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Wireless weighing helps Aussie farmers rebuild business after drought

Monday, 20 June, 2022

From owning an aluminum glazing business to running a 5,500-acre beef operation at the height of the worst drought in Northern New South Wales history, Chris and Anita Houston have faced a few challenges. Chris and Anita moved onto his family farm at Bingara, on the banks of the Gwydir River, seven years ago, but Chris says it’s been far from the slower pace of life the couple had hoped for. “We had owned an aluminum framing and glazing business for 28 years and we were ready for a change. We moved on to the farm and about a year later the drought arrived,” says Chris.

As the earth became parched and images of farmers from the region circulated in the media showing them on their knees praying for rain, Chris and Anita were eventually forced to sell off their entire breeding herd. “We ended up having to completely destock. There was nothing left. We kept paying for feed and the price of beef just kept going down,” says Chris. “We kept going for as long as we could just hoping it would rain and things would come right, but eventually all our stock had to go. It was one of the most depressing things we’ve ever faced,” says Chris.

The rain did eventually come, and the couple are now in rebuilding mode. After slowly buying in animals over the past 18 months they currently have 400 Droughtmaster/Angus breeding cows and 10 bulls. Chris says a key part of their rebuilding process has been improving their weighing technology using Gallagher’s Wireless Load Bars to better manage their herd. Anita says the couple attended the Beef Week event in Rockhampton to learn about new technology available and the best systems to use. After that Chris bought a new cattle crush and purchased Gallagher’s Wireless Load Bars and TW-1 weigh scale, which they had also seen at Beef Week. “Before our Gallagher set-up we had been selling off weaners and guessing their weights. We found we’d get them to the sale yards and find out their weights weren’t what we thought they were,” says Chris.

“The Wireless Load Bars make the process so clean and easy. There’s no messing around with cables. Now we can run weaners through there and keep track of what weight every animal is,” says Chris. As they rebuild their farm business, having accurate data means they can be sure they are not losing valuable income by selling animals that are either underweight or overweight. “It’s giving us an accurate picture of what we’re doing. When you’re farming on land like ours and when feed is at a premium, you don’t want to be holding cattle for a day longer than you need to,” says Chris. The couple has also started growing oats and Chris is building a fodder shed to future proof their business against further droughts.

Their goal is to get back to more beef trading, but they’re not quite there yet. “When we do, that’s where the scales will really come into their own,” says Chris. “We generally have a target weight of around 250kgs for weaners, but the price varies so the scales will help us get the best margins.” Chris says having the scales set up permanently with the crush has also been a better system for the cattle. “It keeps them calmer because you’re just running them through. It’s a clean and simple process. I haven’t got leads going everywhere and no one is tripping over them. People always complain about having to replace the leads and that’s just not an issue anymore,” says Chris.

Anita says they are slowly looking to collect more data during their weighing sessions, with the ultimate end-game to be recording everything about the animal’s health from the treatments it has received to the rotation of paddocks they’ve been on. “We eventually want to develop the whole system and continue to grow,” says Chris. “But for now, we’re just consolidating and taking time to rebuild ourselves after some really challenging years.”

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