Mother and daughter duo Joanne and Tracey Gowen are hand feeding their 400 breeders at Walcha and Uralla in NSW. They're not feeding for survival though, they are feeding for production.
The pair are well back on the 600 to 650 Angus females they would run on Barrakee and Argyll and despite a threatening water shortage from back-to-back dry seasons, their October/November joining is still going ahead.
This year they purchased four new bulls from Walcha stud, Kilburnie Angus, and are confident of a promising conception rate after lifting their cows' condition over winter.
Running 45 to 50 females per paddock not only allowed for easier management when feeding out hay, cotton seed and dry distillers grain or pellets, but it reduced competition at the feed bin.
They may not be able to control the weather, but the response to their daily feeding routine has given them hope.
"We are pretty confident we have put on at least half a condition score over winter and into calving and some have put on at least a condition score," Tracey said.
"We are really happy that we have fed them appropriately and they are really going forward so we are hoping, fingers crossed, that is reflected in our pregnancy rates."
The Gowens have run a commercial Angus herd for the best part of 35 years.
In the past decade, they have been taking 100 steers to feedlot weights and offloading them to NH Foods' Whyalla feedlot at Texas, and while they would normally keep about 120 replacement heifers and sell the surplus heifers and steers at weaning, for the past two years they haven't kept any steers, and have reduced their heifer numbers.
In a bid to tighten their calving period and increase the likelihood of young females getting back in calf, the Gowens run an artificial insemination program with their heifers in September.
Not only does it allow them to source the best genetics for their young stock, but the synchronised joining has a positive impact on their commercial operation.
"Hopefully we get more of them calving earlier at the start of the season so they are more likely to go back in calf," Tracey said.
When selecting bulls for their breeder herd, the Gowens prefer to stay local.
They strive to find a moderate animal in terms of birth weight, but also chase muscle and intramuscular fat. Tracey said moderate growth figures were just as important too.
"We are trying to hit two markets essentially ... a feedlot market and then we are also looking at animals that might be backgrounded," she said.
"We don't want large mature weight cows so we are not looking for the ones that have the highest 600-day growth and so on. We want something that is going to grow well, but not a huge framed cow we then have to maintain in our females we keep."
This current dry spell is the first time the Gowens have ever fed out hay and their surface water stocks are falling dangerously low. But they are remaining positive, looking ahead long term and applying for grants to improve their infrastructure, fodder storage and water sources for when the season changes.
"You have still got to look to the future and you have got be able to maximise the genetics you are carrying," Tracey said.