TRANSPORT logistics and access to meatworks are two of the main challenges limiting the success of northern feedlots in Queensland, according to Lorraine Station manager Michael Crisp.
Lorraine Station, 250km north of Cloncurry, is a mixed operation with beef cattle supported by irrigated farming and a feedlot.
The 240,000 hectare property, owned by Lorraine Pastoral Company, is managed by Michael Crisp and James Lethbridge and the feedlot is managed by Luke Crisp.
They run a crossbred Droughtmaster, Brahman, Santa Getrudis, Charbray and Angus herd with 17,000 breeders. It was 17 years ago the 7500 head accredited feedlot was built and while it ran at capacity in the beginning, it currently only has 1600 head on feed.
They supply an array of markets including live export and meatworks with slaughter cattle plus southern feedlots with feeders.
Luke Crisp said they are using a corn silage-based ration with a mix of molasses, supplement, cotton seed and Rhodes grass hay.
He said they truck in supplement and cotton seed, but it’s important to grow their own silage.
Of all the challenges presented to feedlots in the north of Queensland, the cost of freight and the distance to ports plus meatworks are the main culprits behind Lorraine Station scaling back their feedlot.
At the moment, most of the feedlot is made up of weaners who weighed less than 140kg when put on feed.
“These ones are averaging about 9 to 10 kilogram of feed per head per day. They're in here for about 90 days roughly and they do around 1.2kg a day weight gain and a cost of $1.57 (per head) daily,” Luke Crisp said.
The target weight for all cattle leaving Lorraine Station is 400 kilograms-plus unless dry seasons force an early turnoff.
Michael Crisp said the viability of the feedlot depended on a lot of factors, but their biggest hurdle was logistics.
“After the live export ban and as the cost of production went up plus returns went down, we've just used it (the feedlot) less and less,” he said.
“Your killing facilities, especially for lotfed cattle, because basically you have to be located in Rockhampton or further south.
“Townsville doesn’t have the ability to distribute feedlot meat, so basically the freight on your imports and on your cattle freight adds to our cost a fair bit.”
Lorraine Pastoral usually sells finished cattle through Dinmore, 2000km away by road or rail.
The other challenge facing the feedlot is the need to grow their own inputs.
”It's also a cash flow problem - you've got to put out a fair bit of money the year before you want to feed it, because you have to have feed on hand for the next year,” Mr Crisp said.
With crops harvested in August and September and the feedlot not operational during the wet season, he said there was little chance to use it the year of harvest.
This year 150ha of corn silage was produced, yielding 45t/ha, for a total of 6500 tonne. Last year they grew 11,500 tonne.