A new stock feed pellet utilising a by-product from the cottonseed oil extraction process has livestock producers across drought ravaged parts of Queensland and NSW queuing up for supplies.
The product has only been available for about 12 months but those who've used it to supplement sheep, cattle and goats say the results have been promising.
The manufacturer, Oilseeds Australia, bought a cottonseed crushing plant at Hillston in NSW's Riverina three years ago where earlier formulations were developed to supply lot feeders.
Oilseeds Australia managing director, DD Saxena, said the company utilises a process that expels two thirds of the oil in the cottonseed, leaving the by-product, cottonseed meal with six per cent oil content.
While the expelled oil is sold into the food service industry, cottonseed meal is blended with inputs such as barley, wheat or almond husks to create a pellet.
The most common pellets being sold, the Ruminant Production Pellet, consists of 16pc crude protein, metabolisable energy per kilogram of 12Mg/kg/ME and 29pc acid detergent fibre (ADF).
Mr Saxena said Hillston was the only plant in Australia using this process which was more common in the US, China and India.
Cottonseed oil was still the main business, but there were plans to expand the pellet output from the current 30,000 tonnes a year to 100,000t.
"We are not a feed company. We make what we call ingredients - inputs for animal nutrition or supplementary feed," he said.
Elders livestock production manager, Rob Inglis, Wagga Wagga, has sold the pellets in bulk throughout NSW and providing nutritional support to Elders merchandise managers in Queensland.
Low oil appeal
It was attractive because it didn't contain high oil levels like cottonseed.
"Ruminants like sheep and cattle don't handle oil very well - it's the Achilles' heel of cottonseed," he said.
"Cottonseed is a good source of protein but it has an oil level around 20pc and ruminants don't really handle much more than 8pc.
"With this product they have extracted the oil and what is leftover in the meal is tolerable but still high protein. They have also added starch (barley and wheat). The result is a higher calorie version of cottonseed."
Mr Inglis said livestock producers were using the pellets to supplement sheep, cattle and goats.
"As a production feed it lacks enough starch to be a true production pellet so some producers are mixing it with barley or corn to create their own ration," he said.
- Cottonseed supply concerns loom for 2020
- Straw demand set to continue
- Hay supplies hit rock bottom as quality slides
Elders Charleville merchandise manager, Gary Washbrook, has trucked in pellets in by the semi-trailer load.
He has distributed about 5000t around the south west with most producers paying $500 to $600/t.
"Cottonseed was becoming hard to get hold of and I knew they were having good results with this pellet so a group of producers decided to give it a go," he said.
"We've had producers using it for weaners, breeders and lactating ewes and nannies."
Mr Washbrook said some producers were storing the pellets under tarpaulins or on cement floors in sheds. Pellets also stored well in silos and could be fed out in self-feeders or troughs.
Cottonseed was becoming hard to get hold of and I knew they were having good results with this pellet.
Doing the job
Bruce and Joy Foott currently run 1000 Dorper ewes and 2000 nannies on a 10,000 hectare property south of Mitchell in south west Queensland.
Despite only carrying a third of his normal stock, Mr Foott was forced to purchase 50t of pellets in February to supplement ewes, nannies and their progeny.
"That lasted about two months but I was feeding them at a crucial time when we needed to get weight into the progeny," he said.
"It enabled me to get the kids and lambs to a size to forage for themselves and eventually be saleable."
Mr Foott stored the pellets in an outside bay and covered with tarps.
He built 30 meter troughs from poly belt and fed pellets every second day.
Mr Foott's rough figures showed the pellets stacked up both nutritionally and financially.
"They are expensive, but because you only use half as much as cottonseed it works out okay," he said.
"Cottonseed at that time was around $800/t and we bought the pellets for $600/t.
"We used half as much and got better results."
Mr Foott has another 50t order that he expects in early August, but said there was a four week wait for new supplies.
"The difference is that last year we had roughage - this year I'll need to pull some scrub so the stock have some roughage with it."
Across eastern Australia livestock specialists are warning producers to pay special attention to feeding roughage to hungry stock as pellet and grain feeding regimes grind on and pasture feed gets scarce.
"You must keep the rumen microbes fed with roughage or you'll risk a whole range of stock health problems like acidosis," said Longreach-based Desiree Jackson.
Ms Jackson, whose sheep and cattle clients span northern Australia to northern NSW, said while a kilogram of pellets effectively replaced the energy in two kilos of dry pasture, some green roughage, including good hay, aided digestibility and supplied vitamin A where no green feed was available.
It also reduced overgrazing by stock seeking dry feed.
"The problem is good hay is hard to find - often what's available is very poor quality because there is such a shortage," she said.
Sheep Solutions principal, Geoff Duddy, said ruminants need at least 10pc "effective fibre" roughage in their diet.
"Effective fibre helps to form a floating fibre mat in the rumen, slows the passage of manufactured or grain-rich feeds in the gut, promotes cud chewing, reduces acidosis risk, increases vitamin absorption and helps balance calcium-phosphorus levels in urine to minimise water belly," he said.
"Manufactured pellets are quite finely processed.
"Low effective fibre levels can lead to a greater intake but feed conversions may be lower, so without increasing daily growth rates you probably won't be getting bang for your buck."
NSW Department of Primary Industries beef development officer, Todd Andrews, noted lactating stock were particularly vulnerable to a lack of roughage.
- Start the day with all the big news in agriculture! Click here to sign up to receive our daily Farmonline newsletter.