Changing the target market for their Angus cattle has paid off for Keith beef producers Josh and Jaime Densley.
For the past two years, Mr Densley has switched from selling calves at the Naracoorte weaner sales to growing them out to feedlot weights, at about 16 months, for Thomas Foods International’s Iranda feedlot at Tintinara.
“Our goal is really to get them up to heavy feeders and into TFI at the moment while the money’s there and hopefully pick up that premium when there’s not many stock around,” Mr Densley said.
In September 2016, a group of 42 feeders averaged $3.80 a kilogram, returning $1878 a head, with the top steer weighing 494kg.
“That was when prices were really at their peak (but) we all knew it wouldn’t stay there,” Mr Densley said.
In 2017 Mr Densley and other people in the industry knew a price correction was on its way, and would come earlier than anticipated.
“I don’t think people were anticipating the correction so quickly, as everyone was talking spring but it came a bit earlier,” he said.
Heeding advice, he sold his feeders two months earlier than the previous year to cash-in before the prices dropped.
In July 2017 he sold 100 feeders to an average of $1450 at $3.50/kg to Iranda.
He also sold a group of 37 of his heavier feeders for slaughter to a top of $1878 at $5.96/kg carcaseweight.
They averaged 309kgcwt and all made the Meat Standards Australia grade.
“What we were facing then was a market correction so we were going to have a cents a kilo hit, so it made sense to get out of them a bit lighter,” Mr Densley said.
“We were lucky enough to get rid of them a bit earlier and so we got good cents a kilogram.”
Mr Densley is also in the process of shifting his breeding program to straight Angus to gain the premium of 5c/kg at TFI, by selling off his black baldies.
“It’s just nice to have them all straight blacks to generate that premium,” he said.
With some excess females in the herd, Mr Densley is also making the most of breeders looking to herd rebuild.
At the Naracoorte market this week he sold 50 pregnancy-tested in-calf Angus and black baldy heifers for good money.
“With females, that’s something you can make good money with at the moment because people are still herd rebuilding,” he said.
In bouncing back from some drier years, the Densleys are making the most of the season and strong market by rebuilding herd numbers.
“With the drier years we’ve had our herd size go down a little bit but we’re building it up again,” Mr Densley said.
With more than 400 Angus breeders, Mr Densley has retained 100 heifers as replacements to hopefully build to more than 500 next year.
Mr Densley has been buying Angus bulls from Roseleigh Angus, Pinnaroo, for 20 years and said he liked them for their easy doing-ability and performance on grass, and looked for bulls with positive fats and good cow fertility.
“If they've got good performance and positive fats, you get good growth and still retain your fertility and milking ability,” he said.
Mr Densley has seen the genetic gains in fertility with all his 70 second-calvers tested pregnant.
On the 1620-hectare property at Keith, they also run 1000 Merino ewes, but Mr Densley said he was excited to push the beef enterprise more.
Mr Densley also has a 160ha property at Tintinara, which backs onto the Thomas Foods International Iranda feedlot, where they send heavy vealers.
“We’ve been weaning our calves here (Keith) and sending them up there (Tintinara), growing them into heavy feeder weights and just dropping them (to Iranda),” he said.