Beechworth Wagyu - set for success

 

Nutra Kel feed liquid seaweed supplement
L-R: Terry, Darren and Kerrie McKenna leaned on Daviesway’s calf rearing specialist Cindy Lucas’ (right) experience when they established their F1 facility.

 

Hand-raising F1 Wagyu-Holstein calves for the first time without losing a life is hard enough. Doing it when you’re a self-confessed “accidental farmer” takes the result to a whole new level.

Beechworth Wagyu
Beechworth Wagyu is spread over three properties that cover 321ha at Beechworth. It includes an animal protein-converter rendering plant, a feedlot, cropping, and the family’s calf-rearing facility.

Beechworth Wagyu, owned by Terry and Iris McKenna in the picturesque north-east of Victoria, is surrounded by vineyards and other export-quality food producers. The McKennas are joined in the business by their children, Darren, Kerrie, Jenny, and Jenny’s son, Jack.

The family’s primary business is grounded in manufacturing. They own an animal protein-converter rendering plant, which processes animal waste into meat meal for feedstock and tallow for producing biodiesel. They bought the land adjoining their manufacturing business and, to make full use of it, established a beef herd.

They started with Angus, before discovering the Wagyu in 2016 when they fell deeply in love with the breed. That was the start of a plan to build to 200 head of registered, full-blood Wagyu breeding cows, whose calves would be finished in their feedlot for export.

Beechworth Wagyu is now spread over three properties. The main farm is 73 hectares (180 acres), complemented by 86ha (212 acres) 10km away. Darren, who also owns 162ha (400 acres), manages the feedlot. Beechworth Wagyu is now spread over three properties. The main farm is 73 hectares (180 acres), complemented by 86ha (212 acres) 10km away.

Darren, who also owns 162ha (400 acres), manages the feedlot. Their foundation Wagyus have been bred using the best genetics available from Peppermill Grove (Frank and Tina Whitford, Benalla, Vic) and Samaria Valley Wagyu (Lynette Chambers and David Nash, in the Samaria Valley near Benalla).

Terry says everything they do comes down to detail.

Terry McKenna Beechworth Wagyu vision
Vision and detail underpin Terry McKenna's ethos

Beechworth Wagyu has consistently delivered the highest levels of marbling possible with an average hook weight of 450kg [the best marble rating available in an Australian full-blood Wagyu is 9+]. However, that is not the sole reason they work hard to make their animals’ lives comfortable. This is a family firmly focused on animal welfare, and they take significant pride in caring for their stock.

WAGYU AND F1 CROSS CO-EXIST

In 2020, Terry started to consider the possibility of hand-raising a faster-finishing F1 (Wagyu x Holstein) animal alongside the family’s full-blood Wagyu herd, to complement the business and to add cash flow.“We understand manufacturing and compliance,” Terry said. “I don’t re-invent the wheel; I find out who’s doing the best job and tap into their knowledge so we can learn from the best.”

He had seen the F1 Wagyu cattle with high levels of marbling when he was in Japan “With the F1, you’ve really got to produce a top article, and I thought if we could do that, it would be quite a good financial investment.”

F1 CONNECTIONS

The McKennas contacted a dairy farmer at Tatura and used 100 straws from one of their Wagyu sires, Kin Tama Junior (a Itoshigenami JNR son), over a portion of the dairy farmer’s Holsteins.

None of the family had hand-raised significant numbers of calves before.

Kerrie, who loves caring for cattle, said they overcame their doubt and nerves by turning to Daviesway’s calf-rearing specialist Cindy Lucas. They had to establish their calf-rearing facility and their protocols from scratch.

Cindy Daviesway Dasco

“There is no point in doing something, if you’re not going to do it well,” Kerrie says. “We all visited Cindy’s operation before we dived in. If we didn’t have Cindy in the first place, we wouldn’t have done it. She gave us the confidence through sharing her experience to really take that step and go forward.”

The resulting calves – 41 head – joined the freshly appointed calf-rearing system at Beechworth Wagyu shortly after they were born.

THEY LOST NO CALVES.

“It would have been terrifying on our own,” Kerrie said. “Cindy was absolutely pivotal for us to be successful in this first experiment. She was always available when I had any problems. She’d spend time with me on the phone. She popped over every few weeks while we were still developing the pens.

“Dad was thinking before he met Cindy that he wasn’t sure if he was making the right decision – in terms of adding to our overall workload – but it ran well.”

 

Calf shed gate modified for easy entry
A clever addition to the pens included a lower half-gate at the front for easy pen access.

 

Calf shed design two way opening door
Indoor-outdoor living with protection from any drafts gave the growing calves space and comfort. 

DAVIESWAY SUPPORT CRITICAL

Terry agreed that Cindy had been instrumental for them.

“She was absolutely fantastic. I think part of the reason it was so successful is that we are meticulous anyway and we understand measurement and compliance. But the outcome was also based on the knowledge Cindy shared with us.

“We followed what she said to the letter. The result was there – we lost no calves. Now that we’ve done it, we may make some tweaks for next season.

“It’s definitely something you’ve got to be committed to and you’ve got to love the animals. Kerrie is very focussed on animal health and well-being, and she was very quickly onto anything that looked a little sick.”

