ESPERANCE farmers beefed up conversation on value adding calves and understanding feedlot production systems last week, as part of an interactive cattle field day.
The event, which was hosted by ASHEEP Esperance's cattle sub-committee recently, attracted the interest of more than 60 producers and stakeholders from the region.
Participants were given a window into the production systems of David Cox, at Waterhatch Farms, Swans Veterinary Services veterinarian Enoch Bergman, at Beef Machine, and Esperance Rural Supplies' Greg Hard, at Merivale Road, before heading to Lucky Bay Brewing for a Western Australian Lot Feeders Association (WALFA) panel discussion.
ASHEEP Esperance cattle sub-committee chairman Ryan Willing said the day received positive feedback from those who attended with a variety of topics covered, from grazing crops through to animal health and meeting the supply chain.
Mr Willing labelled the lotfeeders discussion panel, which featured WALFA president Todd Fotheringhame, Trevor Hinck, Kerrigan Valley Beef, Hyden, and A O'Meehan & Co feedlot manager Brett Page, as the main highlight of the event.
"The discussion panel helped both the producers and feeders understand each other's businesses better," Mr Willing said.
"It gave us a better understanding of how the feedlot system works, the challenges we face and what producers can do to make their cattle more attractive to lotfeeders to improve profits for both parties.
"Another highlight was being surrounded by the curious, happy and healthy yearling cattle of David Cox, while he spoke."
The ASHEEP cattle sub-committee hosts at least one cattle specific field day each year aimed at demonstrating to other producers the new and/or different ideas farmers in the Esperance area are undertaking.
Mr Cox demonstrated crop grazing, rotational grazing and grass finishing yearlings, meanwhile Dr Bergman discussed pasture regeneration on blue gum country, as well as his ideas on calving later than the district's average and Mr Hard showcased how to successfully grow lucerne in low PH soil.
Mr Willing said the committee tried to show something new at each field day by talking to innovators and early adopters to keep the livestock industry moving forward.
"We hope that all farmers attending learn something new on the day," he said.
"Whether that be something small such as a new crop grazing variety to try, grazing management practices or something major such as moving calving back to winter to better suit feed available, to the cow and calves' needs."
Following the successful event, Mr Willing hoped producers would make more of an effort to see their own cattle in a feedlot.
He said this would give farmers insight into how their breeding stacks up against others, as well as the challenges lotfeeders faced.
"We aim to organise a group tour, to see some of the member's stock on feed in the future,'' he said.
"There were also plenty of ideas thrown around with what we could include at our next field day event.
"We are always open to new ideas and members and are always looking to trial and demonstrate innovative ideas around livestock production."
Other guest speakers at the field day included South Coastal Agencies animal health specialist Sinead O'Gara, who provided information on grazing green pastures and animal health considerations, Esperance Rural Supplies agronomist Theo Oorschot, who discussed the lucerne and ex-tree farm soil types and a talk with Westcoast Wool & Livestock's Steve Harris on the demand cycle for cattle sales.
To keep up to date with events and trials, follow ASHEEP on social media or become a member by visiting asheep.org.au
THE panel discussion - held in conjunction with ASHEEP's cattle field day recently - provided Esperance farmers with insight into preparing animals for feedlot and meeting the supply chain.
Western Australian Lot Feeders Association (WALFA) president Todd Fotheringhame, Kerrigan Valley Beef's Trevor Hinck and A O'Meehan & Co feedlot manager Brett Page headlined the discussion.
Farmers were given the opportunity to ask any questions they had around how the system worked and were also provided with information on what they could do to make the process easier and more profitable for lotfeeders, as well as the challenges the industry faced.
This is a snapshot of main points from the keynote speakers:
Todd Fotheringhame, WALFA president.
Mr Fotheringhame highlighted the importance of communication through the entire beef supply chain from the grower, to the agent, feedlotter, transporter, veterinarian and the processor.
"It is important that communication from everyone is transparent and we are able to understand what everyone in the industry's needs or key performance indicators are," Mr Fotheringhame said.
"Then we can work towards it to get what's best for the animal.
"If one of us throughout the whole supply chain doesn't quite get there then we have lost all of our production gain from what everyone else has done."
Mr Fotheringhame said traditionally the WA lotfeeding sector started with the first lot out in January and shut up shop in September.
He said in the past few years, the Wagyu herd and 100-day or 150-day program through to China, had finally come to fruition.
"It is good for everyone, but the issue we have all of a sudden is trying to find a container to export the beef and get it on a boat," Mr Fotheringhame said.
"It is all well and good that if when things are going well, you put out a 400 kilogram black steer on feed, that has to go at 650kg into China.
"But when a situation unfolds, like the one we are facing at the moment with sourcing containers, it is all of a sudden like 'I don't know how we are going to go with that 400kg animal or where we are going to put him.'"
