Getting young female cattle to joining weights of 350 kilograms in the northern rangelands is one of the outcomes participants in the Girl Power Project are working towards.
It's part of the Meat & Livestock Australia Producer Demonstration Site program to improve livestock production across the nation through on-property trials, and is being led by the Desert Uplands Committee in central Queensland, with support from the Central Highlands Regional Resource Group.
With the imperative to rebuild the Australian beef herd, Girl Power's specific aim is to demonstrate better management practices that improve maiden conception weights, rates and time frames, and then as novice mothers, reconception and second calving outcomes.
The heifer cohorts will be pregnancy tested and weighed annually, there will be forage budgets and NRIS dung sampling, and there will be data collected on growth, calving, sires, supplements and paddocks.
Funders anticipate results and learnings from the four-year project will be able to be applied across the Australian rangelands.
A year into the project, which began in October 2020, over 2000 heifers are now pink-tagged on 12 different properties, ranging from Torrens Creek in the north, to south of Jericho, and east to Ulcanbah in the Clermont region.
Each has variations of accepted best management practice for young breeders.
One of the participants is Desert Uplands chair Robyn Adams, who runs her herd based on Droughtmaster, grey Brahman, and Romagnola, Senepol and Senangus genetics at Stratford Station, midway between Blackall and Jericho.
The earliest snippets of information from the animal, field and fiscal data being collected are showing the great promise the project holds, she said.
She already believes it should be extended beyond the four-year timeframe that will follow three age cohorts from weaners through to the birth of their second calf, so that differences between good and poor seasons can be properly documented.
"We are tracking things like joined heavier yearlings, above 300kg, to see what they do," she said. "Will they collapse - we need to find out so we can support them when that's imminent."
Ms Adams said while some were sceptical of the ability of the 'desert' country to get young females up to 350kg joining weight, she was starting to see the evidence that it was possible.
"There will be info from that - how much did their weight make a difference.
"It's our job to get the data, and then MLA will do the number-crunching."
Ms Adams said much of the information available on northern female reproduction came from large corporate enterprises, which have different structures and cost-benefit analysis outcomes to smaller operations.
"We have between 300 and 3000 head units but nothing like 30,000 head," she said.
"This is going to give you an idea of what can be done at this level.
"I think the results will really rebuild herds.
"We all need females, at weights, so let's tweak a few things and get it as good as it can be."
"Getting it as good as it can be" for young female cattle will be the turning point in the push to rebuild Australia's beef cattle herd, according to Ms Adams.
"We used to lump all our females together," she said.
Watching some of her two-year-old heifers coming on to water at Stratford, she reflected that they were now on some of the better grass on the property, which used to be reserved for their steers.
"We're selling the steers early and they're going to a better paddock and ultimately to a feedlot, so you know they're going to be looked after," she said.
One of the problems identified is calf losses, mostly early in the season.
Ms Adams said some had PTIC rates of 70pc or more but only 20pc calf survival rates, which they attributed partially to novice heifers having their first calf in October when it was "screaming hot".
"They don't really know what to do, so it's been suggested that we join some of our good girls early and get some calves on the ground, so the new ones just join the creche."
Discussions like that were one positive result of having producer demonstration sites, Ms Adams said, because when a group of people turned its collective gaze on a particular group of animals, it was amazing what could be discovered.
That then led on to people being willing to try new things out.
'Classic' Desert Uplands country
Ms Adams' property is a 'classic' desert uplands style - open woodland, predominantly ironbark, bloodwood and desert oak, with native grasses and spinifex underneath.
She aims for a nice hybrid, mixing Droughtmasters with infusions.
It's a philosophy that stood her well this year, breaking the sale record at the Blackall Saleyards three times.
"The cattle grow out really well - they're known for that," she said, adding that she gave them the Wilmar lick with phosphoric acid added.
That got them used to feeding in lot conditions, and resulted in quiet cattle.
One of the aims of the Girl Power project is to have shorter joinings, according to Ms Adams, who said she'd managed a 96pc conception rate over a four-month joining period.
"I won't keep 96pc, I wouldn't think," she said.
She puts her bulls out in early January, two weeks after her 'green date', which is only theoretic in her case - while it's calculated on when a property receives 50mm of rain in the growing season in 70pc of years, Stratford has only achieved that target in 60pc of years, in December.
"This whole project is all about thinking about things, and planning - that's really important," Ms Adams said.
Allflex is supporting the project by a discount price for the printed pink tags, which is enabling fast visual in-paddock identification, necessary as the first cohort of heifers is now having is first calves.
The Desert Uplands Committee is also working with the Queensland Department of Agriculture on further possible collaboration, as the data on young female growth rates and its relationship to conception and reconception rates through the variable seasons is not well understood in different land and enterprise types across the state.
It's anticipated that field days will be held early in 2022 on participant properties, so regional cattle producers rebuilding their breeder herds can come along and discuss ways to restore cattle, pasture and productivity with the La Nina opportunity operating.
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