A circular farm economy at Passchendaele, Old Bonalbo, is proving small acreage can pay when used to best effect.
On this former soldier's settlement block, now expanded to include neighbouring country, the Amos family double crops 80 hectares, contract planted and harvested, with corn and soybeans in the summer and triticale in winter. This season's harvest came off the header this week.
"Triticale grows well here and it's good for the cattle. A high wheat ration can make them hot in the feet," said Darryl Amos, who farms with his wife Rhonda and Tom, one of their four children.
An exceptionally dry finish has seen lagoons dry up and creeks become stagnant with a reduction in yield the result but these conditions will help lift protein.
All of this crop, a wheat and rye hybrid, will go into a feed ration at the rate of 10-12pc as specified by the nutritionist and mixed in a wagon, with the bulk comprising corn silage - also grown on farm - plus full fat soybean meal from Passchendaele's own commodity.
Corn silage produced on farm - up to 1000 tonnes off 20ha in a good season - costs $48 a tonne. The final mix, including elements and minerals accounts for $200/t including $30 labour for the hour spent mixing. That final price remained the same during the drought, when feed costs were typically three times as high.
While lack of moisture cruelled last summer's 60ha soybean crop for grain it remained good enough for silage and returned a test showing 22pc protein. As a feed additive its use highlights the workability of the Amos family's circular economy.
The complete feed is delivered in troughs to steers and heifers at the rate of 5kg a day per head over 70 days before stock are sold as stores at the Casino saleyards through George and Fuhrmann.
The feedlot ready cattle, weighing 420-450kg, have been on a rising plane of nutrition from birth. Yard weaning with access to light rations is followed with a stepped up program in the paddock for the remainder of the month before calves enter the feeding program. Mr Amos says he can feed 500 head over the course of year in seven rotations using farm-grown rations off 200 acres - with an average weight gain of between 1-1.2kg/day and a reasonable cost of $1/day.
"The idea of sending cattle to market a little bit heavier is that I can get more value," he said. "At 428c/kg for feeders that extra 100kg puts money back in the enterprise."
Mr Amos first bought a mixer wagon in 2004 and started backgrounding cattle to produce a more consistent product. He was guided by the Department of Industries' feed for profit program publications and used his own experience as a former tick control officer to take the best ideas he had seen on other farms.
In the beginning he fed British types supplied and purchased back by then local agent Geoff Parker for finishing. Since that time Mr Amos has specialised in producing Brahman/Hereford progeny using stud bulls from Grafton and heifers from the Woodenbong district. He sells the best first cross females to eager restockers and puts the rest through his feeding program.
"The benefit of this way of doing things is that we can utilise our land to a greater degree," he says. "And at the end of the day we have a consistent article that presents well when it goes to town. Our backgrounded cattle enter a feedlot and put their head down in the trough. They are used to bunching up together."