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Cattle producer Aleisha Finger, 28, balances the day-to-day operations of ‘Inga Downs’ in central Queensland with a strategic role in the beef industry. She took time out from a busy month of branding, feeding and selling cattle to tell her story.
Can you take us on a ‘tour’ of ‘Inga Downs’?
My family bought ‘Inga Downs’, between Middlemount and Dingo, in May 2014. I manage the 7,500ha property, my parents run our home property, ‘Meadowbrook’, at Dysart and my brother is at ‘Farlane Park’, Middlemount. We run 7,000 head of Droughtmaster cattle across 29,000ha. Our 1,200-head breeding herd at Inga Downs includes 600 commercial Droughtmaster females and 50 stud breeders of my own. The pasture is predominately buffel grass, plus 400ha of leucaena to finish young stock after the wet season. We have a mix of productive black soil and red brigalow soils.
What is your main focus this month?
We are branding calves, turning off steers and cull heifers, selecting and preparing stud bulls for sale (at the Highlands Droughtmaster Sale at Clermont in March) and starting to feed out lick and supplements to see stock through winter. We also have a fencing program in place to reduce paddock size and manage riparian zones.
What are your production targets?
We are reaching our goal of 90% calving rates through disease and pest management strategies, which include vaccinations and a baiting program to control dingos, and also through our genetic improvement program. We are looking for easy doing, well-muscled, structurally sound polled bulls with an extremely quiet temperament. We join our commercial herd year-round and turn-off 3,000 head of cattle throughout the year to spread cash flow and price risk. We are expanding our market to target the livestock export trade as well as direct-to-processors and feedlots.
What issues do you face at Inga Downs?
Weather is a big challenge. Our annual rainfall should be 650mm-700mm, but we have only received 357mm since purchasing the property. We don’t expect grass-growing rain until January, so our focus now is to get through until then without compromising the condition of our breeders. There is also a labour shortage. Managing stock to meet various markets and ensuring the timely delivery of cattle is another important business challenge.
What strategies are you implementing to manage these challenges and meet business goals?
Purchasing 'Inga Downs' has relieved grazing pressure across our business. We are also feeding supplements and turning steers off this month to make more pasture available for our breeders. When seasonal conditions improve, we would like to run 2,500-3,000 head at 'Inga Downs'. Operating a family business removes our reliance on employed labour – we share resources across the three properties, such as all helping with branding or mustering. Our fencing program plays a part in managing cattle for markets. We are dividing large paddocks (120ha into three 40ha paddocks) to separate sale stock in preparation for trucking. We will also use these smaller holding paddocks to manage our stud herd at joining.
How are you involved in the beef industry?
I am a member of the Future Farmers Network and attend their annual Young Beef Producers Forum. I am also a member of AgForce, and this year was invited to sit on the AgForce Cattle Transport Working Group. I participate in monthly meetings to tackle road and rail transport issues and identify priority areas to lobby for changes, such as improved B-Double access. I find it really interesting to be involved in the group – it’s important for producers, who have the on-the-ground knowledge, to have their say on the issues which impact our businesses.
How are you using tools, resources and education to improve on-farm outcomes?
I completed Grazing Best Management Practices (BMP) and Stocktake workshops, run by the Fitzroy Basin Association, earlier this year. This gave me skills to improve management of pastures. For example, I now use the Stocktake app to take photos of pasture condition for monitoring and management, and to create a feed budget. I think it is important to learn new skills – it encourages me to think outside the box. I would like to do a mapping course next, to improve my knowledge of all our properties.
What does the future hold for you, as a beef producer?
I am excited for the potential growth of new export markets, which give producers more options. I want to continue building up my own herd, to a nice round figure of 1,000 breeders. In the short term, I want to plant another 200ha of leucaena to improve turn-off efficiency.