While Central Queensland commercial producers David and Linda Pitt, Gaylong Station, had experimented with using Droughmasters within their commercial cattle operation close to two decades ago, it’s been in the last 12 years that they’ve focussed on producing a pure Droughtmaster article, with increasing success.
Gaylong, which is situated 35km from Capella on the Cotherstone Road was purchased by the Pitt family in 1984, with David and Linda continuing to work the cattle there to this day, along with their youngest son Russell.
David said the 4047ha property lies on black soil, semi-open mountain Coolibah country with the Peak Range running right through the middle of their property.
“The property is watered through dams and bores. We’ve also attempted to set up a tank and trough every 2000m or so, connected by polypipe to help spread out our herd and promote even grazing pressure,” he said.
“We’ve had a bit of luck with the rain recently. Towards the end of November and early December last year we had a lot of little falls that added up to around 75mm, and in mid-January, we received 40mm in two falls which we’re very happy about.”
David said they’re currently running close to 650 Droughtmaster breeders in the commercial grazing operation at Gaylong, including 260 maiden heifers which have just been mated, and 170 weaner heifers. There are also about 150 weaner steers plus bulls on-hand.
“As a hobby, I also have a small herd of stud cows which I’ve been improving for the last six years. They’re joined with our home-bred sires with the bulls produced used within the commercial herd.”
David said they dabbled with many breeds before moving forward with Droughtmasters.
“Years ago, we had to sell some cattle, and I had an agent come and inspect them.
“He said it was hard to determine the value in what I was offering as they were, in his words, ‘all-sorts’.
“I was a little bit taken aback by the statement as I thought a cattleman should be able to work out value regardless of breed and colour.
“So I learned two things that day, it looked like we’d need to create a uniform herd, and that we’d no longer pay commissions.”
David said the Droughtmaster suits their country well and likes the fact that they aren’t large framed animals, but are very productive.
He said their first trials with Droughtmasters came about 20 years ago, when they bought two Medway bulls from Bob Donaldson, though at that time they were still buying the odd Brahman, along with bulls of other breeds.
“I later bought a Droughtie Billabong bull from John Hicks at Moura, and he was a real asset to our herd.
“The appeal of the breed continued to grow for us when I went to the Glenlands Sale when the Childs family were still holding it at the Gracemere Saleyards.
“I bought a couple there about 15 years ago, and attended every one of their sales’ since, so we have a lot of Glenlands bloodlines running through our herd to this day.”
It was a couple of years after we purchased those Glenlands bulls that we fully focussed on producing Droughtmaster cattle, and we’ve been striving to improve the article produced ever since.”
David said their bulls are usually put in with the breeders on January 1 and are generally taken out of the paddock at the end of March, though the exit time varies depending on seasonal conditions.
“We like using this window for our joining period as it means our calves are born around the middle or end of September, which is about the closest we can get before the season breaks.
“This year that worked perfectly, as we had a lot of little calves on the ground, and got rain and green feed which the cows really appreciated.”
“Our cows are preg tested at weaning time, and last year, out of all our cows, we had 70 empties that didn’t go back to the paddock and were sold.
“Additionally, all bulls are soundness checked and motility and morphology tested so that we know that they’ll be able to do the job.
“By introducing these practices about six years ago we’ve managed to increase our weaning rate from about 60 per cent to 80pc. It has made a big difference.”
Most of the Gaylong cattle are sent to the meatworks, normally by train to JBS at Dinmore.
“We try to sell steers as two-year-olds off oats in October/November to achieve 300kg-plus bodies and we also send the cull cows and bulls there.
“If we can’t finish the steers due to lack of feed, we’ll try and get them into the JBS Beef City Feedlot near Toowoomba.”
He said this year they took a different path entirely, as the steers weren’t going to make body weight.
“We got offered a good price, nearly 50c/kg more than the meatworks could offer at the time, so they were put on a boat and sent to Korea.
“We’d never sold to into the live export market before as the money had never been good enough.
“We pick the market which is going to provide the best return for us.”
David said they’re pretty happy with their breeding program, and are tweaking as they go by becoming more severe with selecting for weight gain and conformation, and even talked about starting to DNA test, to fast track the selection process.
“We’re increasing our female numbers as much as we can, as we’re trying to get set up to buy another property in the future for Russell to manage.
“In a small operation like ours, you’ve got to have all the pluses on your side.”
David said he finds one of the hardest things in the world is buying bulls.
“You’ve got to take so many things into account. They’ve got to have eye appeal, conformation, weight for age, and maturity.
“We also look for a bull with good feet, heavy boned legs, muscle rounded right to the hock, good length of rib and width.
“For us underline is also very important as we can’t use bulls with too much skin as we have speargrass; we also don’t like pendulous pizzles.”
To get a better indication of the quality of cattle they’re producing, the Pitts entered a pen of steers into the feedlot trial at Beef 2018.
“We didn’t win anything, but our Droughties stood up well next to the other cattle assembled.
“We actually had the highest weight gain average of any cattle in the Duaringa feedlot.
“They averaged 2.16kg per day, while the combined average across all breeds was 1.85kg/day.
“If we get the chance I’d be interested in entering cattle again. It also gave us a good excuse to get to some of the functions and catch up with the other breeders involved.”
“I just wish I was 25 years younger, and we had the cattle we do today.”