Charolais breeders choose beef bulls over dairy

Charolais breeders Carolyn and Drew Dundass believe are there are “huge margins” to be gained by choosing beef breeds over dairy bulls when fattening them to maturity.

“Although the initial outlay is a bit more, you get the turnover much faster, as beef steers mature in 18 months compared to 24 to 30 months for dairy beef bulls. This means you can get through twice as many cattle in a three year period, and save the cost of wintering them twice,” says Drew.

The beef steers come with the added benefit of being easier to handle, he says.

“Dairy bulls tend to wreck fences and dig holes, whereas the beef steers are generally more settled and content.”

He and Carolyn farm the homestead block of Glen Ayr – a 1600 ha mostly hill country property at Paerau, in the Maniototo, where they run Taiaroa Charolais Stud, which was founded by Carolyn’s father Tom Aitken in the late 1960s.

Also under the Glen Ayr operation is a 940 ha property further down the Maniototo Plain run by Carolyn’s sister and brother-in-law, Dawn and David Sangster.

The Dundass’s will present between 20 and 25 Charolais bulls at their annual on-farm sale on 20 May, and say the stock are “looking good” despite a tough spring.

“There was no growth here early on and it was very cold. However the weather turned at the right time and we had a great clover crop that seemed to hang on. The stock also like the heat and have picked up well,” says Carolyn.

The couple is focused on producing “big muscled, solid, strong and structurally sound animals”, with good feet and a quiet temperament.

“We also use polled genetics as it saves de-horning. There seems to be a myth around polled cattle not being as hardy but we don’t agree with that at all.”

Carolyn and Drew are in a good position to judge as their stock are “made to work hard” given the property’s challenging nature and climate.

The Glen Ayr homestead is about 550 metres above sea level, with the Charolais stud breeding cows and rising three years wintered at about 920 metres above sea level on a block that hasn’t been grazed the rest of the year, says Carolyn.

“They go up in April after weaning and stay there up until August when they are due to calve. The stock doesn’t get any hay until they come back down to the paddocks. They have to forage for their food but they don’t seem to mind.”

The couple purposefully produces large cattle with enough condition to handle the regime.

“Because of their harder winter our bulls may not be as heavy as some bulls in Canterbury, but when they move from here we feel they’ll shift well which is a huge advantage.”

The couple is also “very pleased” with the 2600 Texel cross ewes they run on the property.

“Our growth rate and yields are up there but we’re currently trialing some Texel Romney and Texel Coopworth rams to try and increase our lambing percentage,” says Drew.

Carolyn says Glen Ayr produces some “tasty Texels”, with their first ever entrant in Section 3 of the Glammies awards reaching the finals.

“Dawn and David have also made the final in another section, so it will be interesting to see how we get on at the judging.”

Both Carolyn and Drew are members of the New Zealand Charolais Cattle Society, with Drew elected as one of three South Island Councillors in 2011.

The breed was established in New Zealand over 45 years ago when semen was imported from Britain by the society’s first president, Mr J M Sutherland from Waimate.

“We remain huge fans of the Charolais breed and think it has an important role to play in the New Zealand cattle industry. It is a great breed to use over other cattle for increased growth and yield, and Charolais-cross calves continue to sell extremely favourably at the weaner sales.”