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Dan and Emma-Jane Burnham, of Burnham Grazing Beef, at Thangool (Qld), introduced Hereford genetics into their Brahman herd to increase market options, choosing bulls on their EBV figures with a focus towards laying down muscle and fat.
The couple buy Hereford bulls from Jarrah Cattle Company, at nearby Banana, because generations of breeding have adapted this herd's genetics to the sub-tropical area, creating increased parasite resistance, in particular from ticks.
The Burnhams also chose Jarrah because stud principal, Sam Becker, is growing out commercial steers in an integrated agribusiness, in a similar way to themselves. This provides them with more performance data to guide their decision making.
The Burnhams graze their cattle on a mix of brigalow scrub and forest country that has been the focus of regenerative grazing for 15 years and has been certified organic since 2016.
Through the Fitzroy Basin Association, the Burnham's have accessed funding to fence riparian and river zones, and control grazing to improve grassland, soil structure and vegetation diversity, to increase groundcover and reduce ground exposure, slow water flow across the landscape, and reduce sediment flow.
"We're holding a lot more water in the soil, increasing the density and diversity of groundcover, and we've changed our grazing management," Mr Burnham said.
"Maintaining effective groundcover creates greater soil health and gives us options for improving the ecosystem and habitat, and we're benefiting long term," he said.
Paddock size has reduced to an average 30 hectares; and paddocks have increased in number from 17 to 85.
"A paddock gets grazed only three to four times a year now. They get a lot of rest and are oversown with legumes, which are broadcast after the mob has been through, to support the growth of native grasses."
A lot of the couples work has been supported by satellite imagery, to identify riparian zones are and the type of soil and vegetation growing across their property.
That work has informed their grazing management, which has consequently informed their herd management. It has, importantly, allowed them to lift carrying capacity.
"We've articulated the satellite vegetation reports into the business by ensuring the country gets a lot of rest," Mrs Burnham said.
"We match stocking rate to our carrying capacity and monitor the data as much as we can. It's information that gives us a benchmark to work with. We've been getting the vegetation reports for 15 years and it's enabled us to improve how we measure our stocking rate and carrying capacity every year," she said.
"We track our grazing pressure with charts and if our rainfall is below expected, we can lighten the country's stocking rate," Mr Burnham said.
They currently run 900 head of cattle, including 350 breeders, self-replacement heifers, and steers turned off at 28-months-old to local abattoirs.
Most of their annual steer progeny meet the requirements for the certified USDA Organic market and Teys Grassland grid, at 280 to 300kg dressed weight. Some steers are grown out for their own Burnham Grazing Beef (sold locally through Biloela Quality Meats). Excess heifers are grown out to be sold at 250 to 260kg dressed weight.
With their country's increased carrying capacity the Burnhams have diversified their cattle program by introducing the local Hereford genetics.
The Jarrah-bloodline first-cross heifers are produced by joining Hereford bulls to their Brahman-based and Charbray-Brahman cows. The first-cross heifers are joined to Boogal-bloodline Brahman bulls, and the subsequent second-cross progeny heifers remain in the herd and part of the cross-breeding program. Heifers are joined as two-year-olds.
"We run a Brahman base herd for the baseline," Mr Burnham said.
"The steer progeny from both crosses fit our grassland organic operation, turned off for our label, Teys, AOM and JBS."
Bulls run with the herd from December, for three months, at a joining rate of 1 to 40.
Mrs Burnham looks at all the EBVs for the cattle, with growth, easy calving and high fertility significant decision makers. She looks for bulls with EBVs that are above average for their breed.
"We're fairly happy with our herd's fertility, pregnancy test and retention rates. So I look for EBVs that will ensure we retain those rates.
"Every cow has to produce a calf every year to be retained. We're still rebuilding the herd, and we're very happy that our heifers are easy-going, so the only reason we'd cull them would be for lack of fertility."
Mrs Burnham talks with Jarrah Cattle Co principal Sam Becker about the Hereford bulls that will help them to build conformation and carcase weight in their steer progeny, while retaining calving ease and fertility in their female cattle.
"An injection of a British breed in the system adds to the carcase - to open up more opportunities for more markets - so we could hit the Teys Grassland market and feedlots in the dry times.
"We want to produce the biggest and longest carcase, with the best fertility and calving ease. Calving ease is a big one for us, we prefer the polled Hereford as much as possible, but we want that length and eye muscle."