aim to produce weaners which are held back until they reach close to 300kg and then sold into the southern backgrounding market and/or the live export market.
He said they’ve been pretty lucky at Melinda Downs through the current dry spell, though it has altered the way the cattle are sold.
“Before the dry hit we were selling the weaners directly off their mothers, but we noticed that they were losing a bit of weight that way which is why we now put them in the paddock to grow up before we sell now.”
Danny said they’re currently also trialling Charbray bulls for use within the operation.
“We’re crossing the Charbrays with the Droughtmaster cows to see if there is any difference in the weight gains for the weaners, but we’ll see how they stack up against the pure Droughtmaster figures before we decide how we proceed with that.”
He said Peter is based in Brisbane and has been using the Tropical Breeds Sale for more than a decade as one of the primary bull buying sources for Melinda Downs.
”It’s an easy sale for him to attend and it’s fairly easy for us as well. A good variety of studs are always selling there with cattle to suit all types of budgets and operations.
“We generally go home with the bulls we want. We select bulls in the 24 to 30 month range with good bone, a tidy sheath, balanced EBV figures and most importantly a quiet temperament.
“I manage the operation with the assistance of my wife Tara, and our children Matthew, Emma and Jessica help us in the yards so I need to be sure that they’re going to be safe around the cattle while they work.”
Melinda Downs took home four bulls at the sale last year which Danny said are “doing it a bit tough” at present and are currently being supplemented with a bull ration to build them up for the breeding season.
“We usually find that during their first year here the newly purchased bulls need a bit of a helping hand, but after that they generally adapt to our conditions well.”
Danny said he’s looking forward to making the trek to Roma for the Tropical Breeds Sale this year where he’s hoping to select more quality bulls for Melinda Downs with Peter, and have a yarn and drink with the many mates he’s made through the sale over the years.