A split calving program has enabled South Australian Angus breeders, the Lock family, to turnoff quality weaners three times a year, giving them increased market flexibility and access to a wide range of buyers.
Anthony and Deb Lock, along with their son Ben and Anthony's parents John and Athalie, currently run a self-replacing herd of 550 Angus breeders spread across three properties on the Fleurieu Peninsula and in the Mallee, totalling 1900 hectares.
The family-run operation manages the three properties comprising Strathmore at Inman Valley, Mt Elephant at Geranium and Carrolock at Jabuk separately, which Mr Lock said spreads the risk of variable seasonal conditions.
"The Mallee rainfall is supposed to be 350 to 400 millimetres, but in 2018 we only managed 312mm, and last year the average rainfall was 322mm," he said.
"The Mallee is the type of country that can manage on less than average rainfall, as long as it falls at the right time, but successive dry seasons and no summer rain remain a concern.
"The Fleurieu, however, always produces good cattle, even if the rest of the state is a bit dry."
The Lock family have been running Angus cattle on their Mallee farms since the mid-1990s, making the switch from a Red Angus/Red Poll/Hereford-cross due to increased market demand.
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The Fleurieu property has moved to black Angus during the past 10 to 15 years.
Mr Lock aims to breed structurally sound, quiet, easy-doing, functional cows that will produce calves reaching target weights of between 300 to 400 kilograms by about 8 to 10 months of age.
"We aim to provide a complete turnoff of steers and heifers that aren't being retained in the herd, all in the one sale, three times a year," he said.
"Most years this is quite achievable with steers averaging 350 to 400kg and the heifers 320 to 260kg, depending on the season.
"Our cattle are now sourced by repeat buyers and generally go to feedlots, both large and small, while the heifers have been purchased as breeders as well."
We like them to be above breed average for 200- and 400-day growth and they all need a good temperament.
The family are long-term clients of Hazeldean and have started purchasing bulls from the Gommers family's Mandayen stud, near Keith, SA, more recently.
Mr Lock likes to use a combination of visual appraisal and estimated breeding values (EBVs) for his bull selection.
"We love that both the studs' cattle are tough, paddock-reared bulls that can walk distances and cope with the heat, all while doing their job.
"We put a lot of emphasis on the EBVs for temperament, short gestation length, mature cow weight, milking ability, moderate birthweight and carcase traits such as good eye muscle area.
"We like them to be above breed average for 200- and 400-day growth and they all need a good temperament."
Good feet are also paramount, particularly in the Mallee's sandy country, according to Mr Lock.
"We are very strict as a correct toe will carry a cow for 10 to 12 years."
Mt Elephant employs a non-traditional spring calving to take advantage of selling 9- to 10-month-old calves in August before the flush of cattle from the South-East of SA comes on the market.
"In most years, we will achieve higher winter prices."
The spring calvers are joined from late December onwards to start calving in the following October.
Both the Carrolock and Strathmore properties run autumn-calving herds, which start in March.
"Having two calvings allows better utilisation of our bulls and gives us increased marketing flexibility," Mr Lock said.
"A spread of calving also helps ease the management, particularly as the properties are some distance from each other."
All the cows are mated for 10 to 12 weeks with the expectation most of the cows will be in calf in the first six weeks of the joining period.
Depending on the season, locally sourced oaten hay is fed at the Mallee properties in autumn, while 300 to 400 bales of pasture hay is annually produced at Strathmore for fodder stocks, if required.
"The pastures on our Fleurieu farm are a typical mix of clovers, ryegrass and phalaris, and our Mallee country is veldt pastures with some primrose and clovers.
"Our cows need to be good doers to live on a pasture-based diet with some hay supplementation if seasonal conditions dictate."
According to Mr Lock, they have increased their selection pressure on improving herd fertility and quality.
Any heifer or cow which requires assistance during calving will be culled.
"Our current spring calving is now complete and out of 140 cows and 20 heifers, we had one assist.
"Our calving percentage is usually in the high 90s, if not 100 per cent some years, due to the twinning rate that some of the herds have."
The autumn calving mob from Carrolock and Strathmore are yard-weaned in January, while the spring calving herd from Mt Elephant are weaned in late August.
"The ideal scenario is the calves are yard-weaned and supplemented with hay until they leave the property. It doesn't always happen but I aim to have them sold within two weeks of weaning."
The annual draft of weaners is all marketed through AuctionsPlus and Mr Lock continues to be pleased with the sale results.
"AuctionsPlus is definitely our preferred way to sell our cattle, it gives us a wider buyer market and the cattle remain on-farm so there is minimal costs and less stress for the animal," he said.
During the past few years, the herd has become European Union-accredited, which Mr Lock believes has opened additional markets.