A change of tack pays off

Our last feed order pushed the bill to more than $50,000, so getting management right is critical

TAKING a different management approach has seen one Queensland cattle family achieve better outcomes for their business this year despite the constraints of the extreme weather conditions.

Their approach and commitment to telling their story has put Andrew and Megan Miller, who run 1000 head of cattle on a 28,000-hectare property at Windorah, Queensland, in the lead for the second quarter of the inaugural Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) Challenge. At the same time, the Millers have met their business targets of better management of feed costs and improved condition of their cattle, despite being drought declared for six months.

They are part of the group of six beef and sheepmeat producers from across Australia selected to participate in the inaugural MLA Challenge to improve efficiency and productivity within their farming operations over a year.

“We have received just over 16 inches (404mm) of rain since we moved to our property two-and-a-half years ago, and our last feed order pushed our feed bill to more than $50,000, so getting our management right is critical – we have had to make changes to survive,” said Mr Miller.

“Last season we really didn’t understand the nutritional requirements for cattle at different stages. We were feeding a loose lick supplement to our 600 cows, at a cost of $840 per week for the herd. In that time we lost cows and didn’t achieve good body condition scores – undermining our breeding program.”

With advice and support from their MLA Challenge mentor, Walcha cattle producer Guy Lord, the Millers researched how they could improve their nutrition program.

They drew on resources from MLA and the FutureBeef website, including cost-effective supplementary feeding, to help plan their feeding program in detail and feel confident with the results.

“This season we took a new approach, carrying out pregnancy testing and focusing our resources on the 150 early calving cows, designing a special supplementary feeding program of Grape marc and pellets to maintain their condition. We provided lick blocks for the late calvers, and no supplementary feeding for the dry cows,” said Mr Miller.

“After an even dryer season than the previous one, the total weekly cost of maintaining our entire herd of cows during the last quarter was roughly the same as 12 months earlier, but the results were poles apart.

“Body condition scores are good across the herd and we haven’t lost any calving cows.

“The most rewarding experience of the last quarter was driving into our place and seeing our cattle and sappy calves in really good condition, particularly as the season is so dry and challenging.”

In the second quarter of the MLA Challenge the Millers’ on-farm successes were measured against sheep producers John and Annie Ramsay from Bothwell, Tasmania; beef producers Bill and Georgia Wilson from Edi, Victoria; beef producers Matthew and Angela Pearce from Adelong, NSW; sheep producers Marcus and Shannon Sounness from Amelup, Western Australia, and beef producers Lachlan and Anna Hughes from Dulacca, Queensland.

The six families have shared their experiences through social media and blogs, documenting the changes they are implementing to reach their goals, so other beef and sheepmeat producers can learn from their experiences.

“The second quarter of the MLA Challenge saw these families working extremely hard to take on board the feedback they received in the first round,” said Peter Vaughan, MLA’s Livestock Production Innovation general manager.

The MLA Challenge is supported by Woolworths, Westpac and QantasLink. For more information about the MLA Challenge, the six farming families involved and the resources they are using, visit www.mla.com.au/challenge.

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MLA ChallengeMeet the participants in Meat and Livestock Australia's Challenge, where producers identify how much their business is returning, what's driving profit and how to put a plan in place to capture the business' potential over a 12-month program.

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