Crippling grain prices and the limited supply of hay may make it rather difficult to run a lamb feedlot, but for Robert Hickey, Protein Plus Australia, the current prime lamb market makes it the business to be in.
Based at Mundine, Goondiwindi, and leased from the Corish family, the feedlot shed holds 3000 lambs at capacity with an additional 3000 animals run in outdoor pens.
Mr Hickey said the success of the feedlot in the 12 months since he started at Mundine had pushed him to expand the operation.
“We’ve got about 6000 on site at the moment of every breed possible, and approximately 500 head get killed each week,” he said.
“Presently we’re turning over 35,000 a year and in the next 12 months I hope to get that to 55,000.
“That’ll mean there’ll be about 1000 a week going out and because we’re in the process of increasing our numbers, when the 500 go out in a kill load now we try to bring in six to eight hundred a week.”
Sourcing lambs from Queensland right through to Victoria, Mr Hickey said the widespread drought was definitely having an impact.
“The drought of course is playing on everyone's mind and that makes my job very difficult,” he said.
“Sourcing the right size lambs has become difficult because usually people will carry them through to a light trade weight before they sell them as a store lamb.
“Now they're selling them at around 28 kilograms live weight, which at the current grain prices costs us too much to feed and carry through.”
Fed on a ration of barley, lupins and a mineral pellet, Mr Hickey said the widespread shortage of grain and hay had become a problem.
“We go through 60 tonnes of grain a week and a truckload of hay every three to four weeks,” he said.
“At the moment were sourcing any hay we can get our hands on that’s not ridiculously priced, which is mainly sorghum stubble, couch and sugar cane.
“It's getting increasingly hard to source and unfortunately it'll stay like that until we get enough widespread, drought-breaking rain to plant a decent summer crop.”
Mr Hickey said the ideal induction weight was 37kg and that they try to get the animals to a live weight of 54kg for a 25kg carcase weight.
“To feed a lamb it costs us 96 cents a day and they spend 56 days in the feedlot,” he said.
“Who would've thought the grid would be $8.40? So that compensates for the grain price going up, but the margin really hasn't changed for us because we're paying twice as much for grain.”
Perfect climate to grow lambs
Previously based in Tamworth, the opportunity to move his lamb feedlot to the Goondiwindi region has been nothing but positive for Protein Plus Australia.
Mr Hickey said the Goondiwindi climate was perfect for feedlotting lambs.
“It doesn’t get real cold and bitter like Tamworth, which sheep don’t like,” he said.
“Being based here has also allowed us to break into the southern Queensland lamb market.”
Mr Hickey said the easier access to grain and hay from the region would also be a benefit after the dry.
“In normal times we've got that much grain around us, which will help,” he said.
“Sourcing hay is another thing; we're getting it from between Brisbane and the Gold Coast at the moment but at least it's not Katherine in the Northern Territory.”