The Keitley family have successfully been using the Droughtmaster breed for many years, with the Droughtmaster National sale providing them with a great avenue to buy bulls which they use to bolster their homegrown breeding herd.
Darren and Renee Keitley, own and run Glassfordvale which they purchased in 2001 in partnership with Darren’s parents Neville and Jannette.
The 9000-hectare property is situated at the head of the Boyne Valley, on the Monto border and lies on mountainous semi-coastal country comprising of large tracts of Blue Gum flats, through which the Boyne River flows.
Glassfordvale is the Keitley’s primary breeding block for their near pure Droughtmaster operation.
Darren said they also do a bit of fattening at Glassfordvale, but from their 2250 head operation most of their steers are grown and finished at the Keitley’s other properties; Salty Flats (245ha), in Bancroft, Spring-Sierra (500ha) near Monto, and a 120ha block in Mulgilidie.”
They bought Salty Flats in 2016, to allow them to spread out the herd so they can focus more on growing and breeding at Glassfordvale.
“Down the line, we’re looking at purchasing another block near Biloela, as we sell a lot of our cull cows and spayed heifers to Teys there.
“We’ve been getting excellent weight gains on the semi-scrub country at Salty Flats, which is allowing us to turn off our cattle younger and quicker, we’re even able to get MSA grading on them sometimes, which is something we’re looking to achieve more consistently."
Darren said of the close to 30 bulls they use within the operation only two aren’t Droughtmaster’s, which they plan to phase out when they’re finished as sires.
“We’ve been using Droughties pretty much since we purchased Glassfordvale," he said.
“We think they’re a great breed, they’re a fertile, easy doing beast which use our mountainous country very well, and they’re easy to sell into the feed on market; they’re just good all-around animals.
“Being in ticky country, the slick coat of the high Brahman-content Droughtie is also a big benefit, if we do have any come through with hair on them they’re quickly culled out of the herd.”
He said they strive to produce a good even line of cattle, with quiet temperaments, while attempting to improve their breeding herd from which steers are sold at 320-400kg to the feed on market.
He said the feedlot sector is a good market to sell into.
"It offers us with an avenue to get the steers off the property by the time they’re 18 months to two-years-old, and while the price fluctuates quite a bit, we were getting spoiled in that regard for quite a while before they came down.
“We seem to be on the right track as we never have a problem selling the steers."
Renee said they’re down on numbers at present, as they cashed in on the high prices being offered last year.
“In hindsight, it was probably a good decision as we managed to reduce the herd size and make good money before the dry set in."
She said the two years of strong prices, afforded them the opportunity to start paying off Glassfordvale.
“That’s really helping us out now financially, during the current harder season.”
Renee said a lot of work has gone into building up Glassfordale, which she said was a bit run down when they bought it.
"We’ve spent a lot of money on water infrastructure, primarily through the installation of solar pumps, which has reduced our labour costs," she said.
“We also put a lot of money into timber control, which has really helped out our cattle and improved the condition of breeders.
“We have a full time locally contracted employee who tordons for us, and sprays for noxious weeds.”
Due to the dry, the Keitley’s have also modified the joining period in the operation with the bulls now being put in with the breeders in November.
“We’d always started in September, but we were noticing that the heifers were dropping their calves in the middle of winter and they were losing conditioning,” Renee said.
“By shifting to a November start, the calves are now arriving when we’re coming out of the cool, which has helped across the entire herd as we’re achieving better calving percentages, and they’re holding their weight better," she said.
Darren said they improve their breeders internally, which is why they don’t mind spending good money on bulls to put over them, which in turn bolsters the genetic diversity and positive traits they’re looking to incorporate into the herd.
“We just want to keep improving on the cattle we’re producing, which is why the Droughtmaster National is great for us as we can access a stack of data, and cross-reference that information with the traits we need to bring into the herd and really go after the bulls we want that fit those requirements.
“We initially invested a lot of money in bulls from the Childs family, Glenlands Droughtmasters, Theodore, and once we got enough of their genetics to get us off on the right foot with our breeding program we started attending the National sale to diversify our bloodlines.
“We’ve been going to the sale for a decade now, and there are always so many great bulls to choose from.
Renee said at the last two sale’s they’ve purchased “really good bulls” from Nick and Sarah Hughes, Farogan Valley Droughtmasters, Upper Kandanga.
“The calves from the Farogan Valley bulls we purchased in 2016 have been weaned, and the bulls we bought last year are dropping calves now and they look beautiful, they’re quiet, little, look almost identical to each other, and have the same look as their sire, basically they’re everything you look for in a Droughtie calf.
“When we see great results like this in the progeny, it tells us that we’re going to get good lines of breeders and that the bulls have the qualities we require."
Darren said while they've had success with the Farogan Valley bulls, they don’t chase specific studs.
“If we see a bull we like that tick’s all the boxes, that’s the one we’ll buy.”
Renee said that Darren and their daughter Chloe love going to the sale together.
“Chloe’s in Year 7, and wants to be a vet, she’s also right into cattle club at her school, and she has a great eye for a good bull."
With Chloe and their son children Darcy at boarding school and their youngest Charlotte at primary school, Darren and Renee are kept busy managing the properties and looking after their homestead, which receives a lot of praise from visitors.
“We bought a camper to go on a trip a while back, but we ended up just parking it right on the dam at home, as we think there is no better place to be, with the cows roaming around beside us," Renee said.
“We love the country, it affords us a great lifestyle.
“They’ll have to cart us out of here in a box,” she said with a laugh.