THE idea behind the Boyle family¹s 10,000-head capacity feedlot shed at York came from UK grocery giant Tesco's in 1999 as part of a deal involving WAMMCO to supply premium quality lamb to Britain.
According to feedlot manager Scott Boyle, Tesco's suggested lambs should be on a raised floor and shorn before they entered a feedlot situation.
Mr Boyle said shearing the lambs before they entered the shed reduced the amount of fine dust particles coming into contact with the meat at the time of slaughter when the skin was removed.
He said this ensured a longer shelf-life for the meat when it was exported to the UK and Tesco's was willing to pay a premium price for top quality lamb.
A restructure of the WAMMCO board, however, saw the deal with Tesco fall through.
"I thought, well, the concept is fantastic, why can't it work elsewhere," he said.
Mr Boyle said they approached Coles then Woolworths to see if they would be interested in buying premium lamb on a regular basis.
"They loved the idea, the fact that they could get 1000-2000 head per week with consistent quality and it was ensured," he said.
"But for Coles and Woolies to have the privilege of getting assured numbers and quality out of a shed, they would have to pay a premium.
"And they were willing to pay a premium price for premium quality lambs."
The feedlot shed was constructed three years ago for $1.2m and in the first season 77,000 lambs were put through, 50,000 of which were sold to local butchers and the remainder to the live shipping trade.
"It's much cheaper to feedlot sheep outside than it is in a shed," Mr Boyle said.
Mr Boyle said this season they put through 110,000 head - 60,000 to WA butchers and the rest to the live export.
He said they did not generally put through as many shippers because of the tighter margins required and the possibility of delayed boats.
"In our first season we got burnt a little bit on the live shippers in the shed," he said.
Mr Boyle said he was not going to put shippers through the shed this season but the margin was there and they had become more diligent.
"As soon as the sheep is up to speed as far as a weight range is concerned and a boat is put back, they go straight outside onto agisted pastures, which is a lot cheaper than keeping them in the shed," he said.
Mr Boyle said they were able to obtain a feed conversion ratio of 6.5:1 and bring lambs into the shed at 35-38kg with the aim of marketing them at 45kg with fat scores 2-3.
"We can generally put sheep out around five weeks on average with an average carcase weight for us being 21.5kg," he said.
He said the key to their operation was throughput of lambs.
"If we don't get the throughput then we don't cover our fixed costs," Mr Boyle said.
He said the incentive was there for Coles and Woolworths to take lambs out of the shed regularly.
Mr Boyle said he used 9mm organic sheep pellets made by Gilmac's at Yerecoin. He said the pellets contained 60pc hay, 30pc lupins, 10pc barley and a small proportion of lime to bind the pellets and salt.
He said the feedlot opted for a longer fibre length pellet to reduce pulpy kidney and bloating because it made it easier for a ruminant to digest.
An organic mineral supplement was fed to the sheep through the watering system. The supplement contained elements of by-pass protein, trace elements and molasses.
"The main reason why we give them a supplement, apart from increasing the feed conversion ratio, is also to significantly reduce stress in the animals," he said.
"That's very important in feedlotting situations because stress is what causes death and also infections such as pink eye."
Mr Boyle said live shippers were scratched on arrival for scabby mouth and all lambs were drenched for worms and with a mineral supplement before entering the shed.
He said lambs were weighed on arrival and then segregated in the shed according to weight ranges. This helped to significantly reduce stress and shy feeders who could be bullied by more aggressive feeders.
Mr Boyle said he spent 12 months planning the operation to ensure the feedlot met the highest of environmental standards.
He said an impermeable layer of clays was compacted underneath the shed and was geo-technically tested for impermeability and a report given to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for approval.
As well as the DEP, Mr Boyle said he gained approval from the York Shire, EPA and Waters and Rivers Commission.
He said interceptor banks were made to capture water run-off which was then piped to a 7000 cubic metre dam. The water could be reclaimed for use in the shed if it was needed.
The shed was watered by scheme water with back-up bores and the dam.
"Which was a requirement not only for the DEP but also for our Flockcare accreditation," he said.
"Part of our accreditation is to have back-up feed and water."
Mr Boyle said the regulations and guidelines of the Midland saleyards also applied to the shed.
He said this was tedious at times when trying to get approval for the operation in a zoned agricultural area.
He said the regulations were good as they stopped people from abusing the system and ensured an efficient and environmentally safe operation was conducted.
However Mr Boyle said more specific guidelines and regulations would be needed in the future for sheep feedlotting situations on this scale.