Livestock

Experimentation, hard work drives grass-fed beef operation

Sharon and Joe Comiskey.
Sharon and Joe Comiskey. Image courtesy of Pacific Seeds

Comiskey Beef might be a relative newcomer to the cattle industry, but the family-owned operation near Rockhampton is quickly gaining ground in the grass-fed market.

Joe Comiskey, who left the earthmoving industry in 2011 to buy two MLA-certified properties at Mamor with his daughter Sharon, run 350 Brangus breeders, and steers and heifers are bought in as well.

“We turn off 20 animals a week at the moment and want to double that number,” Mr Comiskey said.

“A few major butchers in the area are now stocking our beef and it’s getting shipped as far down as the Sunshine Coast.”

Mr Comiskey said the upswing could be attributed to fodder experimentation and hard work.

“We’ve built the business through experimenting and a bit of hard yakka.

“People want to know where their meat comes from and what the animals are fed, and we believe a quality diet is all important.”

He said the latest successful feed change came in 2017 when they re-introduced Sugargraze forage sorghum.

“We grew it a long time ago, but other crops came up and we tried them. Now we’re back to it and we’re glad we did – it’s bloody good cow tucker.”

The forage is grown under part of a pivot where it is cut at 1.5m tall and put into round bale silage to feed out later.

“We used to just graze it, but we found that we get better bang for our buck baling it for silage.

“We’re always looking for something with a smaller stalk and I wanted three cuts from the crop. It grew extremely fast, so we were able to cut it at Christmas 2017, in March 2018 and in May 2018.”

The 12-hectares of forage was planted in October 2017 as the oats program finished, with plenty of nutrients added.

“We put on Incitec s120 sulphur before planting and after each cut, we put about three tonnes of Easy N liquid nitrogen through the pivot.

“We make a 50:50 water dilution then irrigate one way with half an inch and back the other way with half an inch to ensure it all gets N.

“Then we go back again with an inch of just water.”

Yearly crops include Callide grass, Lucerne, oats and barley with forage sorghum specifically grown in the summer months.

1174ha Aintree is used for growing crops and fattening cattle, while 310ha Seven Hills is a breeding block home to full blood Wagyu Bulls over Brangus breeders, as well as some of the Aintree cattle.

The other significant change to the ration was made earlier in 2016, when the pair began growing barley sprouts.

“We were sick of selling stock in droughts and wanted a consistent amount of feed all year, so that our beef was also consistent, so we investigated barley sprouts and here we are.”

The pair soak the barley seeds in water, drain them, scoop them into 190 trays then put them into racks with an automated irrigation and infrared lighting system.

The seeds sprout, produce a root system, and after four days, the sprouts form a large ‘biscuit’ – 3.2 tonnes of which are fed out daily.

Contrary to a grain feedlot where cattle are stationary and fed corn and barley, Comiskey runs a laborious feed process.

Weaners are sourced at about 200kg and enter the backgrounding yards until they reach 380kg on a ration of crushed barley grain, green chop and dry hay or silage.

The weaners then go to the barley grass feed lot for 70-100 days.

Each morning, 150 head of weaners are each fed 17kg of barley sprouted grass, at midday the 150 head are fed 5kg of green chop (grass and lucerne), and during the day, the cattle freely eat about 10kg of silage hay per head from feeding racks in the yards.

Cattle are fattened to 420-450kg live weight before going to Biggenden meat works where the meat is MSA graded.

Joe and Sharon like to run a transparent business, opening their farm to visitors from around the world.

“We’re more than happy for people to come for a look and see how our grass-fed beef is made.”

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