Wagyus diversify options for Dillons

Small Wagyu herd helping overall improvement at Surbiton

Beef
Long a traditional Santa Gertrudis breeder, Sean Dillon and his family at Surbiton Station, Alpha have incorporated Wagyus into their operation.

Long a traditional Santa Gertrudis breeder, Sean Dillon and his family at Surbiton Station, Alpha have incorporated Wagyus into their operation.

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A desire to diversify his operation, with property at Alpha as the only asset available, has led Sean Dillon and his extended family into breeding Wagyus.

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A desire to diversify his operation, with property at Alpha as the only asset available, has led Sean Dillon and his extended family into breeding Wagyus.

Along the way, it's taught him a few things about cattle.

Starting with 40 F1 heifers, the traditional Santa Gertrudis breeder at Surbiton Station now has 150 fourth cross Wagyus and lots of data to put to good use.

"Wagyu are about as close to running a beef cattle operation as you can get, while being completely different," Mr Dillon said.

While not linked to the same extent to the cattle market - they were paid more for 400kg Wagyus one year than they received for 750kg Santa bullocks - the premium is still there to a lesser extent, and he believes the operators, such as Georgina Pastoral, who say Australia will never supply enough Wagyu to supply world demand.

The premium Wagyus command as a lotfed article is thanks to their data encapsulation, according to Mr Dillon, and what he's embracing.

"Probably the biggest thing they've taught me is that you genuinely need to understand what's going on once the coat comes off.

"Everyone makes these visual assessments of cattle, like that's the most important thing.

"What matters is things like marbling and fat colour. If you're a grassfed producer you don't look at that half the time.

"Since I've been doing Wagyus I follow my MSA grading much more closely."

It's the premium that got Mr Dillon questioning his commercial realities more thoroughly, pondering the relative roles that genetics, handling and the environment were playing, to understand what was needed to move his MSA grade upwards.

"It gives you a more analytical view in that, that cow over there mighn't look much good, but if I could tell what her progeny were - she might be a little nondescript-looking cow but she could be my most valuable breeder," he said.

While he hasn't yet embraced whole of herd genetic traceability, Mr Dillon said it was in the pipeline.

At present, they use management tags to identify which paddock a heifer was born in, which should provide a link to the sire she was by, and which age group of cows she was from.

"For example, at weaning if we notice there's a lot of a particular management tag that's stirry, or they might get sick, we can quickly go, right, well that's from paddock X and all those bulls are gone next year," he said.

"I've implemented that since I've been with Wagyus so I can say at least I know what group I need to investigate my problem from, and we follow that right through to feedlots."

One in particular, Lotus Park, north of Marlborough, has taken Surbiton's last three lots of feeder steers and Mr Dillon said they were happy to supply him with performance data from there and the meatworks.

He hopes between them they can identify the ones that do and don't grade, in order to improve.

In the meantime, Mr Dillon said he would probably not expand the Wagyu side of the operation above a 150-200 cow unit, because he didn't want to compromise the other side of the operation.

If they were allowed to have water licences on the upper Belyando, the diversification options would include transitioning 8100 hectares to irrigation and farming.

So far the only release from the 140,000ML Burdekin Dam strategic water reserve for the catchment has been for the Adani mine further east at Clermont.

"The thing about our area is, it's all category X, it's all cleared, it's permanently available to be cleared, we've got the water, we've got the soil," Mr Dillon said.

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