REBUILDING to normal carrying capacity has been tough going for any cattle producer over the past two years, given the backdrop of stratospheric livestock prices and the extreme shortage of breeders for sale.
Not many would attempt to take on increasing their holdings from 4000 square kilometres to 23000 at the same time.
The Handbury family has, on the back of enormous optimism in the future of demand for quality Australian beef both domestically and overseas.
The Hanburys have agricultural lands in the north, mid north and south east pastoral districts of South Australia and the West Wimmera of Victoria, trading as Saltbush Ag.
Their northern aggregation, managed by Adam Willis, includes both their own holdings and leased properties and runs from Woomera to Coober Pedy in north western South Australia. The Handburys have been working with traditional owners for more than a decade.
It's arid, saltbush and mitchell grass country, with dams and water courses and a typical annual rainfall of between 140 and 170mm.
Rain was above average last season and is shaping up to be the same this summer.
Merinos are run for wool and meat but the larger part is beef cattle. The majority are Angus - 3000 breeders and still building.
Weaners are turned off in two musters a year at under 12 months, 250 to 350 kilograms depending on conditions. They are sent south to be backgrounded at Saltbush's Lucindale property, after which they are marketed to feedlots at 350-450kg.
With adequate groundcover and replenished water, the operation is continuing its building phase and the right genetics, particularly bulls, are paramount, Saltbush general manager Jack Handbury said.
"All indicators are showing the strong cattle job is not going away any time soon and that's giving us the confidence to invest," he said.
"Supply on the cow side has been very tight. We're putting a very strong emphasis on the bulls we are buying. We are retaining all our heifers so we have to get bull selection right because that will underpin production for a long time."
They have sourced bulls from Goolagong Santa Gertrudis and Angus Stud at Warnertown but their latest purchase is quite a story in itself.
Ten Angus yearling bulls from Nick and Kate Boshammer's NB Genetics Angus stud outside Chinchilla in Queensland made the 2000 kilometre trip south this month.
While it's rare to source from so far afield, Mr Handbury said they needed bulls that ticked every single box.
"For climatic reasons, we are looking for survivability," he said.
"The framing and structure of these bulls will suit this country.
"NB Genetics have a focus on the estimated breeding values which match our criteria - particularly easy calving and long-term growth.
"Because of the size of the area they will be run over, calving ease is very important to lower our mortality in birthing."
The bulls will be joined to Angus heifers.
The NB Genetics bulls handled the trip south, made over two days with 12 hours of spelling, very well, Nick Boshammer said.
While NB Genetics bulls have gone as far north as Richmond, this was the furthest they had been sold.
It speaks the length big beef operations are currently going to in order to source the right genetics as they rebuild herds, stud stock agents said.
Nick Boshammer said Saltbush Ag needed bulls that would thrive on the saltbush plains and in the tough outback environment of South Australia and these bulls were developed for such environments.
NB Genetics' bulls are bred with a focus on skeletal growth and rumen development.
"We are trying to moderate growth to a point that still allows for maximum skeleton growth," Nick Boshammer explained.
"We are also trying to develop the rumen early on in life so they are able to process forages better for the entirety of their entire life. That in turn increases longevity and maximises survivability, particularly in environments that are at times challenging.
"One means of doing that is transitioning calves off milk earlier, so they develop their rumen earlier.
"We want to get to the even balance of providing enough nutrition, and not restricting, but not giving excess nutrition so that they become reliant on nutrition provided to them."
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