In Australia the adoption of a large-scale silage production and feeding program is enabling Bundaberg district beef producers, Sandy and Jamie McCartney, to ‘drought proof’ their operation.
Frustrated by the impact of the ongoing drought, the McCartneys had more than 1500 tonnes of corn silage contract grown and harvested earlier this year and are now utilising the results in their early weaning and finishing program.
Operating in partnership with Sandy’s father, John McCartney of Agnes Water, Sandy and Jamie run about 3500 high grade Brahman cattle across 12,000 hectares of owned and leased land around ‘Bucca Station’, 25 km north of Bundaberg, Queensland.
The enterprise turns off about 1000 steers, surplus heifers and cull cows for the EU and MSA-graded domestic markets each year.
The McCartneys were forced to implement a radical early weaning and supplementary feeding program this year in response to the dry conditions.
“Our annual rainfall is meant to be about 45 inches but we haven’t received that much in the past three years combined,” Sandy says.
“Last year, we spent a small fortune on pellets for our weaners and molasses for our cows and had little to show for it, so I began to look at other feeding options.”
He was quickly directed to Lallemand Animal Nutrition Technical Services Manager, Jordan Minniecon, who in turn, pointed him to Tansey-based silage contractors, Allan and Cameron Anderson, and nutritionist, Iain Hannah.
“The Andersons helped me every step of the way from planting through to harvesting and storage; Jordan was a big help with designing the pits and yards, and sealing systems; while Ian has been instrumental in setting up our feeding program,” Sandy says.
Sandy arranged to have two crops of corn totalling 49 ha grown in the Bundaberg district.
In the meantime, he engaged an earthmoving contractor to construct two silage pits totalling 1000 tonnes, as well as a gravel pad for a 1500 tonne above-ground ‘bun stack’.
“Our goal is to use the pits as our long-term drought reserves and use the stack as part of our feeding program every year,” Sandy says.
“All up, we have spent about $200,000 on earthworks and the purchase of a loader, tractor and mixer wagon but this will pay for itself in three or four years.
“If we didn’t have the silage, we’d have nothing to feed our weaners and nothing to finish our steers and surplus heifers.”
The first crop was harvested in May, transported to ‘Bucca Station’, and placed into the two pits.
The second crop, harvested in August, was stored as a bun stack.
Both crops had an additive added.
After packing, the two pits and bun stack were sealed with an inner layer of Silostop Max ‘oxygen barrier’ film and then an outer layer of Anti UV covers.
Silostop Max is an 80 micron multi-layer film that prevents oxygen from entering the silage, making it ideal for long-term storage.
The thicker outer cover will protect the oxygen barrier film against UV light and damage caused by animals and environment, as well as providing an additional layer of sealing and is reusable for up to 10 years.
“The extra cost of using a premium inoculant and quality covers is not a lot of money in the scheme of things,” Sandy says.
“You don’t buy an expensive car and leave it outside in the weather.”
Sandy opened the bun stack in June for use in his early weaning and finishing programs.
“We used to wean our calves at about 180 to 220 kg and then feed them weaner pellets and quality hay for a couple of weeks,” he says.
“The pellets were extremely expensive due to transport costs and we found the weaners tended to get fat instead of grow.
“This January, we weaned our calves at about two months of age or 80 kg liveweight and then fed them crumble for three months and then silage in the yards until they got to 260 kg.
“It has been a real eye-opener for us.
“Silage is a far cheaper way to feed weaners and it really gets their rumens going.
“The silage is working out to be about $5.20 a week but they are putting on more than a kilo a day.”
Weaners are supplementary fed 8.5 kg/day of silage, together with a vitamin and mineral premix and corn gluten meal to provide an additional source of protein and starch, via paddock troughs.
Finishers are fed 35 kg/day of the same feed mix, along with MU8 (molasses plus 8% urea), in the pens.
“Having 2500 tonnes of silage stored away means I will always have something to sell and a guaranteed cash flow every year,” Sandy says.
“It’s like having another property except you don’t have to worry about fences, rates or the bank manager!
“Land costs around here costs about $9000 to $10,000 per beast area and there’s no guarantee it’s going to rain.
“If the season goes dry, I can still put 200 or 300 head of cattle in the pens and have them finished within 60 days.
“If the season improves, I can always reseal the pit for another day."