Charbray Association Australia


Kerry Surawski and John Chalk - Testimonial - December 2010

Boost for the bottom line

Rising cost pressures have prompted one South East Qld cattle-producing family to look for greater growth rates from cross-breeding, as MARTIN BUNYARD reports.

JOHN Chalk, with his wife Carol, have cross-bred cattle for almost 20 years in an attempt to reduce the time it takes for their cattle to reach the required turn-off weight. The Chalk family run a beef and dairy operation at Carneys Creek near Boonah in partnership with their next door neighbours, Kerry and Julie Surawski. It’s the third generation of the partnership between the two families, which the grandfathers of Mr Chalk and Mr Surawski started in 1932. With their children also becoming involved, the business partnership is now entering a fourth generation.

Across 2025 hectares of mainly scrub and improved forestry land, the two families have spent many years trying to improve the performance of their cattle. Using generational bred Charbray bulls over a 350-head Charbray cow herd, with 260 Charbray replacement heifers currently on hand, the families are producing steers at a turn-off weight of 300 kilograms dressed direct to the meat processors.

“We fatten our culled heifers, which are excluded from the breeding herd on appeal and temperament, in a small feedlot we have on the property, but, we focus on grass fattening our bullocks,” Mr Chalk said. “We embraced cross-breeding cattle early on in our business because we could see the benefits of producing a beast that would fatten well on grass or in a feedlot.”

Most of the cattle fattening is done on the business partnership’s scrub blocks, while the breeders are run on the improved forest country.

“It is important for us to have a cross-bred article that will do well in our country,” Mr Chalk said. “We aim to produce a commercial steer or heifer with good weight for age, excellent muscling, adequate fat cover, and good growth.”

The business partnership started using Charbrays almost 20 years ago after purchasing a few bull calves from a neighbour that had Charbray cows in calf to a top-quality Charbray bull. They then put the Charbrays over their Hereford and Braford cows and according to Mr Chalk the improvement in the cattle was very noticeable.

“We saw the difference in our cattle from using Charbrays, so we purchased more Charolais heifers and crossed them with Charbray bulls,” he said.

We embraced cross-breeding cattle early on in our business because we could see the benefits.

“Our aim was to purchase the best commercial bulls we could and I believe it has paid dividends for us in the long run.”

Before using Charbrays, the Chalk and Surawski families still used cross-bred cattle genetics and crossed their Hereford cows with Brahman bulls.

“When we were running straight bred Herefords, the steers needed an extra year on pasture to reach the required kill weight compared to the time it now takes for our cross-bred cattle to make kill weight,” Mr Chalk said. “It’s also clear at the cattle sales that buyers are currently chasing the cross-bred cattle, especially the Charbray type cattle.”

This is a big change from 20 years ago, according to Mr Chalk, who said that producers and processors weren’t keen on bidding for the cross-bred cattle and preferred straight-bred cattle.

“I think it’s very important to continue improving the cattle genetics in our business and we are focused on breeding cross-bred cattle that the processors want and will also perform well for us on grass or in the feedlot,” he said. “Our Charbray herd works very well for us and performing in the paddock or in our small on-property feedlot. We depend on the natural grass a lot and also feed our weaners a supplement to try and keep them growing.”

They also semen test all bulls and join maiden heifers by size of the heifer or around 18 months old.

“We don’t have a particular preference to the colour of our cattle,but, generally we favour whiter coloured cattle with a shorter coat,” Mr Chalk said. “It’s also very important that our bulls have good conformation. “The fact is that we are price takers not price makers, which means as cattle producers we have to look internally at our business to improve efficiency and profitability. “If you can off-load your cattle earlier then it makes a big difference to your financial bottom line.”

The Chalk and Surawski families are optimistic about the future of their agricultural business but Mr Chalk does hold concerns about the types of market conditions and government regulation future family generations will operate under.

“There is a fair bit of soul searching to be done by me because the current government holds a lot of our futures in the decisions they make that affect rural Queensland,” he said. “It concerns me that the fourth generation coming through will have to deal with some very difficult times in the future.”

Kerry Surawski (left) and John Chalk discuss their herd management program.

Kerry Surawski (left) and John Chalk discuss their herd management program.


Phil and Jennifer Christmas - Testimonial - June 2010

Charbray’s shine in the west

By Penelope Arthur

The use of Charbray bulls in a diverse cross breeding program on Phil and Jennifer Christmas’s properties in the Cunnamulla and Bollon districts is enabling the Christmas family to meet the demands of the market.

Phil & Jennifer Christmas

Working in conjunction with their daughter and son-in-law, Alex and Rob Donohue, the Christmas family run around 2500 breeders across four properties at Bollon and Cunnamulla. The family operate several herds including a long established Braford herd, a Red Brahman herd and a large Brahman Charbray cross herd.

Mr Christmas said Charbray bulls are now used in all herds as he’s become increasingly aware of the marketability and adaptability of Charbray’s in the west.

“We’ve only been in this district for the past twelve years and it’s only really been in the past few years that we’ve really made the move to Charbray’s,” he said.

“It’s obvious to me at that you can’t beat Charbray bulls in terms of acclimatising and adapting to tough seasonal conditions.”

“We’ve trialed a lot of breeds over the years but as time marches on, we just seem to use more and more Charbray bulls.”

The Christmas family join their bulls all year round and carry out two musters to wean and preg test the females. The steer progeny are offloaded at 330-350kg through private paddock sales.

Mr Christmas said many of his clients are repeat clients who are specifically seeking Charbray cross cattle.

