FORGING a bright future during some of the toughest years the beef industry has faced hasn't been easy for Kindon Station's Noel and Liz Cook.
The couple run an aggregation of properties near Goondiwindi spanning almost 24,000 hectares, with 11,300ha at Kindon playing host to the main feedlot enterprise.
Mr Cook said the drought had forced the business to cut back from 9000 head to just 7500 Hereford and Angus cows.
"We've been Hereford breeders all our lives. Liz came from a solid background in Hereford production and the breed has certainly been good to us," Mr Cook said.
Managed by Ben Fogg, the feedlot has 3300 head of predominantly Euro and British breed cattle on 100 and 70-day feed cycles.
"We like to maintain an average daily weight gain of about 2.1kg on the 100-day cattle and about 2kg on the 70 days. If we're not getting that, then we evaluate what's happening and we make the necessary changes."
Feeding out about 15kg of finisher ration each per day, the cattle are fed a mixture of wheat, sorghum, silage, supplement and cotton seed, with up to 500 of the background cattle fed a sorghum-based silage ration.
"We like the ration; it's a pretty hot ration and it gives us better weight gains."
As many as 480 cattle a month from the 100-day feedlot are supplied to Kilcoy Pastoral, with another 240 heading to Bindaree Beef.
"The 70-day steers are then sent on to the Coles trade and we supply around 84 head per week to them - it's a continuous supply to these trades and we're proud of the system we've created which supports that trade," Mr Cook said.
He prefers to send the 350kg Hereford cattle through to the Coles market instead of holding onto them for the 400kg export trade.
"Herefords are soft, and we get good weight for age and the buyers like them."
After buying Kindon Station 10 years ago, Mr Cook said it took another six years to breed their stock to capacity.
"We didn't have enough cattle when we started, so we purchased Angus cows and put our Hereford bulls over them, but now we're moving into Hereford and looking to phase out the Angus completely."
Mr Cook said he did this by retaining heifers, which had brought the property to a position where the couple were now heavily culling heifers for temperament.
"It's very important and if we have a cow that plays up we get rid of them - it's too costly to have men chasing cattle that are playing up."
Joining their breeders all year round, Kindon's calving rate sits at about 92 per cent, with the Cooks recently taking off 1800 weaners.
"This suits the feedlot trade much better, instead of having a rush of weaners, and we've just gone through and branded, which is something we'd held off because of the dry weather."
Investing in top-quality genetics is something the Cooks say every breeder should be focused on.
"This is what has brought the herd up to what it is today, and we haven't been mucking around with our bulls - we've put a lot of money into choosing them over the years. Now we have 150 Hereford bulls and we buy the top ones from Ironbark Herefords in Barraba, NSW, and then breed new bulls from them for our herd."
Dealing with the ongoing effects of drought, Mr Cook said investment in grain storage was imperative.
"The drought certainly set us back and we're starting to harvest sorghum, which should have been done in March, but the dry hit it and it nearly died, and that's made cash flow hard- we will only start to see returns from that in August or September."
The Cooks said they were forced to spread their cattle out onto wheat stubble to ensure weight retention.
"We gave them the full run of the place to get them through, and then we got rain in late March and they've done exceptionally well since then - we've also been getting fat cows off natural and improved pasture."
Growing up to 1200ha of oats for their aged cows and weaners, the Cooks said they gained a great deal of enjoyment from producing high-quality beef.
"We can't say we're in drought now because we've got the best oats we've had in 10 years. It's very rewarding to see the cattle growing, doing and fattening, and we love looking out at them on the oats and in the feedlot, and seeing them coming up and hopefully having a financial reward at the end."