Improving profitability and resilience of beef and sheep businesses in Queensland – Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from drought

The project

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland staff are investigating a range of strategies and technologies aimed at making Queensland grazing businesses more profitable and drought resilient.  The project, ‘Delivering integrated production and economic knowledge and skills to improve drought management outcomes for grazing enterprises’ is funded by the Queensland Government’s Drought and Climate Adaptation Program.  Economic analyses are being conducted for a number of regions across Queensland.  A range of management strategies and technologies aimed at making grazing businesses more profitable and drought resilient are being assessed.  In addition, the project is examining options in the drought response and recovery phases. Analyses have been completed for the Fitzroy NRM region of central Queensland and analyses are underway for the Northern Gulf NRM region, Central West Mitchell Grasslands, Northern Downs and Mulga Lands regions.

Project reports

Fitzroy NRM region of central Queensland

A report summarising results for the Fitzroy NRM region of central Queensland is available for download: Fitzroy beef production systems – Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from drought (PDF, 3 MB).

In this region, assessment of alternative beef production strategies included:

  • leucaena, other legumes, forage oats, feedlotting and HGPs for steers;
  • better genetics for fertility, reducing foetal/calf loss, pestivirus management, inorganic supplements to address phosphorus deficiency, and feeding first calf heifers for breeders; and
  • alternative markets such as organic beef, EU and Wagyu.

Other low cost strategies to improve drought resilience, as well as drought response and drought recovery strategies, were also assessed.

 Summary messages from the report:

  • Identifying and addressing any phosphorus deficiency is the first priority
  • Median rates of mortality are critical to business profitability and need to be addressed with ‘whole of property’ strategies
  • Investment in perennial legumes for steer nutrition is a key strategy
  • Target low cost strategies when looking at the performance of the breeder herd in isolation
  • Applying an appropriate framework to decision making and understanding the reasoning behind the process will point roughly which direction to go, not the ‘answer’
  • Partial budgets applied to estimate the expected extra return on extra capital invested is the best way to have a ‘first look’ when a beef production system is already in place
  • All analyses were compiled in the Breedcow and Dynama suite of programs which are available for download at no cost.

Multimedia

Are you interested in comparing a range of management strategies and technologies that may contribute to building more profitable and resilient beef businesses?  This information is available in a series of three recorded webinars that are now available on YouTube.

In the first webinar, ‘Part 1 – Improving the performance of beef productions systems in northern Australia’, industry expert and agricultural economist, Fred Chudleigh, looks at a wide range of strategies and technologies aimed at making northern Australia beef producers more efficient.  The topics discussed include the relative value of investments ranging from perennial legumes, forage oats, silage, feedlotting and HGPs for steers, better genetics for fertility, reducing foetal/calf loss, mortality rates, pestivirus management and phosphorous supplementation.  Analyses undertaken for the Fitzroy and Northern Gulf NRM regions of Queensland, and the Katherine region of the Northern Territory, are presented as examples.

 

A second webinar, ‘Part 2 – Low cost strategies to build the resilience of beef production systems in northern Australia’, also presented by Fred Chudleigh, explores the value of low cost strategies aimed at improving the resilience of the beef herd again using examples from the Fitzroy and Northern Gulf NRM regions of Queensland, and the Katherine region of the Northern Territory.  Topics covered include the value of managing breeder body condition, optimising the female culling strategy and identifying the best age to sell steers.  An analysis assessing the breakeven value of producing weaner steers from a ‘calf factory’ in the northern Gulf region of Queensland is also discussed.

 

As discussed in the first webinar, whole farm economic analyses indicate that perennial legumes are a profitable intervention for many areas of northern Australia.  In particular, analyses for central Queensland indicate that perennial legumes (and especially leucaena) are the most profitable of all available beef production strategies as well as being the most profitable of all forage options.  Therefore the third webinar in this series, delivered by Principal Research Scientist, Dr Maree Bowen:  ‘Improving beef business performance with high quality forages’, presents information on how to maximise returns from high quality forages in central Queensland.  Data is presented for forage, animal and economic performance from use of perennial legume-grass pastures and annual forage crops on commercial beef cattle properties.  Additionally, the most profitable way to incorporate high quality forages into the whole-of-life steer growth path is also discussed with a focus on leucaena-grass pastures and forage oats in more detailed examples.

Case studies and articles

  • Central Queensland beef producers are taking advantage of a free service of personalised economic analyses conducted, specific to their business.  This service is provided by the CQ DAF team of beef economists and extension officers.  Contact Matt Brown if you would like the beef team to visit your property; matt.brown@daf.qld.gov.au, or for other areas call 13 25 23.  The story of what one family has gained from utilising this service for their beef operation can be read here.
  • Identifying and addressing any phosphorus deficiency is a priority for beef businesses.  The very large economic benefits of phosphorus supplementation, where a deficiency is identified, provides justification for adopting effective supplementation strategies.  More information for economic returns from phosphorus supplementation in central Queensland is provided in this article: Improving beef business performance with phosphorus supplementation.