Crops for cattle
Increasing the efficiency of north Australian cattle production systems using local crops to improve dry season weight gain
Supported by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), the Northern Territory Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (DITT) has recently begun field work for the Crops for Cattle project. The project is being conducted on eight commercial properties across the Northern Territory as well as two DITT research stations.
The project aims to foster the integration of northern cropping and cattle production systems with the majority of the feed being sourced through local cropping and feed mills. The increase in dry season weight gain that can be achieved from various locally grown crops and feeds will be documented, and economic analyses will be conducted to determine the feed cost/cattle price combinations at which the feeding strategies are profitable. This will help to foster local markets for northern crops and increase the rate of cattle production.
Increased live weight gain in the post-weaning dry season would allow a higher proportion of steers to be turned off after just one wet season. Alternatively, steers that don’t quite make the export weight after a wet season could be fed for a short period instead of having to hold them over for another year. Another positive flow-on effect is increased whole-herd productivity; as higher heifer weights at joining result in higher pregnancy rates and an earlier and more uniform calving window.
The three main components of the project are:
- Feeding trials: documenting dry season liveweight gain from the supplementary feed or crop of the property’s choice. Good data is essential for the following components.
- Economic modelling: Examining the whole-of-herd impacts of increased dry season growth on the structure, productivity and profitability of cattle herds in northern Australia. This will enable an assessment of the effects of variation in the sale price of cattle ($/kg) and supplement cost ($/t) on the profitability of the feeding strategies. One of the outputs will be grids showing the feed prices at which dry season feeding becomes profitable at different cattle prices, for feeds that give different amounts of dry season liveweight gain. This will ensure that the findings of the project remain relevant when cattle and feed prices fluctuate.
- Investigating the potential for carbon credits: More productive and efficient females means fewer breeders are needed for the same output; and increased liveweight gain allows steers to be turned off earlier. Both of these factors will reduce whole-of-life methane emissions. This prospect will be explored to see whether it could be an approved method for obtaining carbon credits.
The Crops for Cattle project commenced in 2023. The results will be reported from 2024 onwards once the properties have finished their first dry-season of supplementary feeding within the project. Project updates will be made available through FutureBeef, otherwise contact project leader, Tim Schatz.
Tim Schatz, Director Livestock Industries, NT Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade
P: 08 8999 2332
M: 0429 677 833