Feature by Heidi Weitjens
TRT Pastoral Group, a major King Island beef producer, is setting industry-leading benchmarks within its Angus herd breeding program.
King Island is one of Australia’s most productive cattle breeding regions with a combination of reliable rainfall, rich soil types and infrastructure to support the industry.
TRT in the Pastoral Group’s name comes from owner Tasmanian Tim Roberts-Thomson.
TRT now owns eight individual holdings on the island – Manana, Reekara Park, Dinibili, Longford, Boongara, Woodford, Winton South and Stalky Coopers. This makes a combined area of more than 9300ha (23,000 acres), carrying over 9000 grass-fed Angus breeders, stock and bulls.
The key acquisitions of farms by TRT Pastoral Group, along with consistent climatic conditions, are well suited to TRT’s regenerative agriculture principles for prime grass-fed Black Angus cattle and has resulted in robust farm growth for the company over the past two decades.
Premium quality and sustainable agriculture have been the focus of Mr Roberts-Thomson’s family since the mid-90s.
TRT Pastoral Group has expanded its estate in country Victoria to seven properties covering 2200ha, in an area that has about 100cm of rainfall a year.
TRT Pastoral Group’s Southern Aggregation Manager Beau Mullin, who is responsible for managing the heifer calving program for TRT’s breeding program, said they have especially seen great results in their heifers.
“Statistics such as calf mortality rates and our female breeder fatalities are almost non-existent, except for natural causes, which occur in any animal-based enterprise,” Mr Mullin said.
The company has set up a unique heifer hub north of the island at Yambacoona.
“Putting a cow in calf, it is our responsibility to focus on providing the best animal welfare and management practices, to make sure the animal and its offspring are given every chance possible to have the most stress-free life they can.”
The company’s Angus breeding bloodline has been carefully chosen over the years from a few of the industry’s leading performance studs such as award-winning Landfall, Lawson and Te-Mania.
TRT’s King Island stock is sold to a range of markets in Tasmania and the mainland as finished, feeder and restocker cattle.
“Technology on King Island has advanced and TRT are leading the way measuring the age of the heifers foetus via an ultrasound scanner operated by a local vet, Cameron Hendricks.
“The calving goes in 21-day cycles except for 700 heifers we impregnated via AI from a bull Tim bought last year, called Lawson Miraculous, fathered by the well-known bull in the industry, Lawson Momentous.
“Two-thirds of our AI calves were born before their due date and more than half of the first 800-plus natural cycle calves were born before the due date as well, because of the early gestation traits from the bulls selected from the 250-plus animals that the company owns.
“About 500 calves will be born in the second natural 21-day cycle. We expect that all the calves should be on the ground by October 15.
“It is important for us that we pair the mother and calf correctly, then a few of us lucky TRT staff go out rain, hail, or shine in the nominated paddocks to find all newborns and tag all the calves in the morning and again in the afternoon.
“This is so we avoid any mismatches because it doesn’t take long before the calves are up and running.
“Without the heifer hubs’ staff’ consistent efforts seven days a week over the calving period and the new infrastructure and management around the joining practices of the heifers it would be near impossible to calve the number of animals so consistently in the one area.”
Each team member records all the tag numbers of both mother and calf, also their sex, the date and the paddock number they were born in.
“Tagging a calf is a job where we need eyes at the back of our head to watch out for a heifer that is in a hurry to get her baby calf back under her protection,” Mr Mullin said.
For the last two years Jena Alexopoulos, who is one of the team members, has been doing a PhD in studying heifers.
Jena collaborates all tagging recordings daily, so she can use the data collected from each animal for her studies.
“It’s a great chance for TRT Pastoral as well, as we then have the data from birth, with the potential to follow the individual animal right the way through to the hook, which is a pretty amazing thing,” Mr Mullin said.
With the considerable local investment on the ground, TRT employs an expert local team of 12 full-time staff, plus casual and contract labourers.
TRT also supports the local community, including sponsorship of several sporting groups and community organisations.
Minimal supplementary feeding is needed for the cattle, as the island has lush grazing pastures almost all year.
“It is these prime conditions that provide grounds for regenerative grazing for TRT to build and maintain a large-scale breeding and finishing herd of top quality Angus cattle.”
Standing in paddocks with grass that is almost up to the top of Beau’s boots and the grass make calves so cosy.
“This heifer hub pasture is seeded from a mixture of five, or six species that make up a pasture mix of chicory, plantain, clovers, rye grass and prairie grass.
In the first month after sewing in the pasture, it was a worry because there were slugs and snails as far as the eye can see and they were eating the new grass as quick as it was growing, in every paddock.
Thankfully TRT got on top of the situation and the pasture ended up being quite successful.
“The pasture is plentiful enough to have cattle calving on and also for heifers being on a rising plane of nutrition for returning to the bull within three months after calving. Heifers start calving as two-year-olds, most should then have a calf yearly for about six to eight years. “
Heifers sometimes struggle with their first calf, so we make sure that the cows spend the critical first 24 hours with their calf within the meshed paddocks, so they bond as best as possible.
To accommodate any problems mothering we have built a few sets of portable yards next to shelter belts around the property.
The main purpose of the temporary pens is to match calves with their mums, if they are having trouble identifying each other.”
For the past five months local fencing contractor David Munday has put in all the ring lock fencing with a hot wire on the top and has saved the calving team hours of time because the calves stay fenced in the paddock.
The paddocks have been set up in six hectare lots to allow for easier management of calving heifers.
“We purposely set it up this way because calves are small enough to go under a normal farm fence, especially in bad weather. They get blown away and could end up wandering four paddocks away from their mother,” Mr Mullin said.
An unconditional cash offer of $45 million made by Tim Roberts-Thomson of TRT Pastoral Group ranks among the largest sales recorded for King Island.
At a local auction in 2017, Tim outbid a syndicate of local King Island cattle producers for the King Island farming property which included cattle and equipment. Strong offers from overseas investors were also unsuccessful.