“They are certainly very marketable,” he said.

“We have clients from over the border in NSW through to the Roma, Surat and St George districts and we find the Charbray cross weaners are very popular.”

A former Braford seedstock producer from NSW, Mr Christmas is still indulging his love of breeding bulls at Booroomba, 32km south west of Bollon. The vast majority of the Charbray, Red Brahman and Braford bulls bred on Booroomba are used in the Christmas’ own herds although surplus bulls are offloaded through private sales and at select multi-vendor auctions.

Mr Christmas also buys in extra Charbray bulls from studs such as Huntington to inject fresh genetics into his herd.

“We generally select Charbray bulls with low Brahman content and we have to look at the bulls to ensure we like their style, structure and confirm that they are sound before we buy them,” he said.

“Fertility is also important and temperament is equally so – we need to get calves on the ground but in our operation temperament is also vital.”

“We also look for any available raw data to back to the bulls up.”

The Christmas family are currently enjoying a wonderful season on all four of their properties. Mr Christmas said the family take on agistment cattle when seasonal conditions permit to boost cash flow.

“That’s our strategy in good years and at times we can have up to 6000 head across the four properties,” he said.

“I find if you buy in extra cattle and run too many of your own cattle you can really paint yourself into a corner in this country.”

“It’s looking unreal here at the moment – the flood and the rain has really put some subsoil moisture down and the Buffel is hanging on very well.”

“We have a mile of feed on all the properties.”


Heather Stewart Testimonial - April 2010

Temperament focus paramount in MSA quest

By Penelope Arthur

PRODUCING cattle with quiet temperament has always been paramount for Jambin Charbray breeder Heather Stewart. But since Ms Stewart began targeting MSA grids three years ago, the temperament of her herd has never been more important.

Heather Stewart

“We spend a lot of time tailing out the weaners on horses and it pays off because when they go away as bullocks they are quiet and aren’t stressed and that is reflected in the results we get with MSA,” she said.

“Temperament is very important to us and although Charbray’s are naturally quiet we spend a lot of time ensuring our entire herd is as quiet as possible.”

Operating in partnership with her three children, Gordon, Helen and Fiona, Ms Stewart runs around 1100 Charbray breeders across three properties, Craiglands, Kilburnie and Rockwell, in the Jambin region, north of Biloela. The family own around 24,700ha and aim to finish all bullocks on grass and a small area of forage crops.

Heather Stewart

Ms Stewart’s family have been in the Jambin area since her grandfather, John Campbell, took up Kilburnie in 1883. The family bought some of the first Herefords to the area in the late 1890s but also experimented with other breeds, including Shorthorns and Zebus, until settling on Brahmans in the 1970s.

Ms Stewart said their Brahman herd performed very well for many years but eventually she felt something extra was needed to lift the herd.

“We tried Santa’s and although I have great admiration for the Santa breed they just didn’t like the hills here,” she said.

“But I still felt our Brahmans really needed something extra.”

That led the Stewarts to their first National Charbray Sale where Ms Stewart said she quickly became a convert to the breed.

“I thought the Charbray’s would be too soft for our country but couldn’t resist buying two young bulls and once they had their calves on the ground we never looked back,” she said.

“They are actually surprisingly tough, which the Brahman coming out in them, but they also have that excellent weight for age and a wonderful carcase.”

“We turn our bullocks off as two tooth steers and they grade beautifully for MSA.”

The Stewart family sell all their cull cows, heifers and bullocks direct to Teys Biloela with the exception of extremely dry years when they might be forced to offload stock early through local feedlots. Ms Stewart said they receive great feedback on their cattle by selling direct to works, particularly since they began targeting the MSA grid three years ago.

“We were Cattlecare accredited so it wasn’t a big deal to follow the protocols for MSA,” she said.

“The premium can be 15c/kg dressed so it’s well worth aiming for and the Charbray’s seem to be doing very easily.”

The Stewarts buy all their bulls through the annual National Charbray Sale and are picky when it comes to selecting sires for their herd. In addition to temperament and confirmation, Ms Stewart said weight and fat cover is very important when selecting a bull.

“Now that we have access to figures such as P8 fat and Rib Fat we can try to select a bull that will provide adequate fat cover across our bullocks,” she said.

“We like our bulls to have good confirmation and be nice, growthy bulls.”

The bulls are joined to the cows in early spring, generally for six months. Weaning is normally carried out in April or May and, depending on the season, a second weaning might occur later in the year.

The herd is completely free of hormone growth promotants (HGPs) and Ms Stewart said these aren’t needed to finish bullocks well.

“We are pretty careful with our country and always try to rotate and rest country well,” she said.

“Most of the country gets a rest during the wet season.”

Horses play an important role in the Stewart’s operation and Ms Stewart said all mustering is done in horseback with the exception of a small area of their roughest country.

“We use a helicopter in some of our roughest country with the aid of horses but our contractor is very good and we work hard to ensure the cattle don’t get stressed at all,” she said.

“We’d never be able to replace the horse in this sort of country – they are just too valuable.”

A longtime supporter of the Charbray breed, Ms Stewart’s dedication to the breed was rewarded earlier this month when she was presented with the first new commercial member package with the Charbray Society of Australia for 2010 at the Gracemere Saleyards.

As part of the commercial member package, Ms Stewart is eligible for a $100 rebate on seedstock purchased at the National Charbray Sale along with full access to society services, publications and functions.

“That rebate is really important to me because we buy all our bulls at the National Sale every year so you get your money’s worth just by doing that,” she said.


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