MAKING the most of a small block and a small herd of cattle can sometimes be about timing, as Walker Flat farmer Chris Bond has found.
Mr Bond, who farms 1200 hectares - split between cropping and grazing - with partner Lindy Riemelmoser, runs a herd of 45 breeders, with the aim of producing crossbred vealers.
He buys in young heifers, predominantly Red Polls from the Wilson family, Brentwood, and Santa Gertrudis from the Fogdens, Nangaringa, Loxton.
These are then joined with a Poll Hereford bull from Kerlson Pines.
Mr Bond said he selects his bulls using the estimated breeding values for low birthweights and high 300-day weight gain.
His family had traditionally run Red Polls and Poll Herefords, but with Red Poll heifers getting somewhat harder to source, he began looking for an extra breed.
"The Santas do grow out bigger - they're a longer calf," he said.
All of the crossbred calves are then sold in small lots as vealers, in the 10-month-old to 12-month-old age bracket, at the Mount Pleasant market, aiming for the butcher trade.
Mr Bond said he split the mob into two groups, with both breeds in each group, for two distinct calving periods.
Some of this comes down to necessity, with just one bull - "I don't have enough cattle for two bulls," he says - but it also helps by maximising access to the markets at different times of the year.
The first group calves from May, with the second mob calving in September.
"I planned when to breed not to have anything to sell when (people in the Adelaide) Hills have got stuff to sell," he said.
He said this avoids the November to February peak, when many of the cattle in the Adelaide Hills will be coming off good summer feed and hitting the market.
Mr Bond said in most years, he would refresh the herd by culling older stock and buying in new heifers.
"I've had to cull heavily in the past two years (because of the season) and sell the older breeders, so I've brought in a lot of younger breeding heifers," he said.
"It's pretty important to keep the breeding herd as young as possible."
Recently, he had some trouble finding enough of the younger Santa Getrudis heifers, so Mr Bond bought in some Angus-Santa Gertrudis heifers to produce a second-cross animal.
While still young, he said this breeding had resulted in some good calves on the ground, with the "jury still out" on how they will compare in his system.
Mr Bond has been selling through Mount Pleasant market for a number of years.
"It's convenient and generally has a good lot of buyers," he said.
"Buyers get to know my cattle, bid with confidence and they keep returning."
With a small block and variable seasons, supplementary feeding plays a big role in Mr Bond's operation..
Due to his proximity to the River Murray, he has a 12-hectare block of permanent sprinkler irrigation and grows oats and barley across two-thirds of the area with lucerne on the remaining third.
This is made into large round hay bales to be used on-farm with some surplus bales also able to be sold.
Mr Bond said he generally fed out year-round, to help keep the cattle satisfied as well as reducing the pressure on the land.
"You've got to look after the land or you've got nothing," he said.
He said at times of less feed, they could be fed every second day, but even during summer, they still might get hay once a week.
He has tried stock blocks, but said his main trick was to "drench them and feed them".
"But you've got to feed them well," he said.
The cattle also have access to cereal stubbles from the cropping operation.
The cropping program works on a two-year rotation with one year cereal - either wheat or barley - followed by pasture.
He aims for an improved medic-dominant pasture.
"It's good for the cattle, and it's also good for the following cereal crop," he said.
"When you're running pasture and cropping, it is a big compromise."
But he said having the two enterprises could also help reduce risk.
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