COWRA district farmer and principal of a thriving on-farm metal works business, Peter Boyd, said sheep feedlots could be the next big thing for specialist lamb producers or mixed farming enterprises.
“Every farmer could have a 1000 head feedlot to maximise profit in a good season or to finish their sheep in a dry summer,” he said.
“You can build a fully-automated 2000 to 4000 head feedlot, including all equipment and silos, for about $75–100/head, which is the cost of a tractor.”
Peter and Ann-Maree Boyd, together with their sons, Shannon and Lachlan, conduct a mixed farming enterprise on three properties based around ‘Canimbla’, about 15km north-west of Cowra.
The Boyds, who have been finishing lambs for more than 20 years, constructed their own automated feedlot three years ago.
Boasting automatic feeding, livestock identification, weighing and drafting systems, the feedlot requires just eight hours of labour each week.
The 2500-head facility comprises two rows of five pens constructed from weldmesh, cattle rail and hinge joint.
Each 24 x 40 metre pen comfortably holds up to 250 lambs and contains three grain feeders, one hay/straw feeder and a concrete water trough.
Grain storage comprises a 75 tonne grain silo, a 25t lupin silo and an 8t concentrate silo linked to a central mixing box.
“We can dial up or down the speed of each auger to adjust the energy-protein content as needed,” Mr Boyd said.
“For example, the lambs need more protein when they are really growing early in the feeding period and more energy as they get bigger.”
The mixed ration is delivered to 30 self-feeders via a central PVC channel equipped with a flexible spring-auger.
Lambs enter the feedlot at 40kg after being drenched, vaccinated with 5-in-1 and given Vitamin A, B12, D and E booster shots.
“Putting lambs in a feedlot is a bit like racing horses – you’re really pushing them to the limit so your animal health program has to be spot-on,” Mr Boyd said.
On their first day in the feedlot, lambs have access to a mix of 50 percent barley and 50 percent concentrate via open lick feeders in the pens, but no roughage.
The lambs are then turned onto lucerne pastures or stubble with ad-lib access feeders containing 95 percent barley and five percent concentrate for 10 days to allow the vaccine to peak.
“For the first couple of days, we’re more focused getting the buffer into them and adapting the rumen to a high energy ration while we’re waiting for the vaccine to peak,” Mr Boyd said.
“Sheep are weighed each week and if necessary, re-assigned to new pens according to their weight.
“We want to turn off one pen weighing between 65 and 75kg each week.
“By having 10 pens, we can draft them into 5kg weight ranges which ensures consistency and minimises bullying.”