Content cattle make the grade

Content cattle make the grade


Debbie McBryde, Oombabeer, Moura, and manager Mervyn Mason, with a mob of cattle bought last year. - <i>Picture: ROD GREEN.</i>

Debbie McBryde, Oombabeer, Moura, and manager Mervyn Mason, with a mob of cattle bought last year. - Picture: ROD GREEN.

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WHEN Debbie McBryde took over the running of her mother's central Queensland cattle enterprise five years ago, the only emotion she felt towards cattle was fear.

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WHEN Debbie McBryde took over the running of her mother's central Queensland cattle enterprise five years ago, the only emotion she felt towards cattle was fear.

Today, she is standing in the middle of the paddock with a mob of pure Brahman bullocks that are waiting expectantly for their pats - which they receive.

"I get so much pleasure from seeing these cattle - you can see they are oozing contentment," she says, as she rubs one of them down.

This contentment has translated to her cattle hitting the MSA grade more than 90 per cent of the time.

On top of that, they are scoring MSA index values between 50 and 57, putting them in the top 50pc for eating quality.

Brahmans are generally not known for achieving these statistics, and it has made Meat and Livestock Australia take an interest in the results.

As a result, Ms McBryde and manager Mervyn Mason have been invited to give a talk about their holistic-style of management and prioritised animal welfare during one of MLA's forums at Beef Australia next month.

"They are here for a good time, not a long time," she says of the 800-head herd that she runs on half of Oombabeer, a 3482-hectare, former Brigalow block that lies 70 kilometres west of Moura.

The block is also owned by her mother Eleanor Hood.

Running a cattle property was not something Ms McBryde thought she would be doing after living in various places, including a two-year stint in Zimbabwe.

However, she returned to Oombabeer and felt she could become more involved.

"We always had people managing it, but given I was now living here, I felt I had to be more involved in the management."

It was at this time Mr Mason had recently returned to Moura after years of working all over the country, including an 11-year stint for the Stanbroke Pastoral Company.

He now manages Oombabeer, working five days a week while also helping a neighbouring property.

Their philosophy is built on welfare: if the cattle are quiet and contented, they will eat and put on weight.

Every aspect of the operation is about keeping the cattle calm - from the moment they are bought from the saleyards and put into the paddocks.

"We keep them for a week and let them settle before we do any work with them, and that makes a huge difference with how they handle," Mr Mason says.

This means holding off on the branding or dehorning.

The use of older, permanent bullocks as trainers is an integral part of the operation. Old-timers George and Stalker are the ones who help the new recruits settle in.

"Because they are more active than our other steers, they go with all the new purchases when they turn up," Mr Mason said.

Each group has its own set of trainers. A mob of No 4s bought last year and destined for the meat works at the end of the year have a different set of buddies.

"When we first started, Debbie had trouble remembering cattle, so we gave them names," Mr Mason said.

These training steers are the ones Ms McBryde allows herself to get completely attached to. Another mob of steers are buddied up with three veterans - Snoopy, Wally and Kimberley, and it is Snoopy who comes in for the pats.

"That is how I cope with them going on a truck," Ms McBryde explains.

Mr Mason's special trainer, Hilux, a grey that stands almost six feet tall and enjoys a rub around his tail, and goes with the smaller steers.

"It is like a cycle," Ms McBryde said.

"We move the mobs through the different trainers, and we do that so the cattle get used to moving away from each other.

"One of the reasons we do well is because we go through and draft relatively frequently to take the lead out.

"There must be some sort of psychological change that then allows the tail of the mob to then move ahead with weight gain."

Ms McBryde is reluctant to talk about some alternative practices she uses to create a calm environment, but Mr Mason is not so quiet.

"Debbie uses biodynamics," he says.

Ms McBryde has introduced the concept of biodynamics to the management of the property and field broadcasters have been installed, working with the land's natural energy.

Although this may be considered unconventional, Ms McBryde says it has turned Mr Mason into a believer.

"After purchase, in a day, the cattle are settled and within a week they are putting on weight, whereas other cattle are inclined to pace the fences and maybe unsettled for sometime.

"This is also one of the reasons why we move the cattle through the buddy system - it does help them settle quickly."

Nutrition plays a very big part in their contentment, Ms McBryde says.

Oombabeer is currently blanketed in waist-high grass - a mixture of native grass, green panic, Queensland blue grass and Biloela buffel.

"Part of the management strategy is not to have it all buffel. We deliberately stock conservatively so there is grass for winter."

The paddocks show more evidence of innovation - the 'lolly trolley', which is a means of the cattle selecting the nutrients they need. The trolley is a roof of corrugated iron over a series of compartments, each filled separately with pure copper, sulphur, megamin supplement, Agline and seaweed meal, and salt.

The trolley is portable and can be moved with a four-wheeler.

Mr Mason refills these and the cattle push in to demolish the salt.

This was one of Ms McBryde's ideas that came from being involved with diodynamics, which Mr Mason then built as a trial. It worked, so now there are many throughout the property.

"My skills are in thinking laterally and Mervyn's skills are in the cattle aspect, and designing and building things," Ms McBryde says.

"It really has been a great experience to see things taken from an idea to an outcome."

Treating buffalo fly and ticks has also been subject to trial and error - and there are very few to be found on this herd.

When managing buffalo fly, time is saved and disruption to the herd kept to a minimum by treating them in the paddock. This is by creating a makeshift enclosure made from a roll of hessian and steel posts, and the cattle are moved inside and sprayed.

This is the first year no chemical has been used for ticks or fly, and to manage the fly they have developed a concoction of vegetable oil, garlic and neem oil.

Everything carried out on Oombabeer has the cattle's welfare as number one. There is a sick bay close to the house, and any cattle doing poorly are brought in and nursed back to health.

Mr Mason has the last word on why Oombabeer hits the MSA targets.

"It is the love," Mr Mason.

"The love of the cattle, the love of the land and the love of what we do."

The story Content cattle make the grade first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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