Mr Fotheringhame added that while the Coles and Woolworths markets were good, the challenge for the industry moving forward was to diversify into other markets.
He said that was not necessarily as a lotfeeder or on the eastern coast, but perhaps with another processor wanting to do another 100-day program.
"Then you could say, 'well we have a contract with (a processor) to do X amount of containers, full of 100-day Angus cattle and we have to be 340 kilograms on the hook','' he said.
"And you could move forward, start filling your feedlot up and hopefully it matches up with a good year.
"All of a sudden you could run your weaners out at (depending on your weaner) 150kg, background them, put them to 400kg, sell them at top dollar - happy days.
"The only issue is if China pulled the rug, all of a sudden you would have 400kg black steers that are too expensive to buy because they can't go into a domestic product."
Mr Fotheringhame said Coles and Woolworths were taking about 80 per cent to 90pc of the WA kill and were the "bread and butter, everyday".
"They are always going to have beef on the shelf, they have to have it," he said.
"But the cream on top would be a really strong export product that we can do 365 days of the year.
"And when the world gets back to normal I think it will open up."
Trevor Hinck, Kerrigan Valley Beef, Hyden.
Mr Hinck said it was important that cow/calf producers and lotfeeders were on the same page when it came to positive animal welfare outcomes.
He said that animal welfare was an 'industry culture'.
"It begins when we start thinking about weaning calves through to when we start thinking about a good time to introduce cattle to the feedlot pen and to 100pc grain ration," Mr Hinck said.
"Gate to plate - it is a great thing to do, but at the end of the day you have to use that information to then carry it right through your herd.
"Doing three animals is great, but what I need to do is see how the 102 I bought did because that's what really counts."
Mr Hinck said he believed eventually grainfed cattle would go into market for 12 months a year.
He said he felt grassfed days were numbered, particularly where prices sat at the moment.
"If Coles and Woolworths decide overnight they have had enough of buying expensive cattle both grass and grainfed in WA and say 'Let's truck it across from the Eastern States because beef in a box is cheaper there', we could all be at risk.
"The only thing that does stop them is they have a contract and supply agreement with WA processors.
"Our supermarkets are strong supporters of WA beef so it's important to keep our product competitively priced against other meat options."
Mr Hinck said the industry was dealing with a carcase price which was $600 more expensive than an American carcase.
He said that was the problem for the last 10pc to 15pc of Australia's export boxed beef.
"A lot of these countries are saying 'You know what I know (Australian beef) is a great product, but we just want some affordable red meat'.
"That's our risk at the moment.
"But hopefully our processors will have greater opportunity to expand the export market share when our herd grows, we get some balance back and the world opens a bit."
Mr Hinck said when it came to feedback it was just as far for lotfeeders to come and look at a producer's cattle in the paddock as it was for producers to drive to look at their cattle in a feedlot.
"That's your best feedback," he said.
"My advice is if you really want to follow your cattle, sure invite the feedlotter to your farm and we will have a look at your cow/calf production, the bulls and the whole thing.
"And you come to my place and I do the same thing for you.
"You come to the feedlot and look at everyone's cattle and you look at yours, get in your car and drive home and say, 'You know what, I think we are doing something right because they weren't too bad' or 'You know what, I'm not too sure they were the best cattle in the feedlot'.
"You don't have to have the discussion with the feedlotter, you can see for yourself and that's great feedback."
Brett Page, A O'Meehan & Co feedlot manager.
Mr Page said domestic supermarket grid for beef topped out at a carcase weight of 310 kilograms.
He said once a carcase goes above 310 kilograms it incurs a significant penalty.
"My program is to feed for 70 days, say 2-2.2kg a day (gain), so you can work that back to a starting weight for steers of about 350-360kg ideally," Mr Page said.
"I would like to have a steer in the feedlot for a couple of weeks before it is sent through the system, to give it time to settle down and acclimatise."
Mr Page said the ideal starting weight depended on the buy-in price to purchase the steer and the cost of gain (cost to add a kilogram of liveweight).
"This year has been really challenging for the buy-in price,'' he said.
"If the buy-in price is reasonable and similar to the cost of grain, we are happy to buy cattle in at 350kg.
"If the cost of grain is dear to feed - so it costs you too much to put weight on the steer - then you're better off starting a steer of up to 400kg and feeding them a bit shorter.
"We have the ability to do that.
"It is a bit seasonal.
"At the end of the day if we don't make a bit of money, we aren't going to be doing it for very long."
When asked if there was a fat condition score he chased, Mr Page said, he wanted cattle that were not too forward.
"Our kill spec is generally 4 millimetres to 17mm before we start getting penalties either side," he said.
"We need to be careful to keep within our parameters."
Mr Page said this year smaller steers were good due to the high buy-in prices, but next year big steers may be better.
"If the cost of grain goes up to $400 a tonne, we will be searching for the biggest steer we can possibly find and get it through as quickly as we possibly can," Mr Page said.