Green feed from the factory
FARMING is about long periods of dry followed by short spells of heavy rain and a savvy grazier needs to look for ways to maintain herd condition in lean years.
Alice Creek farmers Ian and Megan Barbour use a fodder feed factory to drought-proof their Angus breeder operation.
The set-up takes a blend of malted barley, blue pea and corn seeds, hits it with an ultraviolet light and regulated irrigation.
It takes about five to six days for the seed to spout and form a mat of high protein, green feed.
"You put in 350kg grain and you pull out 2.1 ton of feed," Mr Barbour said.
The system had to work entirely independent of rain using 4000-5000L of spring water or bore water per day.
"Bore water is better because the spring water has exposure to the sun and can grow algae that blocks up system."
Rain water is no good as it contains impurities that lead to algae growth.
About half the water is captured to irrigate a neighbouring paddock.
The quick turnaround produces fresh feed every day that complements the grass in his paddock, taking the pressure off the soil.
It's also cut his running costs to 60-80 cents per beast per day, making it more economic than grain feeding.
"With grain feeding some people can have up to 2kg of weight per day but we're not chasing weight gain with our breed," he said.
"We're looking for longer term health because we're mostly running breeders."
Having constant supply of green feed means his herd has kept its condition.
"They're not wavering in the dry and it keeps cattle at even keel because they're getting good nutrition all year around."
It's also increased his running capacity.
He has about 150 breeders pairs on 750 acres but with how dry it's been he would be down to about 100-120 pairs without the factory.
"We're running a beast every 3-4 acres as opposed to one every seven acres, they still need grass to eat but they're getting nutrients from the fodder feed so don't need high quality grass."
The proof is in the herd.
"The cattle should be looking pretty poor given the weather we've been having," Mr Barbour said.
"Your season is your greatest unknown... people running straight on grass have to hope for rain to get a decent quality grass and may have to feed a higher quality hay if they don't.
"But with the fodder feed we can feed a cheaper grade of hay because they don't need nutrition."