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Australia's biggest feedlot keeps pens full despite record cattle prices and industry headwinds

By Amy Phillips and Jodie Gunders, Wednesday September 30, 2020 - 09:38 EST
ABC image
There are 78,000 cattle on feed at the Grassdale feedlot near Dalby, Queensland. - ABC

Australia's biggest feedlot says it has no plans to reduce the number of cattle it is intensively feeding, despite the challenges of huge industry headwinds.



This year has seen the fastest increase in cattle prices in Australia's history, and a strong Australian dollar and trade tensions with China have combined to create a tough environment for the beef industry.

But at Mort & Co's Grassdale feedlot, near Dalby in southern Queensland, more than 4,000 head of cattle come and go each week, defying a general easing across the feedlot sector.

Since its expansion nearly one year ago, 78,000 head of cattle can now be fed at once by the 100-strong team of staff.



General manager of livestock, Brett Campbell, said cattle accounted for 70 per cent of the input costs of a feedlot, but sourcing them had not been a problem, despite the ongoing drought.

"We buy a broad cross-section of cattle in terms of breed type and weight range, so we have been able to keep the feedlot full," he said.

"We certainly have concerns with the long drought in New South Wales [and] the numbers of Angus cattle which have gone out of the system, and the F1 Wagyu.

"Certainly, we see those numbers being tight going into 2021."

Searching for new markets

Mort & Co normally processed its Angus and Wagyu branded beef at the John Dee abattoir and its 100-day commercial cattle at other abattoirs, including JBS.



But with both processors currently under suspension from China due to a banned chemical being detected in meat from the John Dee abattoir and a meat labelling concern at JBS, Mort & Co had been forced to find other markets.

"We probably do over 50 per cent of our volume into China, being a high-end premium hormone free brand," said general manager of strategy and growth, Scott McDouall.

"That said, the majority of our volume into China goes to a customer with a much larger global footprint outside of China so we have that backstop security."

Keen to support local grain growers

Meantime input costs, including grain and silage used in cattle rations, had come down in price now the widespread east coast drought has eased.

General manager of feedlot and farms, Scott Braund said grain prices were now back to average and he was looking forward to sourcing it locally rather than from ships sent from Western Australia.

"We haven't bought a lot of direct grower grain from our neighbours and farmers on the Downs for three years so it'll be great to have a traditional harvest and be able to re-engage with all the local people," he said.



Owner Charlie Mort built Grassdale feedlot in 2007 and recently handed the reins of the company to Stephen O'Brien, who said he was more interested in expanding the operation than reducing the number of cattle on feed.

"Since the day of foundation for Charlie it's been about growth, it's been about doing things better than anyone else and when you do things better than anyone else people are attracted to you," he said.

In the first quarter of 2020, there were around one million cattle on feed in Australia, mostly in Queensland and New South Wales.


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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