VETCH hay has become the major roughage used in the introduction paddocks at Merriwa's Alexander Downs feedlot.
With anywhere of 500-plus young cattle entering the 5000-head operation each week, the first week of settling-in is of utmost importance, according to co-principal, Robert Gill.
"We have two starter paddocks of approximately 16 hectares and the cattle are introduced to vetch hay and self-feeders of our home-mix ration," Mr Gill said.
"We've found vetch to be a good hay with good nutrition, but can be obtained much cheaper than lucerne at $280 a tonne and now it suits our program," Mr Gill said.
"We just put it in the paddock with a self-feeder for the first week and it works well."
Mr Gill and wife Kerry run the operation with their two sons, Stephen who manages the feedlot, and Michael, who runs the feed mill, which is another business operation on the 3240hc property.
Vetch was introduced last October replacing lucerne which was hard to obtain during the drought.
It has been sourced from their supplier in Deniliquin and is purchased by the B-Double load.
A lot of the cattle are placed in larger grazing paddocks with self-feeders for five to six weeks and then moved onto full grain ration, depending on the market specifications at the time.
Mr Gill said the feetlot was currently buying close to 1000 head a week.
Weights of stock vary from 200 to 400 kilograms depending on orders.
"We buy a lot of milk claves, weaners from fat markets," he said.
"We've had a long association with Woolworths supplying them since 1985."
The Gills process their cattle in their own abattoir at Kurri Kurri purchased in 2016, and with a packing house and a retail outlet at Muswellbrook, plus the feed mill, the family is proud of its whole 'paddock to plate' operation.
Mr Gill said gaining control of the processing side was the key for growth as they had found it more difficult to find a processor to handle their ever-increasing throughput.
We have a great name for quality, so we make sure our cattle finish well.
"In the end if our customers are not happy we don't gain their return business."
According to Mr Gill, his father (Alexander George), known as George, gave him his start.
"Now my sons have the future in their hands," he said.
The Gills bought 3000 head to graze 730ha of oats at a stocking rate of 4.5 head/ha starting this week.
Do business with those who know theirs
Robert Gill of Alexander Downs feedlot, Merriwa, said it was important to buy feed and fodder from people who knew their business.
"That's the one thing I have learnt in my life.
"If you deal with people who know what they're doing there are less hassles."
At the height of the drought last October, their supplier was finding it hard to source lucerne hay, and began sending vetch hay.
"Vetch has worked out so well we are continuing with it," Mr Gill said.
"We've found bale weights are more consistent at around 600kg/bale."
The company's feed mill also supplies customised mixes for a wide clientele including schools preparing steers for show and sale.
Mr Gill said his family was very proud of the success a lot of school steers have gained using the Alexander Downs Feedmill brand feed mix.
"We take pride and pleasure in those kids winning those ribbons," he said.
However, with the coronavirus pandemic it was quite difficult for schools' agriculture students to fulfill their programs.
"They missed out of Sydney Royal and will also miss Brisbane this year, but better things are ahead."
Mr Gill said his family had established a balanced diet for feeding over many decades and many thousands of cattle had passed through the feedlot.
"We've probably haven't changed our diet for 20 years," he said.