Breeding for feeder cattle market

Spring Beef | Breeding for feeder cattle market with Mort & Co's livestock manager Brett Campbell


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Mort & Co’s livestock manager, Brett Campbell, talks about breeding cattle for the feeder market.

Mort & Co’s livestock manager, Brett Campbell, talks about breeding cattle for the feeder market.

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Breeding the perfect show steer maybe a honourable cattleman’s pursuit, but to achieve commercial success for many cattle breeding operations it’s a case of focusing on targeting market specification requirements.

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Breeding the perfect show steer maybe a honourable cattleman’s pursuit, but to achieve commercial success for many cattle breeding operations it’s a case of focusing on targeting market specification requirements.

One cattle market segment experiencing strong growth over the past two decades in Queensland has been the feedlot sector. The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association reports up to an unprecedented number, 1,089,072 head, of cattle were on feed in Australia during last year.

The days of cattle feedlots being used during dry years because pastures have insufficient nutritional value, to allow cattle to reach customer requirements in a timely and sustainable manner, appear secondary to a strong, year-round feedlot sector providing customers in both Australia and export markets who actively demand grainfed beef due to the “industry’s ability to consistently meet market requirements in terms of quality and quantity”, according to ALFA.

“Cattle require increasing nutrition as they get older and this places greater pressure on pastures and hence the environment,” ALFA said.

Mort & Co's Grassdale Feedlot in southern Queensland near Dalby.

Mort & Co's Grassdale Feedlot in southern Queensland near Dalby.

With an increasing growth of Queensland’s feedlot branded beef businesses, the need for a continual supply of feeder cattle into these feedlots has created a target market opportunity for cattle breeders.

As one of Australia’s most innovative and modern feedlot companies and currently the second largest beef cattle lot feeder in Australia, Mort & Co boasts an established vertical integration in the beef cattle industry including cattle procurement, transportation, lot feeding, beef processing and marketing.

Mort & Co manages three feedlots across the eastern states of Australia turning over approximately 200,000 cattle per year. Refining its feedlot operations, Mort & Co is able to achieve consistent numbers of cattle on feed, improved efficiencies and reduced overhead costs.

Mort & Co feedlot ration.

Mort & Co feedlot ration.

In November 2015 Mort & Co officially launched its own beef brand, The Phoenix Range. The Phoenix is the Mort family crest of French origins and dates back to the 15th century.

Mort & Co’s livestock manager, Brett Campbell, said integral to its success has been the alliances Mort & Co has established with beef producers.

Queensland Country Life’s livestock editor Martin Bunyard sat down with Mr Campbell to discover what cattle producers need to know about supplying feeder cattle to one of Australia’s largest feedlot businesses.

What are the key attributes Mort & Co cattle buyers look for when buying feeder cattle?

Mort & Co buyers are looking for a range of attributes in the steers we purchase and the attributes are all of importance, one not necessarily more important than the other.

Things such as general health, yard weaning, educated, well-handled, low stress that leads to good temperament, condition score and weight are some of the attributes we look for in feeder cattle. We don’t need the steers in forward condition and do not need them over 480 kilograms. Ideally, we would like a condition score 2 (over 2mm to 6mm of fat on rump site and 2mm to 3mm on rib site) to score 3 (over 6mm to 12mm of fat on the rump site and 4mm to 7mm on the rib site) weighing between 366kg and 480kg.

Some cattle on feed at Mort & Co's Grassdale Feedlot near Dalby in southern Queensland.

Some cattle on feed at Mort & Co's Grassdale Feedlot near Dalby in southern Queensland.

What role do you believe breeding and genetics play in producing good quality cattle for the feeder market?

Genetics play a large part in producing quality for any market, be it selling weaners through to finished cattle on grain or grass.

Quality combined with nutrition, good animal health and welfare practice, plus good temperament will undoubtedly produce more kilograms of beef at the point of sale for the cattle breeder. The breeder can then use either straight breeding or cross breeding, which is the challenge for the breeder to look at pastures, land type and location to pick suitable cattle that produce fertile cows who calve every year in varying seasonal conditions.

What advice would you give cattle producers wanting to produce cattle for the feeder market?

Firstly, I would consider all of the above points that are more production and property based and as far as possible, get as much of that right!

Then do some research and discuss with potential buyers what all of their specification requirements would be and then look to target a market or markets most suitable to your cattle operation and breed type. The longer game is also to create a good working relationship with the feedlot or feedlots you are selling to and create repeat selling and buying opportunities beneficial to both parties.

Where are the main regions Mort & Co draw feeder cattle from?

Mort & Co purchase feeders from most regions of Queensland and Northern New South Wales.

Cattle being processed at Mort & Co's Grassdale Feedlot in southern Queensland.

Cattle being processed at Mort & Co's Grassdale Feedlot in southern Queensland.

When are your peak feeder cattle buying times?

Mort & Co purchases cattle 48 to 50 weeks per year, so no peak as such, but with a couple of low purchase periods being the Christmas to New Year break, and then 100-days prior to Christmas allowing for the processing plant closures.

How important is developing relationships with cattle producers to supply feeder cattle?

It is very important to have a good relationship with feeder cattle suppliers as with all business relationships. You do have a seller and a buyer so there are times for both people where expectations are different but as long as the business is conducted in a professional and honest manner with both parties understanding their commitments and obligations, business can be successful, beneficial and ongoing for both parties.

And, what do you expect the feedlot trading conditions to be like over the next 12 months?

Seasonal conditions will ultimately dictate how the following 12 months unfold for livestock supply regarding numbers, weight and condition, in addition to grain supplies and price for the next year. Let’s hope for some good winter, spring and summer rain and good pasture growth for favourable cropping conditions.   

Related story: Making gains in the breeder world

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