A FEEDLOT DREAM
Stewart Borg has been awarded a Nuffield scholarship to research strategies to establish the first feedlot in tropical Queensland
VISIT tropical Queensland and you won’t find too many cattle feedlots.
But Stewart Borg – who has a 2400ha cropping and brahman cattle property at Sarina, near Mackay – is about to change that situation. The 33 year old has been awarded a 2018 Nuffield scholarship – supported by Meat and Livestock Australia — to research strategies to help him establish the first feedlot in Queensland’s tropics.
“There are a couple of small, seasonal feedlots around but no one has attempted it on the coast before because of the knowledge gaps,” Stewart said.
“This area has not traditionally been used for this type of production. The biggest issues to consider are the high rainfall in a two- to three-month period, high heat and high humidity.”
Even before Stewart packs his bags to travel the globe next year, he has already received planning approval from the State Government and local council for a 999-head feedlot, a project that happened sooner largely out of necessity.
When Stewart and wife Sarah bought the family farm four years ago, after managing it for several years, they were supplying brahman and brahman-charolais cross cattle at 18 months of age or 400kg to a southern Queensland feedlot.
But then the drought came and that feedlot was no longer an option.
“The idea to make a feedlot had been in my head about eight years before this, to value-add our meat – but a young farmer can’t do everything overnight,” he said.
“When we lost the feedlot and had to sell our cattle, it prompted us to apply for the permit two-and-a-half years ago.”
OUTSIDE THE SQUARE
KNOWING they were entering uncharted territory, the Borgs drew up a feedlot with designs not seen in the traditional feedlot industry.
Pen spaces will be partially roofed, with the feed road undercover and sprinklers for cooling installed.
There will be larger sediment and containment dams due to higher rainfall, while run-off will be recirculated around the farm as fertigation.
The feedlot will also use locally grown silage, including soybeans and corn.
Stewart said a petition submitted to the council with more than 400 signatures opposing the feedlot was a vocal minority. The earthworks for the feedlot have started and Stewart said the enterprise should be operational in 2019, designed for his cattle, targeting milk-tooth steers with a dressed weight of 320–360kg.
Until the feedlot is built, and Stewart starts his Nuffield travels in March, it will be business as usual on the property bought by his father in 1991 to drought-proof the family’s central Queensland properties. Since his father died in 2003, he has overseen management, introducing several changes.
Stewart said the key problems with running a cattle property in the tropics were not only flooding and cyclones (in Cyclone Debbie they received 2m of rain in 10 days), but also lower yielding proteins in grass, as well as ticks, parasites and pests.
As such, he introduced sugar cane – growing 400ha annually (yielding between 90 and 120 tonnes/ha) – to take advantage of the more lucrative industry. He introduced 100ha of fallow cropping.
Land growing sugar cane is rested for two years, in which time the Borgs grow five crops: in spring corn (yielding 60 tonnes/ha), in summer soybeans and winter oats (each yielding about 15 tonnes of dry matter a hectare).
NEED FOR FEED
THESE crops are used for feed, topped up with supplementary vitamins, minerals and proteins such as cottonseed meal.
Stewart also introduced changes to grazing, which has increased the land’s carrying capacity by 1000 cattle.
He did this by segregating flood-prone areas, grazing low in the dry season and grazing high in the wet, with most pastures now fully improved.
Low areas have levees to ensure nearby saltwater from a coastal creek does not infiltrate on-farm freshwater in pondage pastures, with cattle grazing on pondage parra grass and hymenachne.
On high ground in the wet season cattle graze on humidicola, signal grass and pangola.
The Borgs run Leichhardt Brahman stud with 200 stud females, or 400 cattle in total, selling bulls annually through Charters Towers and Rockhampton livestock saleyards, as well as private treaty paddock sales. In addition, they run 2100 commercial purebred brahman breeders with charolais bulls, sourced from Moongool Charolais.
Stock are joined from October to January using artificial insemination of Hudgins genetics from the US, followed by a mop up bull, aiming for “high growth rate volume cattle”.
MAKING A MARK: Stewart and Sarah Borg who have a 2400ha cropping and brahman cattle property at Sarina, near Mackay, in Queensland.