Profile: The future of cattle feed production

By: Col Jackson

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Russell and Myrna Hannemann have mastered the art of fodder production on their farm outside Tenterfield in New South Wales. Russell and Myrna Hannemann have mastered the art of fodder production on their farm outside Tenterfield in New South Wales. Russell and Myrna Hannemann have mastered the art of fodder production on their farm outside Tenterfield in New South Wales.

From farm invention of the year, to a ‘fodder-fed’ concept of marketing beef, to new business opportunities. Col Jackson has watched the fodder revolution embrace myriad outcomes. The latest has arrived.


During 18 years working in the Big W distribution centre at Warwick, Russell Hannemann never lost the urge to one day return to the home property 10km outside of Tenterfield to continue the family farming tradition.

The conundrum was that half the property was covered in varieties of love grass, a non-nutritional feed that at best is roughage; at worst it becomes rank to the cattle and necessitates the use of cattle lick to free them up.

At that time the 160-acre (64.7-hectare) property was running 30 breeders only.

It was neither feasible nor economic to run extra head," Russell says. "The land would not support more cattle, and it was far too hilly to cultivate pasture, or even delve into pasture improvement of any nature."

It was in about 2006, while reading a copy of Blue’s, Russell saw an article about the Fodder Solutions brainchild that won ‘farm invention of the year’ at FarmFest, Queensland’s premier field days.

Immediately he recognised this could be the answer to increased productivity on the family farm — and the catalyst for him ‘going home’.

"The alternative was to buy more land, but good country was becoming increasingly expensive," he says, highlighting that such an option was off the table.

In 2011, he and his wife Myrna returned to FarmFest where they met with Fodder Solutions co-director, Flavio Raccanello.

They also talked to other users of the fodder producing process, which germinates feed barley and grows it in trays under controlled conditions over six days, culminating in fresh green fodder that is highly nutritious to cattle.

 In fact, the fodder can be fed to many farm animals, including horses and sheep.

"Until then, I only knew about the fodder growing process from what Russell had told me," Myrna says.

"It is such a simple process, and it is something I can do because I like to be involved on the farm.

"I was convinced it would work on the property."

Russell adds: "It’s a fact that Myrna’s enthusiasm spurred me on to finally make a decision."

They placed their Warwick home on the market and returned to the Tenterfield property in January 2014.

"When the Fodder Solutions team arrived to construct the building and install a silo to store the feed barley, I was intrigued that while it was the latest generation, the Fodder Solutions team often discussed potential improvements," Russell says.

At a field day on their ‘Waterview’ property in late February, close to 90 people came to inspect the latest in the ‘fodder family’ solution, to ascertain if the fresh feed production system would work on their individual farms.

Myrna was in her element at the field day — applying her outgoing personality, expertise and willingness in every aspect of the operation.

Also present was a team from the Fodder Solutions factory in Toowoomba and their representatives from further afield.

At the field day, Flavio Raccanello told the crowd of how he developed the system on his own property, methodically noting the inputs against weight gain, the rumen functionality, with the most significant part being the costs, which he determined to be less than $1 per day per beast.

Then the highlight: the barbecue of a beast that had been bred on dry pasture and for the previous 90 days (exactly) had been on rations grown within the Fodder Solutions climate-controlled environment.

The feedback was positive and prompted Raccanello to comment on the potential for ‘fodder fed’ meats to compete with ‘grass’ and ‘pasture’ fed meats in the market.

Starting with 7kg of seed per tray, the grains are watered and lit artificially with LED lights (interestingly, five red lights to one blue one), which mimics winter sun resulting in trays of approximately 35-40kg of feed after just six days.

The new installation on the Hannemann property is capable of producing 1.2 tonnes of fresh feed per day. This has enabled Russell to increase his stock numbers to 30 steers, 20 calves up to six months and two bulls, on top of the 30 breeders.

"Right now we could run a few more," Russell says.