Kerry McKenna love Electro G Bioboost
Kerrie McKenna loves her calves, so caring for them is second nature to her.

pdfElectro-G electrolyte flyer.pdf.  For more Electro-G information – Click here

pdfBioBoost_Probiotic_Flyer.pdf.  For more BioBoost information – Click here

TWO STAND-OUT PRODUCTS

Kerrie says within Daviesway’s extensive calf-rearing range, BioBoost and Electro-G, have been the stand-out products for her.

BioBoost is an oral probiotic treatment paste, which is valuable for sick or stressed animals. Research confirms that supplementing the rumen with probiotics in the right strengths accelerates calf growth: it directly stimulates rumen development and reduces the need for antibiotic intervention. BioBoost also includes extreme levels of good bacteria, yeast rumen pH stabiliser, and vitamin E (for energy).

Electro-G is a highly palatable, rapidly absorbed electrolyte that gives an immediate energy source, corrects dehydration, metabolic acidosis and replaces vital electrolyte salts. Because it doesn’t contain sodium bicarbonate like most electrolytes, it steps into its own in that it can be offered immediately before or after feeding milk. This makes it equally appropriate for calves that are being reared by cows.

“I wasn’t aware of these products before. They are amazing,” Kerrie said.

“We are now absolutely committed to using BioBoost and Electro-G across our whole operation, including the full-blood Wagyus.

“When you’re looking at the calves every day you can tell pretty quickly who is in trouble and who’s not, and the beauty of BioBoost and Electro-G is that they are quick and safe interventions which make a massive difference.”

POST-WEANING

BioCalf probiotics for sick calves

The hand-rearing calf programme also included a daily dose of BioCalf probiotic powder in the calf milk replacer. The pens were cleaned every day, and the McKennas spread Stalosan® F once a week. Stalosan F is a powerful organic powder for sanitising and drying bedding which has a low natural pH (below 4) that binds more than 70% ammonia and destroys/controls pathogens.

Stalosan F germidet disinfect calf sheds

pdfStalosan-F Flyer.   For more Stalosan® F information – Click here

pdfGermidet detergent – disinfectant calf-pens.pdf.  For information on Germidet – Click here

“While the calves were on milk it was intense, because we still had our other jobs to do across the rest of the operation,” Kerrie said. “But we enjoyed it to be honest. It was simpler once they were weaned. There is still work to be done of course, but the F1 calves are independently feeding themselves on a mixture of hay, silage and pellets, with full access to salt and lime – all the things we also give our full-blood Wagyus.

“Most of the F1 calves are putting on more than 1kg of average daily weight gain. I’m pretty pleased. They aren’t in the feedlot yet. They are still in a paddock and they have access to the sheds, which is undercover and protected. They choose where they want to be.”

CALF-REARING PRODUCTS HELPING COWS AND CALVES

Kerrie says Cindy’s suggestions had also been useful for their full-blood Wagyu calves, which can be challenging to rear if they scour – even on cows. Although she says the breed’s exceptional temperament makes it easier to help them, and she has no problem pulling a full-blood cow and her calf into the hospital pen to treat the calf if she feels it’s necessary.

Electro-G has made that decision much easier because if the calf has drunk milk from its dam, it can have electrolytes immediately (without having to wait for the obligatory two to three hours between feeding milk like most other electrolytes on the market).

“It’s critical that we are prepared to bring cows in if there is a problem, and that’s why our survival rate across the whole operation is so good,” Kerrie said. “We don’t let animals die in the paddock. It’s not who we are.

“All the animals here are like little people to us. The full-blood Wagyus are very special. They are so sweet to deal with and people-like.

“If I’m taking a Wagyu cow to the hospital pen, I’ll always take another one to keep her company because they are very social. They are just wonderful to work with.”

Calf safe organic disinfectant 
Kerrie McKenna says her F1 Wagyu-Holstein cross calves have been fun to rear. She is looking forward to trying Daviesway DASCO's new organic disinfectant – Cafe-Safe.

pdfCalf Safe Flyer.  For more Calf Safe information – Click here

ONGOING CROSS-BREEDING FOR FINISHING

This year the McKennas have doubled their F1 commitment by sending more than 200 straws of their best Wagyu sire to their partnered dairy farmer. If the markets remain stable, their goal is to ultimately finish 400 animals annually for export (200 full-blood Wagyu and 200 F1 animals). Terry said the F1 side of the business is shaping up as a potentially exciting business.

“At the start, we did it to fill in the gaps while we’re getting our full-blood numbers up through the feedlot, but I think if we can produce a fairly good article, it may be something we do permanently.

“Based on what the market is doing now, it looks like we’ve ticked the right box in doing this. “But, it’s a journey, and it takes time.”

SUCCESS SWEET TO WATCH

Cindy says one of the high points of her job is watching her customers succeed.

“They have done a really great job in rearing the calves, and the best thing is that they have enjoyed it and that they are looking forward to the next lot of calves and improving little things,” Cindy said.

“It is so rewarding working with people who put in so much effort and achieve a successful outcome.” 

For assistance please contact our Calf Rearing Specialist or your local Daviesway/DASCO
– 1800 666 269

CINDY LUCAS
Calf Rearing Specialist – Daviesway/DASCO
Mobile: 0427192421
Email: