Whilst grain is the major commodity on James Male’s southern New South Wales farm, it was another industry that caught his eye for a Nuffield Scholarship.
James, from Yerong Creek, between Wagga Wagga and Albury, has started feedlotting lambs on-property and it was this new part of the family business that needed some research.
“Because lamb finishing was a new area of our enterprise and lamb feedlotting is a fledgling industry, I wanted to see every aspect of operational feedlots around the world – the feed types, feeding systems, different breeds and genetics as well as improvements that we can make to our own enterprise,” Mr Male said.
James also wanted to use the opportunity to see the global competition and assess the viability of the Australian lamb industry.
“I wanted to see if there was a good sustainable future for it, because we’d been having a really good run with lamb prices and I wasn’t sure if that was going to last or not,” he said.
Following his Global Focus Program, in which James travelled with a group of fellow Nuffield Australia scholars, he turned his attention to his individual study topic.
“I broke it into two parts, our main competitors, which is obviously New Zealand, but I wanted to travel to areas that did mostly feedlotting, and that was actually the USA, also our second biggest market behind the Middle East,” Mr Male said.
“In the US I went to a couple of really big sheep feedlots, and got an opportunity to speak to extension officers and feedlot nutritionists and the feedlot managers and it was a real science – they just know how to grain-finish stock over there, there’s no doubt about it.
“Talking about rations and their set-ups, it was just spot-on,” he said.
The grass-based lamb finishing systems in New Zealand, where he investigated the use of genetics and maternal composites, also impressed Mr Male.
Assessing whether lamb feedlots can be viable in Australia was one of his key goals, and he has emerged from his Nuffield Scholarship convinced they can be.
“It’s got to be like any enterprise, a profitable thing, so it’s your cost of feed versus the price of your product and so for me that was the biggest thing, just concentrating on that feed, getting the conversion, making sure that when the animal comes into a feedlot that I’m doing everything right and they’re going to perform at their absolute highest potential,” Mr Male said.
“It’s also about ensuring at the other end I know what price I’m going to get, so making use of forward contracts is the other essential thing.”
So has James finished his Nuffield studies feeling good about the future of the lamb export industry?
“Yes and no, I’m a little bit concerned just the way things are at the moment,” he said.
“So much rides on the live sheep export trade and I don’t think many people realise that. We’ve seen a few problems in Pakistan, I know that’s live sheep and it’s mutton, but it has repercussions right through the lamb industry as well,” he said.
Mr Male added that maintaining a long-term sustainable price for lamb is also important.
“Lamb got too expensive in 2011 – they took it out of restaurants in the United States, it reduced supermarket shelf space there, it also happened here in Australia meaning mums and dads weren’t buying lamb like they were and so it just got a bit overheated and it was a bit unsustainable, but I think there’s been a major correction now,” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s a great product and there’s always going to be a fit for it, but we can’t get complacent about it one bit, that’s for sure.”
Meat and Livestock Australia supported James’ scholarship.
Nuffield Australia is an organisation which provides opportunities to Australian farmers between the ages of 28 and 40 to travel the globe investigating a research topic important to them and Australian agriculture.
Applications for the next round of Nuffield Scholarships open in less than two months. They will open on April 1 2013, for travel in 2014. More details can be found at www.nuffield南京夜网.au, on twitter @nuffieldaust or on Nuffield Australia’s Facebook page.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.