With no end in sight to the widespread dry conditions, a cure for pasture dieback still forthcoming and input costs rising, Kylie and Simon Schooley, Rocky Springs, Mundubbera, are determined to get the best out of every beast in their operation.
Spread across two properties totaling 6000 hectares, the Schooley family runs 650 British-cross breeders and fattens the progeny for EU and Grasslands markets.
Running Angus, Poll Hereford and Shorthorn cows, Ms Schooley said they aimed to produce a premium product for those markets but didn't want to be restricted.
"There always was quite a premium for Angus, especially feeder steers so we have always bought a majority of Angus bulls," she said.
"We sell one B-double every year of feeder steers and we also fatten some heifers for Coles on our own custom feed."
Breeding their heifers at 14-months so they calve at two-year-old, Ms Schooley said problems with calving had drawn them to Angus bulls.
"We were just trying to buy the Angus because they were low birthweight, but we soon realised we actually needed the figures on the cows, we need maternal ease," she said.
"So we have to buy bulls now with the high maternal ease and that's not easy to find. We also look at fat cover, because we sell our bullocks at two-and-a-half and they need to all grade, which they have the last few years, so they've got to have enough fat cover and enough weight."
Ms Schooley said it was a balancing act of not breeding an animal too big, but still achieving the carcase they were looking for.
"We want a moderate cow with a carcase weight of 260 kilograms when she's got a fat cover of about 12, so we want our cows not too small and not too big," she said.
"And we want our bullocks to be hitting the 325 to 335kg dressed weight by two-year-old, with 10 to 12mm of fat, off grass."
To achieve this, the Schooleys choose studs that realise the importance of measuring a range of breeding values, investing in bloodlines from Sandon Glenoch, Burenda and Bulliac Angus studs, Arubial Shorthorns, and Talbalba Poll Herefords.
Despite the soft nature of the British breeds, the Schooleys moved their operation away from Bos Indicus-type cattle to reap the rewards of increased fertility and premium market compliance.
"Our heifers can do it (yearling mating) because they are British-bred so they are very fertile, and they're just hanging around otherwise, they're sort of wasting time," she said.
"We have gotten careful with our stocking, so we've got good pasture to put them onto in their first lactation.
"It takes a lot of management, there's no doubt about that, but we think we make a bit more money out of them by getting another year."
Battling for productive conditions
Kylie and Simon Schooley's determination to get the best out of every beast in their operation also means their 6000 hectares west of Mundubbera must perform.
While they can't control the weather, Ms Schooley said tick eradication had been an important part of their operation.
"We're part of the Auburn Tick Eradication Association, so that's a group of producers that have been eradicating cattle ticks for quite a number of years," she said.
"Getting rid of our cattle ticks was a pretty major undertaking, and keeping our cattle tick-free is just a constant that goes on forever because we have neighboring properties with cattle ticks.
"We keep them tick free because ticks used to cost us a lot of money, not just in chemical application, but especially in lost production.
"I think it's made a big difference to our kilograms per hectare not having any cattle ticks because we've got such soft cattle."
While the eradication of ticks has made a huge difference to their productivity, pasture dieback has presented a new challenge.
"We've gone to so much trouble to do everything right by our pastures and perhaps something has come and got us," Ms Schooley said.
"At the moment, we're lightly stocked and amazingly the cattle still seem to do well so we haven't had an issue with that, but an alarming amount of beautiful pasture is dead.
"We're trying a few different things, but it's pretty distressing and worrying, and I don't know how that's going to play out."
Improved pastures have been a key part of their operation, especially in such dry times.
Ms Schooley said Biloela buffel, Rhodes grass, Hatch bluegrass, siratro, stylos and desmanthus have allowed them to get "tremendous weight gains".
"It's become part of our business and it's always lovely to have that fresh paddock to finish everything off if you've got some cattle that aren't quite finished," she said.
"It usually comes around about autumn that we start using it, and last year was the first year since 2003 that we did not sow any because it was so dry and we missed it that's for sure."
Heading into winter, Ms Schooley said they had plenty of dry matter after good rain in March, but it had been a horrific summer.
"We had rain in October but not much after that, and it had been the longest, hottest summer with no rain," she said.
"We were just about to start early-weaning in mid-March, we were busy selling cattle to have places for the calves to go, and we kept hoping it would rain in February but it didn't.
"It looked like an early wean because the cows were in pretty terrible condition and the calves weren't looking too good.
"Then it rained, so we left it until the very first week of April and we did take off some pretty small calves. We had a lot of green grass then and it's amazing how they've done so well."