WITH any statistical compilation like Beef Central’s Top 25 Lotfeeders feature, there was always going to be a list of candidates that fell just below the cut-off point for inclusion.
In our investigations while compiling this list, we spoke to a large number of operators whose businesses went close, but did not quite make the requirement for inclusion, based on one-time built operating capacity (10,000 head or more required to qualify).
Rather than simply discarding those notes, we thought readers might have some interest in those ‘near misses’:
Rob and Mary Maudsley’s Waterfall feedlot business in Queensland’s South Burnett region has grown, following the acquisition of a second smaller feedlot next door. The original 7900 head capacity Waterfall feedlot has integrated the adjacent 2900-head Nangur Downs feedlot into the business, giving total operating capacity of 9800 head. Waterfall is a major supplier to specialist grainfed MSA yearling processor, Nolan Meats, Gympie, meaning the feedlot averages 5.5 cattle cycles each year.
Veteran NSW cattleman Gordon Paterson operates two feedlots in NSW and Victoria with a combined capacity above 9000 head. They include Hell’s Gate feedlot near Balranald, in the Riverina, feeding a combination of domestic and 100-day export cattle, and Clifton feedlot near Geelong, which specialises in Wagyu feeding, running up to 1200 head.
Warren Barnett and family’s Associated Feedlots business near Mathoura, NSW was on the 2003 Top list at number 25 (4000 head capacity), but while the feedlot has grown substantially over the past decade, it fell short of making this year’s Top 25 rankings, with a license for 8876 head, and a current physical capacity of 8000 head.
Wanderribby feedlot near Meningie in South Australia is currently operating at its licensed and functional capacity of +8000 head. Closely aligned with Thomas Foods International, the feedlot is custom-feeding oriented, feeding everything from 70-day domestic cattle through to 200-days. Along with Hell’s Gate, listed above, it is one of only a handful of Australian feedlots feeding both lambs and cattle. The business was started in the 1990s by the Gunner family to fatten Angus yearlings from the surrounding 15,000 acre property. Because of its location, close to large volumes of cattle in the South of SA and two large abattoirs Wanderribby feedlot soon attracted interest from several producers and processors. It now supplies the CAAB program.
The Conaghan family’s Barmount Station feedlot in Central Queensland is currently built to a capacity of 8000 SCU, but is in the early stages of expansion that will take it to its licenced capacity of 9990SCU by the end of this year. A total of 20 additional pens will be added in two stages, with bunks already in, and aprons about to be poured. On completion, Barmount could make a future Top 25 list, as it feeds roughly 50:50 domestic to export, adding to the effective operating capacity.
Geoff Willett’s Maydan feedlot near Warwick is accredited for 8000 SCU and is built for 10,000 head capacity to accommodate lighter yearling cattle if required. But by nature of its heavy emphasis on longfed Wagyu programs, it has a reduced annual turnover, compared with other feedlots of similar capacity. Maydan appeared on the 2003 Top 25 Lotfeeders list, in position 19 (8000 head), but expansion by others and new feedlots built in the succeeding ten years has seen it drop off the list. Maydan was sold to iron ore baron Gina Hinehart’s Hancock Prospecting in June 2017, for a price believed to be around $22 million.
Camm Agriculture’s Wonga Plains feedlot near Dalby at one point looked like making our Top 25 list, but was squeezed-out during the final stages of research as more industry details came to hand.
While the licensed capacity at the original feedlot site was not substantial enough to qualify, the Camm family has aggregated two other adjoining smaller properties, both with their own separate feedlot licenses, taking the business’s combined feeding capacity to around 9300 Standard Cattle Units. In practical operating terms, with the addition of some domestic cattle, it can feed about 9600 head at any one time.
The Camms bought Wonga Plains 40 years ago as a backgrounding/holding depot for cattle from their extensive Central Queensland grazing enterprises.
After a visit to the US in the 1980s where he first saw feedlot operations, David Camm came home and installed his first six pens and a small mill. Expansion started in the 1990s, managed over the past ten years or so by David’s son, Bryce, now an ALFA councillor.
The original Wonga Plains facility is now built to its licensed capacity of 5350 head SCU, but Camm Agriculture bought the adjoining Hillcrest property with a separate 1000 head feedlot license, and then the Penang feedlot (2900 SCU), developed earlier by the McInerney family, three or four years ago.
The two outlying sites are less than 1km from the Wonga feedmill, meaning only a short commute for the fed delivery trucks. In essence, the three facilities are operated as a single yard. Similar ‘satellite’ yards using a second license are managed by other grainfeeding enterprises, such as Waterfall feedlot, mentioned above.
Wonga Plains is used both for feeding cattle bred within the Camm Agribusiness portfolio, as well as permanent custom-feeding for large clients like Nippon and spot custom feeding, ranging from longfed Wagyu to domestic weights. Turnoff ranges from 70-day product to John Dee at Warwick or the Signature Beef brand program at Casino, to 100-day cattle to Oakey, Kilcoy, Dinmore or Beenleigh, and custom-fed Wagyu.
Over the past two years the business has operated at its physical capacity, due to drought. Turnover last year reached 35,000 head.
Wonga Plains invested in a steamflake mill about seven years ago, as part of a major rebuild of the commodity shed and milling infrastructure.
“I tell people that was when we became a real feedlot,” general manager Bryce Camm says.
Water opportunities, and regulatory changes provide some opportunity to expand the current feedlot capacity a little. The current mill infrastructure, for example, is engineered to cater for more than 20,000 head.
Beyond that, the Camm family also hold a 28,000 feedlot license (undeveloped) on their Surat irrigation property, Morocco, should they ever wish to invest in another feedlot enterprise. If it is ever developed, it would be more likely to be used as a grain-assisted backgrounding facility for Camm Agriculture cattle, Bryce Camm said.
Wonga Plains did not figure in the previous Top 25 rankings in 2003.
Other candidates fell off the list for different reasons. An example is the Longyard feedlot located at Woodstock, southwest of Townsville.
Longyard holds an NFAS accreditation and a feedlot license for 30,000 head, and is currently constructed to 10,000 SCU.
While it has fed some cattle during 2014, it is currently vacant, undergoing further development.
Longyard was built at considerable expense eight years ago by North Qld cattleman, Kelly Sheehan, primarily as a seasonal drought mitigation tool to add weight to lighter northern cattle, especially cows. The project was not designed, at that point, to feed a grain-based diet, and ultimately ran out of funds before it could be completed.
Current owner, Burdekin farmer David Cox – one of Australia’s largest cane farmers – saw an opportunity to resurrect the site, having been captured by a vision for greater beef and livestock trade to China after visiting Asian markets in recent years.
While the feedlot is currently placed in voluntary NFAS suspension in order to complete further engineering and civil works, Mr Cox plans to commence filling the pens from April, after completion.
He recently floated a proposal seeking Chinese JV investment in a boutique-scale abattoir to integrate with the feedlot, but says he has an ‘open mind’ to future opportunities, which might range, seasonally, from conventional feedlot-finished slaughter cattle to live export of feedlot-finished cattle to China.
An obvious feature of the site is the colossal earthworks required to conform to environmental guidelines for runoff, in such a high-rainfall environment.
This feature is brought to you by Lallemand Animal Nutrition.