A FEED­LOT DREAM

Ste­wart Borg has been awarded a Nuffield schol­ar­ship to re­search strate­gies to es­tab­lish the first feed­lot in trop­i­cal Queens­land

Central and North Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - Sarah Hud­son news@ru­ral­weekly.com

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”.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

MAK­ING A MARK: Ste­wart and Sarah Borg who have a 2400ha crop­ping and brah­man cat­tle prop­erty at Sa­rina, near Mackay, in Queens­land.

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