Big inroads for small South Canterbury hereford stud
Paul and Fiona Scott were thrilled to bits when their hereford bull Matatoki Oklahoma 1529 was judged supreme hereford bull at the Beef Expo in May.
What's more, Oklahoma sold for the commendable price of $17,000. Quite a success for the small Matatoki Hereford Stud which, born 12 years ago in the North Island, migrated south [as 20 stud cows] when Paul and Fiona and their children moved to Maungati, South Canterbury in 2008.
Since beginning the stud, Paul has been building his experience and knowledge by tapping into others' expertise.
He was part of the 2012 NZ Hereford Association ambassadors trip to Beef Australia, which he says enabled him to pick the brains of some like-minded and capable people.
"It really consolidated in my mind that this is what I want to do with my farming," he says.
He has since been elected onto the NZ Hereford Association's council and is chairman of the ambassador programme committee. He instigated the annual breeder exchange programme with Australia and is part of the move towards the new bright blue tags distinguishing registered hereford bulls from non-registered bulls.
At first glance, the colour may not have any brand association with hereford, but it was chosen because it is completely new and different, he says.
"True blue is synonymous with something that is genuine or fair dinkum. A true blue tag means you know it's a genuine registered cattle beast."
He is excited about the Prime Hereford story and the possibilities in restaurants and the gourmet food industry.
"The market is looking for another beef story, I believe. We have just got to keep pushing the importance of intra-muscular fat and eye muscle area, bearing in mind they're part of a balanced package and its hard to find that perfect animal that provides everything."
In saying that, Paul says Oklahoma displays all the attributes the beef industry should be looking for.
"Good structure for on-farm performance, good carcass traits with positive fat, reasonable marbling and good growth," he says.
"We chose to enter this bull [in Beef Expo] because his sire is Monymusk Grenade which we introduced into the herd five years ago."
Paul puts a lot of store in EBVs [estimated breeding values]. When you are in the stud game you can't ignore either the EBVs or the physical appearance of the bull. Everything has to line up to get the progress that you want, he says.
No one genetic trait ranks highest for Paul but good temperament in an animal is very important.
"After all I'm working the farm alone," he says. "The last thing I need is a stroppy animal in the paddock."
"I think if you concentrate on one trait you can lose track of the others. I like to keep the EBV's balanced, but i don't want to introduce anything that will take me backwards."
"We want to keep our birth rates fairly low, alongside solid growth and positive fats. They have all got to be good or they will detract from what might phenotypically be a top bull.
"It only takes one perceived negative to stop a buyer bidding. But likewise, if a bull doesn't appeal phenotypically the buyer probably isn't going to look at the figures at all."
The amount of data behind an EBV and the heritability of a trait is key, says Paul.
"It's important to recognise the limitations of some EBVs such as calving ease. If a herd has no variation in calving ease records then it is impossible to generate a calving ease index."
Today the stud consists of 120 stud females.
The in-calf rate is 92 per cent and empties, both cows and heifers, are culled. Culls are also selected on progeny performance, temperament and how cows stand the test of time.
Of the heifers mated this year, artificial insemination (AI) was used to put 20 to industry legend Koanui 0219 while 20 R3 heifers and top cows had straws from 2013 Beef Expo price topper Monymusk Gallant.
Another 15 were inseminated with Waikaka Skytower 1329, the 2015 Beef Expo champion, or their own bull Matatoki Nepia 1419 which they sold at last year's Beef Expo.
Matariki Holy Smoke, from James Murray's North Canterbury stud and Okawa Marshall 9178 have also been used in their AI programme. Okawa Naval 8040, Monymusk Grenade 110114, Limehill Cracker 9373 and Matariki 120087 have been used for natural mating in recent years.
"We have some good genetics coming through as we have invested heavily in some industry leading bulls," Paul says.
"We had weaner calves on the ground by Monymusk Gallant and Waikaka Skytower, both very prominent bulls in the hereford industry."
While on-farm performance is important Paul believes all breeders need to keep one eye on the end market for beef and hereford is well placed to deliver in both areas.
He is a firm believer that the dual role of hereford as a traditional beef animal and to service the dairy industry is a good thing. Breeders cannot be blinkered in their thinking, he says. "We have to have a versatile breeding programme."
"I think this versatility keeps a lot of breeders going. We still sell the majority of our bulls to the dairy industry but the improving quality of our herd means we're now attracting beef industry interest."
By selecting for growth rate while keeping birth weights moderate he is confident he can continue to meet buyers' needs from both sectors. Gestation length isn't a focus.
"I think you have to be all in on that one or not at all."
Besides the stud herd, Paul runs about 50 commercial beef cows, topped up with trading cattle as the season allows. Most of the commercial cows are black hereford-friesians. Put to their own bulls, some of the commercial cow's three-quarter progeny have gone into the commercial herd too, but only if they are black to make it simpler to identify them from the registered cattle.
"We also trade young cattle, up to 100 or so a year with an emphasis on sourcing good beef or whiteface heifers that can be put to our bulls to provide an opportunity to sell in-calf rather than just fattened heifers. It enables us to generate more value from our own bulls," Paul says.
Matatoki bulls are sold through the PGG Wrightson Agonline 'helmsman' auction.
"We are trying something a bit different with the selling method," Paul says.
"At this stage, we aren't big enough for our own farm sale. We are trying to find a niche with a helmsman auction that can deliver really good value to the buyer. In our mind, if people are happy to do a bit of research prior to sale day they can save themselves a lot of money, especially the commercial farmer.
"In 2016 we sold seven bulls into the beef industry which represented solid progress for us, and we have been able to sell a bull four years out of the past five at Beef Expo.
"This year we sold three bulls at our helmsman sale and another three by negotiation. But we are realistic how many we can place in that sector because of the past changes in the industry."
Whether buying for dairy or beef use, Paul believes his bulls are good value for money and AgOnlines helmsman system has many advantages for buyers.
"The key is to come and see the bulls in the flesh first and do your homework prior to the online auction starting."