Feedlot innovation speeds up lamb turnover

McGormans triple lamb turnover through innovation at Cambrai feedlot


Sheep
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Cambrai feedlotters Ryan and Melissa McGorman invented a highly-efficient automated feeding system.

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RYAN and Melissa McGorman have invented an efficient automated feeding system, which has tripled production at their lamb feedlot without increasing labour.

The couple run 100 Merino breeding ewes for first-cross lamb production and a 4500-head feedlot at Cambrai, alongside a 1000-hectare family operation with Ryan's brother Luke and uncle Bevan Wegener.

Ryan, a boiler maker and welder, said when he came home to farm in 2015, the property was not big enough to support three families.

"We had to find a way to produce more income from the land we had," he said.

"Lamb prices were good at the time and being located close to processors, it made sense to try feedlotting."

The couple built a feedlot in late 2015, using traditional equipment such as lick feeders and a hammer mill mixer.

While this set-up worked for a time, it became labour intensive for the two of them and any expansion plans did not seem feasible.

But after researching successful feedlots across the world, they designed what they believe to be a "fairly efficient, fully-automated feeder and mixing plant".

It meant a move away from lick feeders and a focus on less grain handling and more eating space for the lambs.

We used to spend a considerable amount of time mixing the feed. Now it is mixed independently, which frees up time to do other sheep work. - RYAN McGORMAN

With Ryan's qualifications, they built a 21-metre automated feeder trough.

It is connected to a generator-powered 28-tonne silo that disperses a feed mix, which it has been fed from three nearby 70t silos.

Those three silos house barley, lupins and a vitamin mineral mix separately, which doles out the correct ratios into a centreless auger, which combines the mix on its way to the feedlot.

There are sensors at the silos and within the feed trough, which tells the system when refilling is required.

The augers resulted in the hammer mill mixer - which took about 40 minutes to mix 2t of feed - being retired.

"We used to spend a considerable amount of time mixing the feed," Ryan said.

"Now it is mixed independently, which frees up time to do other sheep work."

With the new system, the McGormans were able to go from the two of them feeding 1500 lambs to the 4500 capacity.

Lamb mortality rates improved by minimising handling stress 

MINIMAL handling has helped the McGormans to reduce lamb stress and mortality rates from 3 per cent to sometimes less than 1pc in their upgraded feedlot at Cambrai.

They also batch their lambs into five-kilogram increments to reduce feeding competition between bigger and smaller lambs.

"Having them in their weight categories also means handling only occurs when they are shorn, drenched and vaccinated and then weighed again when they leave," Ryan McGorman said.

"They're not handled weekly, which I think has helped with growth rates."

The new automated feed trough system has also helped increase their lamb turnover from 10-12 weeks, putting on about 350 grams a day, to 8-10 weeks, putting on nearly 400g a day.

The next focus will be to reduce power and fuel use by making the new feed trough run off solar power.

They are also in the throes of building a third feedlot.

"A third feedlot isn't so we can run more lambs, but to facilitate splitting them up into more specific groups, such as crossbreds and Merinos, export and domestic weight categories," Ryan said.

Their other feedlot across the road is making use of their old Bromar lick feeders, comprising a similar automated set-up to the main feedlot with the centreless auger running through the bins.

Ryan said they had encountered few teething problems with the new set-up, but feed availability and prices had hurt profit margins.

"We use about 30 tonnes of feed a week, which has been hard to source at times because of the dry," he said.

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