Always adding to the farming legacy
BUYING the best genetics to start his commercial angus herd has put Duncan Clowes at the forefront of the breed.
And Duncan's philosophy for the way he manages his livestock and property only adds to his success.
"A farm is like an oil painting of your life, which you can keep adding to. I want to make a difference to how I found it,” he said.
Buying his first Te Mania-blood angus cows in 2010, Duncan, along with wife Eileen and daughter Jessica, have expanded their commercial herd to now run about 800 breeding cows at their 1093ha property at Millthorpe in Central West NSW and 607ha leased property at Orange.
Originally running crossbred ewes when his father, Gordon, bought the property in 1973, once Duncan started running the farm in 1983 he started breeding superfine wool merinos, because he liked the science of breeding and the fibre.
Now they run about 1200 merino ewes and 800 crossbred ewes alongside the cattle.
Duncan began his interest in angus cattle in 1998, when he was backgrounding steers for Rangers Valley feedlot.
"We got paid on weight gain and I saw a huge difference in performance among the steers which they source throughout eastern Australia,” he said.
While they joined their 100 hereford cows to angus bulls to start with, he said the market was headed toward feedloting and angus were providing a premium, so he moved in to an all angus herd.
He bought his first Te Mania-blood cattle from Adelong producer Susie Chisholm in 2009.
HAPPY with their performance, Duncan then set about expanding the herd and approached Te Mania to join their Team Te Mania progeny test program, so he would have access to the "best genetics”.
Since then he has bought 500 cows and heifers directly from Te Mania, which he said had "fast-tracked our herd to the top of the pyramid”.
Spending close to $1million on establishing the herd, Duncan said being a part of Team Te Mania meant he had access to leading sires through AI and a bull leasing program, and he had provided the data through progeny testing to Te Mania.
As well as naturally joining, he said they artificially inseminated about 500 cows a year now.
He uses fixed-time AI on cows and heifers - which he described as a "big breakthrough” - which results in about 60-70% in calf for the heifers.
Joining is from October to December, with bulls removed in January and pregnancy testing a month later. The embryos are foetal aged so Duncan knows if the females are in calf to the AI sire or their first or second cycle to the back-up bull.
The females are then put into calving mobs based on pregnancy scan data for ease of management.
Once calved, these mobs become joining mobs as they will all cycle within eight weeks of giving birth and can be AI'd at the same time.
"This provides us with better management than running them in ages, and it is beneficial for joining and eventually allow us to offload the slow breeders,” Duncan said.
"By putting pressure on fertility we should eventually cut our calving period to six to eight weeks.”
HEIFERS calve in late July, with the main cow herd calving in August-September.
Data recording starts at birth, with birthweights recorded, while carcase scanning and eye muscle area scanning happens at about 14 months.
A specialised calf catcher is used for weighing and tagging calves at birth.
Duncan believes in the power of data.
He said much of the success of the Te Mania cattle was because of the years of astute breeding and validation of the data through the Team Te Mania program.
"The angus breed is where it is today because of data collection and feedback and angus breedplan,” he said.
Duncan said he yard weaned calves in March for about three days and fed silage.
While he said heifers had to be structurally sound, they also looked at the raw data and breeding values to select replacement heifers.
For bulls, he puts emphasis on balanced growth and fertility traits and eating quality traits, such as higher marbling, as well as docility scores.
All heifers are kept and run on a grazing crop, usually oats, before about 120 are selected for replacements and joined, while the steers were moved to the leased property.
The steers are then finished to 450-500kg, which they reach at about 14 months, and sold to Rangers Valley.
Duncan has been taking advantage of selling lightweight heifers less than 300kg to a Chinese live export order.
Last year he sold heifers for $1750 on farm.
FEED FOR THOUGHT
HE MEASURES the performance of his cattle by seeking feedback from the feedlot and entering steers trials.
In 2013, a steer won the champion individual carcase steer in the Australian National Field Day steer competition, with a pen from the same sire winning third place for carcase.
He said he liked to put steers in as sire groups as it was more beneficial to pick a trend.
On the sheep side, having grown disillusioned with the wool market, Duncan said they had moved to growing more "easy care” poll merino sheep focusing on wool productivity, growth rates and fertility, rather than fibre.
The average micron was 16.5 across the flock.
Looking ahead, the 55-year-old does not look like slowing down. Duncan said he wanted to keep 350 heifers this year to expand the herd and buy more land.
However, he said when it came down to it, he preferred quality not quantity.
"Breeding is what I am passionate about and it's why I got in to merinos in the first place,” he said.
For risk management, Duncan makes his own silage and stored 1600 large square bales underground last year.
"We can budget on the feed and I sleep better when we know we have feed,” he said.
"I don't like to risk our genetics, so we don't want exposure to drought where we might have to sell cattle.”
With the property at 1000m above sea level, they often get snow and a winter drought.
"We fed for eight months last year, but we are capitalising on it now,” he said.