Locations: Opal Creek, Cecil Plains Qld; Brindley Park, Roma Qld; Brisbane Valley feedlot Qld.
Capacity: 60,500 head
2015 Top 25 position: 7; 2003 position: 7
QUEENSLAND’S Australian Country Choice is one of the big movers on our Top 25 Lotfeeders list this year.
The vertically integrated beef company now has capacity for 60,500 head across its three larger commercial yards – more than double its capacity of 27,100 head recorded in our previous Top 25 compiled back in 2015, and four times its size recorded back in 2003, when capacity was just 14,100 head.
Perhaps even more dramatic than the capacity increase has been the way the ACC yards are utilised. In fact it can be argued that no business on this year’s list has seen more profound changes in its operations focus than ACC.
Eight years ago in our previous report, ACC’s yards were entirely dedicated to high-turnover 55-70 day GFYG grainfed heifers and steers to supply its single domestic customer – Coles Supermarkets.
Reflecting extreme high rate of turnover, with up to five cattle cycles passing through the yard each year, Beef Central wrote this article claiming Brindley Park feedlot’s cattle crush at the time was probably the hardest working cattle crush in Australia, with an estimated 230,000 head passing through the squeeze chute in 2014.
ACC also carried out Coles’ northern supply chain beef kill at its Cannon Hill facility in Brisbane, processing around 250,000 cattle a year. But the two parted company in 2020 after an acrimonious breakdown in business relationship.
That led to a complete transformation of the ACC business model over the next few years. ACC’s low-slung abattoir carcase rail (only light domestic cattle had been processed up to that point) was torn out, and replaced with a rail system capable of handling beef carcases of any size.
And it did. ACC’s new business model is now much more heavily focussed on longfed and Wagyu beef production, feeding and processing cattle up to 600kg in weight, for its own high quality brand programs, as well as processing for several others.
Today, the ACC Cannon Hill processing facility processes around 2000 Woolworths cattle a week on a service kill basis (some of which are fed at ACC yards), in addition to a mixture of 120-day and 150-day grainfed, and 360-500 day Wagyu – either company-owned, custom-fed, or service-killed for other supply chains.
About 30pc of the current ACC Cannon Hill kill goes into the company’s own brand programs.
The growing emphasis on longfeeding has effectively halved the annual cattle turnoff (headcount) through the three ACC yards, but added perhaps 150-200kg in average weight, on average, per carcase.
The transition from feeding a simple formula for one type (GFYG), to a vast spread of programs for different market segments has provided a major operations challenge across the business.
“It’s provided a new challenge for our staff, in making sure we are good at what we do, in each and every segment the yards are servicing,” ACC chief executive Anthony Lee said.
Currently, between its three yards, ACC has about 20,000 Wagyu (F1-Fullblood) cattle on feed, with a growing proportion of those company-bred.
Key to the expansion in the company’s feeding capacity has been the acquisition of a third yard, Opal Creek near Cecil Plains, joining ACC’s original Brindley Park and Brisbane Valley feedyards.
Brindley Park, one of Australia’s ‘first wave’ of feedlots established by the Lee family back in 1968, has grown in multiple stages over the years, now licensed for 20,000 head. A development application was posted for Brindley Park during the COVID period, to take the yard from 20,000 out to 32,500 head. That work was approved, and earthworks is currently underway. The expanded Brindley site will grow in a two stages, each around 5500 head, and will be used mainly for Wagyu and Wagyu weaners – a dramatic change from the earlier days of feeding higher-content Brahman steers and heifers for Coles.
Brisbane Valley, which holds the distinction of carrying ‘Feedlot license number one’, is somewhat constrained in size by its location, but continues to feed around 5000 head.
In 2015, ACC bought the small Opal Creek feedlot near Cecil Plains on Qld’s Darling Downs from the Lane family, embarking on a series of expansions from its original 5800 head, and now operating at 30,000 head. A development application has been lodged (not yet approved) with the Toowoomba Regional Council to double Opal Creek’s capacity again – to 60,000 head – which would make it one of the three or four largest feedlots in Australia.
The company is accumulating water and storage capacity at each of the feedlot development sites already, as part of the expansions. All three currently-operating ACC yards have shade provision across feeding pens, as can be seen in the Brindley Park image at top of page.
New greenfield 65,000 head feedlot site
In addition to all this expansion work at ACC’s existing yards, the company has gained approval from the Western Downs Regional Council to build a brand new 65,000 head capacity feedlot at Tungamah, a 12,300ha property near Moonie on the western Darling Dows. Click here to view earlier story.
Tungamah is currently used to supply silage and hay for Opal Creek, 30km away, as well as backgrounding work.
The company has stressed that it has no immediate plans for construction to start at Tungamah, but hopes to make a start within two years, having first completed dam works.
ACC’s Anthony Lee said he had found the WDRC and Maranoa Councils to have a ‘progressive, pro-feedlot development’ attitude, and were excellent to deal with during the application process.
While Brindley Park is mostly feeding Wagyu bred in Queensland, Opal Creek and the proposed Tungamah yard will take cattle from ‘all directions,’ for Woolworths, midfed and longfed Angus and Wagyu programs.
Adding the current expansions at Brindley Park to 32,500 head, Opal Creek at 60,000 head, and Brisbane Valley 5000 head, would take ACC’s capacity to 97,500 head. That’s before the prospect of an additional 65,000 head at the new Tungamah site.
Over time, it suggests that ACC could emerge as the single largest lotfeeder in Australia – larger, even, than JBS.
About half of the expanded capacity (not including Tungamah) at ACC’s yards is now longfed Wagyu/Angus-oriented.
The dramatic decline in feedlot turnover in shifting from GFYG-only to a significant portion of cattle fed for much longer periods is a key driver in the current expansion plans, Anthony Lee told Beef Central.
“We are basing our expansion plans on the desired customer demand mix in the meatworks, rather than output at the feedlot level,” Mr Lee said.
“We come up with a formula, based on what our beef customers are looking for – say 2000 head a week for supermarket, a thousand organic, a couple of thousand longfed – and work backwards from that to plan feedlot capacity development, to fill it.”
“Some of that is filled from within ACC’s own breeding capacity (the company plans to quadruple the size of its own Wagyu breeding capacity over the next few years), some are fed by us but bred by other players, and others are custom-fed for outside clients.”
ACC’s own northern breeding properties currently account for 25-30pc of the feedlots’ feeder cattle requirements.
“We don’t want to be all trade cattle, or all Wagyu,” Mr Lee said. “Our strategy is to have a nice balance between longfed, midfed and shortfed, to provide diversity and avoid market impact in any one segment. Each category faces its own challenges, in international and domestic markets. It’s a hedge.”
“The last three years has been the most profound change of direction in the business model since the ACC business started, but the Lee family and ACC have never stopped growing and innovating. But once the current model beds down properly, we’ll be looking at growth again,” Mr Lee said. “That’s what we want to do.”
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