THERE'S a sign on John Mitchell's gate warning about the perils of buying bad oats, which he likens the process to buying cattle. It explains you need to pay top money to buy premium oats, however "if you buy oats that have already been through a horse, you pay a little less". Mr Mitchell farms at Towong Hill Station, Corryong, and won't let private buyers on to his property. Instead, he is a great believer in the auction system. "If you let private buyers onto your place you always get two car loads turn up and they try to intimidate you," Mr Mitchell said. He said private buyers were generally after a bargain. He mostly sells his cattle at the Wodonga's Northern Victoria Livestock Exchange, and sells lambs at Wagga Wagga, NSW, despite the extra freight. Mr Mitchell estimated his Angus cattle herd makes up two-thirds of his farm business, with the remainder being prime lambs. "I've run it that way for the last 30 years, and find it stabilises income a bit. When one goes up, the other comes down," he said. He runs 400 breeder cattle, plus replacements and between 150 and 200 steers. There are also about 900 ewes on Towong Hill Station. The cattle are all purebred Angus, after Mr Mitchell's father first purchased a bull from the New England region in 1952. "We've stuck with them ever since," Mr Mitchell said. "There's a bit of prejudice towards Angus cattle, but as someone once said they still look good in the bank account! I made the decision to keep purebred cattle because it's less complicated and easier to run." Mr Mitchell looks for length in his cattle, especially in the hindquarters on a visual appraisal. "I also look for decent milking ability and growth, as well as calving ease. "I put calving ease ahead of muscling, because if we had calving trouble the amount of paid labour would be phenomenal." He joins his heifers on June 1 each year, for a March to April calving. "It's worked that way for years and the cost of changing to a spring calving would be too big." Mr Mitchell leaves the calves with their mothers for 10 months before they are weaned and sent to auction. He picks weaners to sell off based on their height and feet. "I don't like bad feet or short-legged cattle, and picking the replacement heifers are picked by visual appraisal on their weight and make-up. "I'm particular about feet on cattle. If a calf's feet go, you have to sell it prematurely. I buy on the look of the bull's feet, too." Mr Mitchell said a bull with "dud" feet might only perform for one season. The 1011-hectare property has clover, phalaris, cocksfoot and "a few" perennial rye grasses for grazing. "Most of it has been sown down at some stage, but that's been a bit haphazard. "Post-drought I still have to get to renovate a few paddocks, and need to look at spreading lime as well." Mr Mitchell said the soil on his property has a particularly low pH level; as do many close to the Great Dividing Range. He explained some of the pastures were sown up to 25 years ago, but have survived well because they've not been overgrazed. "I do as little supplementary feeding as possible, but do cut a bit of hay. "The more time goes on, the less I think it's cost effective." He said stocking the property lightly during drought years meant he didn't have to buy any feed in. "If you look at the broader picture and the law of diminishing returns, you build up numbers to the point where the number of kilograms of beef per hectare starts to drop. "It's a juggling act, but somewhere you have to get the right mix." Mr Mitchell said he saves diesel and manpower by limiting supplementary feeding "so I don't have to put that work in myself and I can afford to have some nice holidays". Perhaps aiding the prospect of a nice holiday, Mr Mitchell said the season was shaping up well at Corryong. "The hilly country is drying off, but the river flats are still looking good."