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An emotional departure for iconic Wattletop era

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Wattletop Angus stud, Guyra, has been the main focus for stud principal, Lock Rogers, for 35 years. Now the time has come to disperse, it is by no means going to be an easy departure for the highly respected cattleman. 

The Wattletop cow herd was established in 1983 when the dissolution of the White and Bell Partnership made a portion of the Glenavon herd available to Trish and Lock Rogers at Wattletop.

About 25 Angus Performance Register (APR) cows and 25 Herd Book Registered (HBR) cows were acquired to form the beginning of the original Wattletop registered herd. The cows were initially used to breed bulls for the Wattletop commercial herd. 

The Glenavon stud was formed in 1949 directly from the Bald Blair Angus stud, the oldest Angus stud in Australia, registered by H.F White in 1908, when F.G. White and his sister P.M. Bell took their share of the Bald Blair herd. 

Mr Rogers and his wife Trish moved to Wattletop in 1978 and by the time they started their own business in 1983, they were already running a successful commercial Angus and prime lamb enterprise.

“Very soon into our business we started artificial insemination (AI) with mainly north American and Australian genetics,” Mr Rogers said. “We constantly AI’d for 35 years rather than buy many sires.”

According to Mr Rogers one of the most influential bulls was a bull called B/R New Design 036 from Bill Rishel, Nebraska, to whom Mr Rogers was to become life-long friends with. Over the years more than 10 bulls of Mr Rishel’s were used during the 35 years through AI at Wattletop. 

“New Design was extremely influential, especially in maternal and carcase traits,” Mr Rogers said. “He just came onto the scene at the right time when carcase and meat quality started to become more important. He was the main base of a lot of our cow families.”

Building up numbers

The Wattletop herd was built up reasonably fast to form the 400 strong herd it is today. After a World Angus forum trip to America and Canada in the spring of 1985, they bought 100 commercial cows into an AI program with their progeny upgraded to APR status. “Although our herd would be probably 85 per cent HBR cows, to build our numbers up in those early days we used a lot of commercial cows and built up the APR herd,” Mr Rogers said. 

In 2005 they had a family distribution where the two eldest children, Georgina and son Lock junior exited the Wattletop family business. As part of the distribution, Lock Jnr received 500 commercial cows and the property “Dyamberin” which was purchased in 2000. This left Mr Rogers with the stud to operate from. He said in order to generate cash-flow, they held regular female sales each year.  “If it wasn’t for these my numbers probably would have been quite a lot higher by now,” he said.

A moderate amount of embryo transfer work was also introduced to help increase herd numbers. “The best result we ever achieved was a 91 per cent conception rate with embryos with an autumn implant,” Mr Rogers said. “But just this year again we got 81pc.”  At Wattletop ET work is conducted by Rob Pahsen who has become a close friend.

Expanding for better preparation 

Even though they have experienced far more good seasons than bad, being positioned in a high rainfall area, averaging 34 inches per year, leaves you vulnerable when a dry year does strike.

“One down side in the seed stock industry, in a climate like Guyra, where the winters are pretty cold and dormant, you don’t de-stock in the winter by selling weaners like you can commercially, you have to keep all of your stud heifer and bull calves,” Mr Rogers said.  

In 2005 another 605ha property, “Stratton”, was purchased 25 kilometres on the west side of Guyra. There they run and prepare sale bulls from weaners through to rising two-year-olds. Maiden heifers are also joined here.

The first on-property Wattletop sale, operated as a Helmsman auction, was held in 1990, with 30 bulls catalogued.

Yearling bulls – the best of the best 

Generally bulls were sold at auction as rising two-year-olds, but for more than 20 years, Wattletop has been offering and and successfully selling yearling bulls. Thirty-two yearling bulls averaged $8600 last year – higher than the total Wattletop sale average.

“They have been fantastic for us, we keep adding more and more yearling bulls to our sale,” Mr Rogers said. “They are the best of the best that we sell. The latest genetics.”

Of the 120 bulls offered annually at auction, about 30 of those are yearlings, with more sold out of the paddock.

“We had to cultivate a clientele that appreciated them and at the same time we have virtually never had a mature bull on the place,” Mr Rogers said.  “Here we back-up after our AI program with our own yearling bulls. We AI about 85 per cent of our cows, we use the young bulls for one year and then sell them as two-year-olds the following year. They are still sold in that top pen every year after being used.

“We find they catch up as well as anything with no special treatment after joining. It has been a great revolution in the Angus world, the take up of use yearling bulls.”

Bloodlines

Among the early influential sires were Sir Wms Wampum, GT Max, VDAR New Trend 315. Then along came  B/R New Design 036 who was the most influential sire used at Wattletop together with his son B/R New Design 323. Mr Rogers said both these bulls left them many magnificent cows. 

Other bulls used were CA Future Direction, Te Mania Ulong U41, Te Mania Africa, Booroomooka Frankle, TC Franklin, Tuwharetoa Regent D145 and Wattletop G188, Sydgen Black Pearl, Ayrvale General G18, Musgrave Big Sky, Carabar Dockland and Tehama Upward Y238.

“We have done a lot of research over the years with our consultant of 15 years, Dick Whale, IBMS, Wangarratta, Victoria, who sources genetics from Australia and America and knows more about the top programs in America than most Americans do,” Mr Rogers said. 

“Mr Whale also designs a lot of the mating. We argue about those and I change some of them, and I source some of them myself, but he does a lot of the groundwork.” 

Trusted by their clients and developing a massive amount of confidence through integrity over the years, the Wattletop Angus breeding program is built on a solid herd of 400 registered females that have been selected for fertility, longevity, doing ability, temperament, structural soundness and ability to raise high grading calves whose genetics suit todays modern markets. 

