OVER three decades, Kev and Jan Roberts have worked hard to build Sandalwood Feedlot to what it is today.
Now up to its third generation, the business at Dalby on the Darling Downs, established in 1986, has a capacity of 17,000 head of cattle, complemented by a 2000ha farming operation.
Sandalwood employs 35 people, including full-time, part-time and casual staff.
This week, Rural Weekly takes a closer look at the family owned and operated facility.
SANDALWOOD is managed by Kev Roberts and Warren Salter, who have been working together for more than 20 years.
Kev and Warren are supported by Kev's wife, Jan, who is part of the administration team.
Meg Salter (Kev and Jan's oldest daughter) is the feedlot veterinarian and financial controller, and Warren's wife.
Jilly Tyler, who is Kev and Jan's youngest daughter, is an occupational therapist.
She came on board working part-time for the feedlot doing human resources and workplace health and safety.
She has gradually increased her role and has recently started focusing more on business development.
Warren and Meg's eldest two children, Charlie, 14, and Matilda, 12, both work in the feedlot on their holidays, and often help out on weekends, in between showing cattle at both regional shows and larger shows such as The Ekka. Meg and Warren's youngest daughter, Jessie, four, along with Jilly and her husband Kelvin's boys, Nick, seven, and Jack, six, are also involved in a less hands-on way.
"WE'RE a custom feedlot, predominantly the cattle belong to other people,” Jilly said.
"Our cattle number fluctuates according to the market. At capacity, we have about 17,000 cattle on feed.”
Jilly said they feed all breeds of cattle.
"It's dependent on the client. We feed anything the customer wants to sell,” she said.
"We feed right across the spectrum.
"The cattle we feed for ourselves are mostly angus.”
When running at full capacity, 51,000 head of cattle go through Sandalwood feedlot each year.
"Wagyu cattle are the longest and can be here up to 400 days,” Jilly said.
"We run a number of different programs, from 70 days up to 400 days.
"Most of our export product is about 180 days on feed. That's driven by the market it's going in to.”
Jilly said they do a bunk call at the feedlot 365 days a year.
"We do a bunk call every day of the year at 9am. What they're doing is making sure the cattle are getting the amount of feed that is ideal for them,” she said.
"We use feed programs. All of our feed information is captured by a database. All of our trucks have a program called Digi-Start.
"So all of our trucks are told exactly how much to feed each pen of cattle.
"They do the bunk call and they might decide that pen I1 needs to have two tonne fed to it that day. That information is then given to the feed truck via computer, saying you need to mix this ration and go and feed this much to this pen.”
MOST of the crops grown as part of Sandalwood's farming operation are used on the feedlot.
They grow silage, hay and grains - sorghum, wheat and barley.
"We simply can't produce enough ourselves,” Jilly said.
"Our first preference is to buy from local and then we also go to the domestic trade market.
"A lot of our grain comes from local farmers, we try to work with them.”
At full capacity, Sandalwood feeds 100,000 tonnes per year, 80per cent of which is grain.
Sandalwood uses harvest stores to create reconstituted grain for better digestibility.
Sandalwood's veterinarian, Meg Salter, explained the process.
"By utilising water and an anaerobic environment, which means there's no oxygen in a completely sealed system, the grain goes through a similar process to germination but without actually sprouting. This changes the molecular bonds within the grain and allows for greater digestibility,” she said.
"By increasing digestibility, you increase the performance and also decrease the amount of whole grain in faeces and this in turn reduces odour.
"Reconstitution adds water and then simply allows time, a minimum of 14 days, for the process to naturally occur. We are not relying on extra energy being added to the system.
"The grain is put through a roller mill before being fed.
"Beyond the 14-day active phase, the grain can be stored indefinitely if the anaerobic conditions are maintained.”
MEG said that Sandalwood had always prided itself on its commitment to animal health and welfare.
"As part of this focus we have gradually, over the last 10 years, committed a significant amount of capital investment to having 100per cent of the pens on Sandalwood shaded,” she said.
"We have 2.5 square metres of shade available to each and every animal.
"Shade does not come without its challenges but as part of our dedication to summer management of cattle we have dealt with them.”
Over the past two years, Sandalwood has implemented arrival and departure welfare reports.
"We have worked closely with trucking companies to ensure they understand our focus on welfare,” Meg said.
"We have found these companies to be very supportive and just as dedicated.”
Meg said the welfare of both animals and people was the focus at Sandalwood.
"Our HR, WHS, heat load monitoring (animal and human), health program, and drafting/exit processes all have the welfare of the people and the animals at the centre of them,” she said.
"Sandalwood has a strong commitment to the training of our team.
"Animal welfare has been a focus for this training - we are constantly working to make sure that welfare is not just thought about but also put into action.”