Elders Killara Feedlot place a strong emphasis on cattle performance in their licensed 20,000 head operation near Quirindi and staff are the first to admit; they've learnt a lot in the current drought period.
The Liverpool Plains based feedlot was host to about 200 guests on Monday as part of Meat and Livestock Australia's Red Meat 2019 event in Tamworth.
While it might have closed twice during a checkered past, Killara is now turning off 1500 cattle each week into a range of markets including as the largest Australian supplier to Woolworths.
MSA graded yearling cattle is key, which is why the majority of their domestic fed cattle, currently turned off after about 80 days, are milk tooth heifers, pregnancy tested empty and weighing 300 to 400 kilograms at entry.
Achieving daily weight gains of 2.3-2.4kg/day at 12 to 14 months old, Elders Walcha manager Nick Hall, who has also taken on procurement management at Killara, said the decision to target females was driven by price, supply and performance.
"Generally you can get a lot of steers that grow rather than finish, whereas heifers tend to finish very very well," he told the attendees.
"I don't know what it will be like next year, it'll be very challenging, I have no doubt.
"I have no doubt we will have to chase steers, we will probably look at a few backgrounding places for our own operations. At this stage we have a few of our own backgrounding cattle out there but I have no doubt we will have to do a lot more in 2020 and 2021."
Another 10 to 15 per cent of the feedlot is made up of an export short fed 100 day program of Angus cross cattle while they also still feed a reduced number of Wagyu cattle.
But their biggest program is a mid fed Angus product for both domestic and international customers. The HGP-free animals are inducted at 350 to 500 kilograms and are pure Angus.
All of their cattle are sourced straight from the paddock to boost feed efficiency and keep cattle healthy.
"The preference is not to go to the saleyards and it's nothing to do with quality," Mr Hall said.
"It's just about production systems and getting them here as full as we can, straight out of the paddock. They are backgrounded together, they are carted in, they have generally been yard weaned or to a weaner sale and backgrounded. We can put them in like for like groups and they can go straight into their pens and they can go straight on feed."
Healthy cattle, healthy industry
Their focus on health has fostered a focus for pre-vaccination and producers are offered a premium for treating their cattle with Bovilis MH to reduce the risk of Bovine Respiratory Disease.
Cattle that have received one shot at least 14 days before induction are paid a $15 premium, rising to $30 if two shots have been administered.
Mr Hall said in recent months they had gone close to 100 per cent compliance.
"We are trying to encourage the use of this product for the better of the whole industry, not just us and there are benefits you can get on farm for it," he said.
Killara produce about 350 tonnes of feed each day consisting largely of a steam flaked barley, which is given out twice a day; 40 per cent in the morning and 60 per cent in the afternoon.
Learning from current dry spell
The current dry spell has shaped the Killara plant longterm, having learnt new efficiency practices through new feeding techniques and altering their induction specifications.
With a shortage of soft commodities available such as cotton seed, Killara began utilising the additive product, LactiPro, allowing them to feed a higher percentage of grain and speed up the duration between feeding out their first to fourth ration.
Killara Feedlot general manager Andrew Talbot said the positive result during a difficult season had given them confidence moving forward.
"We never would have done that before," he said.
"Performance has really benefited because out of...a 70 day heifer on feed they have got an extra week or 10 days of high energy ration so our ADG in the feedlot have really kicked on the back of this new development."
Specifications for their mid fed Angus product previously saw them source cattle from 380 kilograms, but with a larger majority of lighter cattle available, they opted to drop their curfew weight to 350 kilograms.
Mr Talbot said it also resulted in increased productivity.
"What we have learnt from that is these cattle perform a lot better than when they are big and heavy and fat," he said.
"The ADG and feed conversion for these lighter cattle is mindblowingly good. Will we go back to heavy cattle when the drought breaks? Not if we are forced to."
In a bid to reduce their fly burden, the feedlot started releasing a wasp aimed at eating the larvae and breaking the cycle of reproduction.
Releasing about 100,000 each fortnight, the technique is having pleasing results.
"My house is down the hill and there is millions of flies down there but up in the feedlot they seem to be working," Mr Talbot said.