Every cow in the Wattletop herd is graded every year. They are independently assessed and classed by Mr whale every year with a fine-tooth comb. By the time a bull gets to a sale, they have usually been classed three or four times. 

Memories and achievements over the years

Mr Rogers remembers legendary auctioneer Tony Dowe, now of Sydney, when he auctioneered his first Wattletop sale, using a pallet of salt blocks as a rostrum. 

“I used to terrify Tony. Every year, he’d ask, ‘how are the bulls going Lock’ and I’d say, ‘the turnip crop has run out’. Tony would ask, ‘what are you going to do?’ and I’d say, ’I’m going fishing’,” Mr Rogers said. “That used to frighten him. He said he wasn’t used to selling bulls that weren’t highly prepared.”

But of course Mr Rogers was only joking and over the years he learnt about the stud game. “I hate selling over-fed bulls and I hate buying over-fed bulls, but you certainly have to have them prepared to a certain extent,” he said. 

One of the highlights came in 2009 when they sold the top-price Angus bull in Australia, Wattletop Andy C109, for a then moderate top-price of $38,000 to John and Joan Woodruff, Witherswood Angus stud, Glenrowan, Vic. That year they also had the second highest average for a bull sale in Australia with $6515. 

“It was a big deal for us back then, we have had sales average over $8000 since then, but then there was only one other stud that pipped us,” Mr Rogers said. 

At the World Angus forum in Sydney in 1997, Wattletop sold an embryo package for $7000 – a big deal in its time.  And in 2001 they averaged over $6500 for 70 bulls at their on-property sale – another high achievement of its time. 

“I think one of the most fantastic things during my time at Wattletop though, is developing the strong relationships with our clients,” Mr Rogers said. “It has become really important to us how we have become the major genetic supplier for Paraway Pastoral. They have become one of the leading suppliers of steers to Killara feedlot. Two years ago their cattle had the best daily weight gain and the best grade  through Killara.

“It is gratifying to see them do well with Wattletop genetics.” 

Commercially driven attributes 

Wattletop has always been extremely focused on the commercially driven attributes of cattle. Mr Rogers admits he has enjoyed the fact that the demand for their Wattletop cattle has stemmed from clients who have had great results with their commercial cattle. 

“Whether that be high fertility and great percentages or great compliance at Rangers Valley,” he said. 

“That is where our focus has always been – highly productive, efficient cattle that have got meat quality as well.”

Changes in the industry 

Mr Rogers said Breedplan was one of the most useful tools for the Angus breed. Wattletop, one of the early up-takers of Breedplan, has been a great user of it in making genetic decisions together with a balanced approach of always focusing on phenotype as well. 

In the early days of the stud it was thought they had to use American sires because they had genuine data bank of carcase data, which Australia didn’t have. 

“But once ultrasound scanning came into existence it gave a moderate amount of linkage with actual carcase marbling,” Mr Rogers said.  “It was at that stage that we used a lot more Australian bulls that were really starting to perform really well.”

Mr Rogers said he has wised up over the years in some aspects of breeding top performing Angus cattle.

“It is important to breed cattle that suit the environment and that meet market specifications,” he said. “That is often a difficult tightrope to tread. I have bred cattle that I like breeding for what they are good at and I like eating them! I have always bred cattle with the best meat quality I could. 

“That is pretty much parallel to the way the market turns have developed. Australia has become quite a high cost of production exporter. We have a fantastic relationship with Korea, Japan and China and have reputation for delivering a high quality product.”

The big question – why? 

Confessing dispersing the stud herd is not his favourite option, Mr Rogers said the decision has stemmed from succession planning.

“I have just loved the stud, and wouldn’t be doing this if I could continue,” he said. “But is all about family planning and succession. It is fantastic to have my daughter Jess and her husband Henry come home to Wattletop. Jess has always had her heart in agriculture and regional Australia in general.”

Jess’s plan in moving forward into the future is to run a commercial cow herd breeding F1 Wagyu’s. Not a new enterprise as such, Mr Rogers has been breeding Wagyu F1s since 1994, one of the earlier up-takers of the Wagyu breed. 

Mr Rogers plans to keep on farming at “Stratton”, running a full-blood Wagyu herd. “But the Wattletop herd has been my main focuses for 35 years of my life,” he said. “It’s been a great ride.”

Special mention 

Kevin Davidson and his wife Donna, worked at Wattletop for 12 years, starting in 1986. Mr Davidson to this day 26 years later, still attends sale day turning the cattle in the ring. 

After Tony Dowe retired, he passed the baton on to auctioneer Paul Dooley, who, according to Mr Rogers, does an outstanding job selling Wattletop bulls.  Ben Simpson from OGA Marketing has done a great job teaching Mr Rogers and co how to market and promote their cattle. 

But the greatest part of the ride, Mr Rogers said, has been the relationships they have developed during his time in the business.  “And of course my family – particularly to Lock and Jess. Lock has always been a great sounding board for my ideas and Jess, who is working in the business now, is just a tower of strength to me,” he said. 

The dispersal

Wattletop Angus complete female herd dispersal will be sold in two stages. Stage one is the offering of 270 females, pregnancy tested in calf (PTIC) rising three year-olds and older. An open day will be held on May 24, 2017 from 2pm with sale day May 25, 2017 at 11am.

Stage two will see 270 females offered consisting of 120 L Heifers PTIC, with a calf at foot and 150 M heifers PTIC. Open day will be March 14, 2018 from 2pm with sale day March 15, 2018 at 11am.

Two bull sales are yet to come. The 2017 sale will be held on Wednesday August 2 at 12pm, where 130 bulls will be on offer and in 2018, the sale will be on Wednesday August 8 at 12pm with 120 bulls to go under the hammer.