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Frightening times hang over farmers

HANGING ON: Ian Rogers from The Summit is reducing cattle numbers due to the prolonged dry.
HANGING ON: Ian Rogers from The Summit is reducing cattle numbers due to the prolonged dry. Toni Somes

GRANITE Belt cattleman Ian Rogers was wearing a deadpan expression when he explained half his property was rock and "if you could get cattle to eat that you'd be doing alright".

The Summit region producer was at Tuesday's sale in Warwick where he offloaded breeders in the hope of reducing pressure on his already stretched grass country.

We are trying to hang onto the rest of our breeders, because at these prices we won't be able to buy in replacement heifers.

He was heading home with a tonne of cotton seed to complement the hay he bought in early January, in the hope of getting his Gelbvieh herd through the summer.

"Frightening that's the best way to describe the season at The Summit," Mr Rogers said.

"We have reduced stock numbers and now we are looking to feed what we have left.

"The big question is how long will we be feeding for?

"Once you start you are committed to keep going until it rains and it's money that you never get back.

"But you can't let your stock die, yet if you sell them at the current prices, you won't be able to afford to get back into the industry when the season changes."

Mr Rogers sold - if reluctantly - older Gelbvieh cows for 95c/kg to $1.35c/kg at Tuesday's sale.

"Not the best prices, especially considering I could have got another calf out of them, but we just don't have the feed to hang on," he said.

"We are trying to hang onto the rest of our breeders, because at these prices we won't be able to buy in replacement heifers."

His operation has long been geared towards vealer production and in that sense he is no stranger to feeding stock.

He finishes his calves on a grain mix turning them off at between seven and eight months of age, and tipping the scales at 330-400kg.

"We buy in the grain mix and at the moment it's sitting around $400 a tonne

"But finishing young cattle like that is the only way to get consistent product for the butcher trade."

The southern producer tends to sell through the saleyards; however he laments the market's current downward trend.

"I don't like to complain, but we were getting better prices 12 to 14 years ago."

He is referring to his sale topping eight-month-old Gelbvieh calf, which sold for $940 a decade ago.

"The best price we have had lately was $2.10c/kg just before Christmas when the butchers were buying up, because there wasn't going to be a sale for a few weeks," Mr Rogers said. "This sale at a rough guess could be back 50c/kg on the tail end of last year."

Despite the stresses of the season and the highs and lows of the agricultural sector, the Southern Downs cattleman remains committed to the beef sector.

"You do get attached to your stock and the Gelbviehs have such a good temperament that I have had bulls it has been a privilege to own," Mr Rogers said.

"Temperament and mothering quality, particularly the high cream content of their milk, giving them an ability to turn off calves with exceptional weight for age, that is what it is all about."

"I got my first Gelbviehs in 1994 and I haven't looked back."

Topics:  cattle drought livestock