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Demand for livestock feed outstrips supply

Virginia Tapp, Cassandra Hough and Lydia Burton, Thursday January 30, 2014 - 12:23 EDT
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Angus heifers enjoying their supplement feed during the drought in Barcaldine. - ABC

Options for feeding livestock in drought-affected areas of Queensland are becoming limited and expensive.

Many graziers have been feeding out supplements for almost a year now to keep animals alive, and supply is simply not keeping up with demand.

Molasses or molasses-based supplements have become a staple feed for many cattle herds, but new orders for molasses can no longer be filled.

Last year, the Queensland Government quarantined 6,500 tonnes of molasses for domestic use, rather than export, in order to prevent molasses supplies running completely dry, but that reserve was exhausted by Christmas.

This means graziers using molasses are running out very quickly and one western Queensland grazier has been told his next order will be his last.

Bryson Hawkins is from a station near Aramac, 1,200 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, and has been using a molasses based supplement called M8U.

He says he has enough to last till the end of February.

"Last week we were notified that there was no more M8U to be had."'

Mr Hawkins says he tried to order his next load last week, but was told there was no more available.

"What we have on hand will hopefully last till the end of February and hopefully we will see rain before then," he said.

"But I will start preparing in case it doesn't rain. I'll shift some younger cattle and make a bit more room for breeders to string out the M8U and make it last a bit longer."

To stop feeding cattle molasses abruptly can be fatal, but a grazier from North Queensland in the Etheridge shire has successfully weaned his cattle off molasses by mixing his own grain based feed as a replacement.

Brian Hughes, from Lanes Creek Station, started making his 'skinny cow' mix last year when the price of molasses and cotton seed meal started to rise.

He says it's perfect for cattle struggling in the dry conditions.

"It's grain based, high in protein and is 6 per cent urea and based around 40 per cent chickpeas, with a bit of sorghum.

"It's a high intake feed, but for those people that can't feed molasses it's about the next best option," he said.

Next season, cotton, sorghum and chickpea crops from Southern Queensland would normally ease the shortage of feed, but abnormally dry conditions in cropping areas looks set to compound the problem.

Cottonseed has seen a huge price hike in recent weeks, with prices trading above $600 a tonne, almost triple the price paid in a normal year.

To forward-order new crop cotton seed at the moment costs between $400 and $450 a tonne.

Feed Central Charlton branch manager, Neville Janke, says the dry weather has driven the demand.

"The demand has been colossal, but then the supplies have been shortening up.

"So whilst it's available the prices have been pushing up.

"The options people are looking at are palm kernel meal, which seems to be a little bit cheaper, even though the protein is a little bit lower.

"A lot of cereal hay has moved up from southern NSW and northern Victoria. We have had enormous amounts moving to south-east Queensland and into western Queensland.

"It has been good drought feeding hay however those supplies will exhaust. That could be in two weeks, a month or in six weeks," Mr Janke said.

While the cyclone off the coast of North Queensland looks set to bring some rain to inland parts of the state, the prospect of a second consecutive failed wet season is becoming more likely with each day that passes.


© ABC 2014

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