|our pen of steers at the sale yards|
The best thing is, if you start to run out of grass, you just sell the cattle. However, this can be a problem if everyone else needs to sell at the same time, as the market value for your cattle can decrease by several cents per kg. In our experience, its very difficult to make a profit from fattening weaners. I guess its one of those things where its just too easy, no pain, no gain right. The problem is that the per kg price of steers decreases as they get heavier. We bought our steers at $2.10/kg when they weighed around 300 kg each. When we sold them they were around 400 kg each and the price was only $1.70/kg. This was an extreme example, as we had to also sell in a depressed market during the dry period, however it does show that it can be very difficult to make any profit unless you are very clever and buy and sell at just the right times. By the time we paid for transport, stock agent fees and various other related fees, not to mention the hay we fed them over winter, we only just broke even, there was certainly no profit to be made.
Keeping cows is more of a commitment. You can't just change your mind and sell them all (or not very easily). You need to find a bull, and keep him on your property (and not fighting all your neighbours' bulls). You need to brand and tag the calves before you sell them, to castrate the males and consider vaccinations. Cows are more likely to have problems that require the vet, trouble with calving and just with their feet and all sorts of silly things. The cows are more work, but the return is far better, the weaners cost you very little to produce (only some winter feed, ear tags etc) and sell for around $2/kg. The longer you can keep them the better, but they do need to be weaned to let the cows recover before the next calf. If you want to fatten them for longer, it all gets more complicated with managing pasture and keeping cows away from calves, but it is even more profitable.
So now we have tried raising weaners and keeping cows and calves, but we won't be attempting stud breeding any time in the near future. At the recent Nanango show we spent most of our morning watching the beef cattle judging in the yards, it was very practical, breed was unimportant, the animals were judged on the amount of meat on their bones and value to an abattoir. We made a brief visit to the stud cattle shed, where the animals were being shampooed and prepared for their walk around the show ring. The animals were huge, obviously bulked up on grain, not like the grass-fed beasts in the beef yard, and lounging on clean hay to keep them out of the dirt. I think this comparison will explain why we're not interested in stud cattle, we would much rather put effort into being recognised for producing good beef on grass than for shampooed grain-fattened bulls!
We are very happy to have found the Brafords, and even though having cows is more work overall, it is less stressful because they haven't broken through any fences so far! We still have the option to buy weaners if we have too much grass at some stage, but we won't be relying on them to make us money. Now I know I've over-simplified the industry, so please correct me if I've got something wrong and add anything I missed. What do you prefer? Weaners or cows and calves?