"But the cold Tenterfield winter temperatures will be the test.

"Overall, the system has the potential to make the property viable."

Russell says he has done his sums and acknowledges that freshly-grown fodder is much more cost-effective than buying round bales of lucerne.

 

The fodder trays in the production plant show various stages of growth, from day one to day six.

 

"The cattle will still eat it [the love grass] for roughage, especially while it’s small," Russell says. "The property also has some native grasses."

Laurie Stenzel is the stock and station agent with Alford and Duff First National at Tenterfield, and with cattle making a daily average weight gain of 1.8kg on fodder rations, says it has all the minerals and necessary attributes to raise healthy cattle.

He moved to Tenterfield three years ago after grazing his own block at Taroom, which he now leases.

His advice is that "you may only have a small block of dirt, but you can run more cattle with this system.

"On this type of pasture, especially love grass, cattle just won’t improve, which necessitates adding supplements to the feed regimen.

"I think fresh fodder is the way to go," Laurie adds.

Laurie points to the hilly country and suggests the cattle would be walking-off some of the weight gain.

"On flatter ground the potential for increased daily weight gain increases," he says.

Fodder Solutions co-director, Terry Colless, points out the new technology on display at the Hannemann property is the first in the ‘family seven’ technology, which was being released for the first time at the field day in February.

While the Fodder Solutions system has been marketed through agents across the globe, it is only in Bulgaria that this new technology is being released in addition to Australia.

Currently there are four units operating in Australia, each producing up to 3 tonnes per day.

"By producing feed from grain in this form leads to better digestibility," Terry says.

"Our aim is for the units to produce the maximum amount of feed for the lowest possible cost.

"Our older style systems were too labour intensive; the new technology involves only half the labour; and in summer no air-conditioning is required because it creates its own atmosphere."

Flavio says their original design was marketed directly to the hobby farmer. The new technology can now accommodate the larger commercial farmers.

"In part we’re aiming to create a ‘fodder’ brand of beef," he says. "My dream is to have a ‘fodder fed’ classification."

Flavio says he is aiming high: "The sky’s the limit — if it works for 100 head, it will work for 1,000, and it meets the grass-fed accreditation."

 

Russell and Myrna credit the fodder feed plant with their decision to move back to the farm.

 

Laurie and Maxine Dagg travelled to Tenterfield from their Killarney property to see the new technology in action. They run about 100-head on 134ha of high country.

Laurie was already convinced that the system would be a fillip to their property; Maxine was sceptical. However, after seeing the simplicity of the operation and how the Hannemann’s cattle were readily attracted to the fresh feed, Maxine was convinced.

Ray and Brenda Kneipp run a lamb feedlot in the Dundee area north of Glen Innes, and have not only been utilising Fodder Solutions technology, but by inventing an affordable feed mixing wagon, has been revolutionising small-scale intensive livestock feeding in Australia.

By combining the fodder with stubble, whole barley grain, cottonseed meal, biscuit meal and some minerals and buffers, Ray has achieved weight gains averaging 2kg per week on ewes.

It’s all about feed security, and Ray contends that the key is to combine an entire ration into one mix.

"Sheep can be picky with what they are eating, the barley sprouts make the feed wet and they process it better," Ray adds.

Cattle and sheep aren’t the only animals to benefit from freshly sprouted rations.

Terry Colless says any lactating animal, including goats, can benefit from fodder rations. There is even evidence it can improve fertility rates.

"Even Australia’s longest established worm farmer uses fodder provided by an outside grower," he noted.

That’s another story — a potential market for those wanting to invest in a feed plant to supply farmers not yet financially able to install the technology.

There’s a saying about necessity being the mother of invention.

Back at Waterview, Myrna Hannemann wheels the pallet jack, helps load the fodder biscuits, secures loads, climbs on tractors, feeds the cattle and refills the trays with new seed that will regenerate over the six-day fodder growing cycle.

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