A need to receive better returns for their vealer article than the prices through the saleyards is what led south-east Queensland cattle producer Andrew Donaldson to establishing his Ocean View Beef paddock to plate business six years ago.
Mr Donaldson and his son Alex run the operation, on agistment across six properties at Samford, Dayboro, Ocean View, Mount Mee and Woodford.
He said they initially established their mixed breed herd with Brahman-cross, Charbray, Braford and Brangus cows, which are joined to their Droughtmaster bulls.
"We find a lot of value in the cross, especially with the Braford and Brangus type cows. We receive a softer, more early maturing animal from that joining."
Mr Donaldson said they introduced Droughtmasters into the breeding program quite by chance.
"I'd always liked Droughtmasters but we began using them when our friends, the Rutherford family, dispersed their stud herd at Wamuran. We bought a bull and eight cows and calves.
"Until a few years ago, while we were still building our core stud female herd, we were also purchasing two stud heifers annually at the Droughtmaster National Female Sale and the Cream of the Crop Female Sale."
He said he likes the drought tolerance of the breed.
"They're low maintenance and excellent for tick and fly resistance. They're also good mothers and we always receive low birth weight calves from the maiden heifers. We've never had any issues with heifer calving."
The best of the Droughtmaster and Droughtmaster-cross heifers are retained in the commercial herd with the top progeny used in the stud program.
"The replacement heifers are chosen for their temperament and the fertility of their mothers. We also look for heifers that come from cows which produce good milk and hold their condition mothering the calf, as its an important trait when maximising weight returns on vealers. At weaning we're pressure testing the temperament of the potential heifers we would like to retain as future breeders. We do the same with the stud bulls at 16 months, if they aren't performing they're moved on."
They're currently running one Droughtmaster bull per 15 breeders. The bulls run in separate paddocks with the maiden heifers, stud heifers and commercial cows respectively.
"The bulls are kept in the paddock all year, as we need to have a supply of finished cattle ready for the butcher at all times."
Mr Donaldson said the commercial Droughtmaster-cross progeny are the main source for the 100 per cent grassfed and grass finished Ocean View Beef range.
"The progeny spend two to three weeks in the yards on one of our breeding blocks where they're weaned and handled. We wean as we need to, usually four times a year, based on weather conditions and the size of the calves. They're then sent to one of our grow-out properties where they're managed until they reach 15-months at which point they're transferred to one of the finishing paddocks.
"From there they're sent to our butcher where they're slaughtered to fill our orders. I usually cart the cattle to the butcher (non-halal) where they receive a ten-day hang in a cold room. I provide the specifications for how the carcases are to be cut. The minimum order is an eighth of a beast, so all customers receive hindquarter and forequarter cuts as well as sausages and mince in a pack. Due to demand we also offer 50/50 preservative-free sausage and mince packs.
"Once cut, the portions are cryo-vac'd and packed in meal-size packs. I pick them up from the butcher at daylight and deliver them in person, mainly to the north side of Brisbane and west to Samford. I travel 500km on average on delivery day. We then usually repeat this process every six to eight weeks, while managing the cattle and properties in the meantime."
To date the program has exceeded their expectations.
"We didn't realise there would be such a demand. When COVID-19 set in, we couldn't keep up with the market. We processed 15 carcases in about two months."
Before The Ekka was cancelled for this year, the Donaldsons were considering putting the Ocean View Beef brand sausages in the shows' Sausage King Competition.
"We've had a lot of good feedback on our sausages, so we'll now look at entering into it next year."
Looking ahead, Mr Donaldson said his main objective is to further grow the beef operation and eventually purchase his own block as a base operation for breeding their own horses and working dogs.