Drrought forces producers in Queensland’s salad bowl region to feed livestock vegetable waste – ABC Rural – ABC News

As feeding costs soar, cattle producers in Queensland’s salad bowl region have started feeding their livestock waste vegetables due to the worsening drought.

Key points Cattle eating vegies

Key points:

Feed is still hard to find and too expensive for many landholders — even though the price of hay and fodder has eased from record high levels reached in the middle of 2019.

Still, it has forced people in the Lockyer Valley to look for alternatives to keep their animals alive.

Coominya cattle producer Jodie Schnitzerling said hay was difficult to find.

“This feed that we are getting here from [a vegetable packing shed] is probably the only green feed that is around at the moment,” she said.

Tim Ford, the managing director of Feed Central, Australia’s largest domestic supplier of hay, said bushfires coupled with drought meant fodder was even harder to source and suppliers had struggled to keep up with demand.

“I think a lot of people have found it very difficult to source fodder, and I think the guys chasing a small volume of hay, the farms on the fringes of urban areas, they are probably finding it really tough to get hay,” he said.

“Previously there might have been some local farms that were supplying those people but they’re all exhausted.

“So to bring hay from interstate to say [the Lockyer Valley] 100 kilometres west of Brisbane, it would be very difficult to get small quantities in there yet there’s still quite a lot of stock in there … that’s a really difficult spot for them to be in.”

Some days people line up for hours, only to miss out on a load of vegetables because each day the number of waste bins varies.

ABC Rural: Lydia Burton

Vegetables in high demand

Every day dozens of vehicles line up at vegetable packing sheds in the valley to collect trailer loads of rejected produce, which is not able to be sent to supermarkets.

“I’m appreciative that we get to get their scraps, it costs a couple of bucks but it comes in handy,” Ms Schnitzerling said.

“It’s not fattening for the livestock but it’s a great filler and it helps, especially on days when we can’t get hay or grain or something like that — every little bit helps.

“I’m feeding 12 cows, 20 calves, pigs, goats, sheep and horses … this is the worst I have ever seen the Lockyer Valley.”

Shirley Schultz and Jodie Schnitzerling pick up any bits of lettuce that have fallen out of the trailer.

ABC Rural: Lydia Burton

Lined up alongside Ms Schnitzerling most days is 82-year-old Shirley Schultz.

“I have lived here for 50 years and have never seen it this bad, I have seen droughts but not this bad … if you would have told me last Christmas that we would still be in drought this Christmas, I would not have believed you,” she said.

Ms Schultz was down to 19 cows and five calves, having sold off one third of her herd last year.

“I held onto my core breeders in the hope it would rain over Christmas, but I will have to sell off more if it doesn’t rain in the next few weeks,” she said.

Cattle love their vegetables

Ms Schultz is handfeeding her cattle twice a day with a mix of fodder, depending on what she has that day including hay, barley, grain, lick blocks (which contains molasses, salt, and protein meal), and vegetables.

“I’m feeding cabbage and lettuce leaves from the packing sheds — they have a variety of things — you get pumpkins sometimes, broccoli, herbs,” she said.

“The only thing I have found the cattle won’t eat is chillies but everything else they love.

“To be honest I wouldn’t have anything [any cattle] left here if I didn’t have the vegies.”

Mary Davies says her cattle love herbs.

ABC Rural: Lydia Burton

Mary Davies from Grandchester is also relying on scrap vegetables to feed her cattle, but it is the herbs that have proven most popular.

“We hope to get herbs because my cattle go absolutely mad over coriander,” she said.

The lady who loads the vegetables at the packing shed had gotten to know each individual’s order, so on this particular day she made sure to load Ms Davies’ ute with coriander, lemon grass, chillies, and other herbs.

“I handfeed them in yards individually and put this out in the paddock and they are bellowing when they smell the herbs, they just charge up to it, they nearly knock us over,” Ms Davies said.

War on waste: vegetables would otherwise be dumped

The vegetables and vegie scraps being picked up by cattle producers would otherwise be dumped, which costs the vegetable grower.

“The reality is you’re not going to get 100 per cent of the crop picked off and put into a retail-ready product,” Brock Sutton, from the Lockyer Valley Growers group, said.

Each bin load of vegetables costs $5, with many buying a couple of bins at a time.

ABC Rural: Lydia Burton

“So you’re always going to get some waste, whether that’s, for instance, the outside leaves of a lettuce or cabbage, or the leaves of a broccoli, you’re going to get some waste there.

“But if the vegie grower hasn’t got a use for the waste product and the livestock producer has a choice between selling their animals or feeding them, then it is a pretty easy decision for the vegie grower to help them out.”

The drought has also meant there are more vegetables that don’t meet supermarket specifications.

“We’ve had extreme heat this year, just extreme weather patterns in general over the past two to three years, which makes growing more difficult and sometimes that increases your waste,” Mr Sutton said.

Drought bringing community together

Mr Sutton said the worsening drought conditions had brought the community together.

“I think under adverse circumstances a community will come together more and that’s what we are seeing now, it has definitely brought growers and producers together,” he said.

Normally Shirley Schultz has to feed out the vegetables on her own, but today she has her daughter helping.

ABC Rural: Lydia Burton

Ms Schultz said without her family and friends she would not have coped.

“I know I can call on any one of these lovely people and they will come and help and there are times it is beyond my reach to do,” she said.

But Ms Schultz’s situation is not unique. Ms Schnitzerling has been doing extra runs delivering scrap vegetables to her neighbours.

“I can do up to three trips a day … sometimes I’ll go home and swap the utes and bring back the second ute so I can help a couple of other people out,” she said.

The daily routine of collecting the vegetables has become a social occasion, and an opportunity to check in with each other.

“I wait with the rest of the crew and we all line up and get our vegies and then we have a few yarns before we head home to feed,” Ms Schultz said.

Ms Davies said it was perhaps the silver lining in what was otherwise a dreadful situation.

“It has been horrendous but it has also united the community,” she said.

“We barely knew our neighbours before, but during this they have all been calling and offering to help, letting us take our cattle into their yards — it’s just been beautiful.”

Shirley Schultz’s cattle are fed vegetables and hay twice a day.

ABC Rural: Lydia Burton

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