On the Western Downs in QLD, the McNicholl family own a cattle breeding and fattening operation comprising 900 breeders across 5,573 Ha. The family’s mission is to be a sustainable producer of high-quality beef. They do this through the care of natural resources, people and the community, the health and welfare of animals, and the drive for continuous improvement.
McNicholl Livestock is owned by Lee and Megan McNicholl, Doug and Jorja McNicholl, and run alongside their management contractors Justin and Kate Boshammer of JK Cattle Company.
Alongside the farm, Doug works at Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) where he has expanded his knowledge of the Australian red meat industry beyond his family’s farm gate. Doug has just finished a stint as the Program Manager of Sustainability Innovation and now takes up the mantle of Regional Manager for North America in Washington DC.
Over the years Doug and his family have faced the familiar trials and tribulations of farming in Australia, none being more damaging than drought. Following the most recent severe drought from 2017-2019, which led to complete destocking, Doug decided to implement some new management technology and practices to ensure the family business was more prepared for the next drought.
“I wanted commercially available technology and practices that could help us continuously improve our land and cattle management, to better prepare for the next drought, and make the most of the good seasons.”
“At the heart of the challenge was the need to be better managers of pasture and our livestock inventory.”
Since 2019, McNicholl Livestock have employed rotational grazing, wet season spelling, and embraced the software services of AgriWebb and Cibo Labs’ satellite-derived pasture biomass estimation. Doug says that being able to see weekly feed on offer estimates in the AgriWebb has been incredibly valuable when making livestock purchase, sale, and movement decisions in the paddock or at his desk. “Knowing current and accurate feed and livestock inventories when making decisions is fundamental to sustainable grazing and land management.”
Data-driven production and environmental outcomes
Before signing-on to Cibo Labs McNicholl Livestock relied on irregular manual pasture assessments undertaken by different people with varying pasture assessment skills. This was inefficient and resulted in variable estimates of available feed. Given the availability of Cibo Labs’ software providing an objective and reliable measure of feed on offer, Doug determined it was the most reliable source of information to inform decisions. This doesn’t mean they don’t rely on human judgement, it just means they have an objective, regular, reliable source of information to draw upon.
We grow pasture to create value, and graze livestock to capture value, so tools that help us do those two things better will make us better graziers.
Doug McNicholl McNicholl Livestock
McNicholl Livestock have enjoyed two excellent growing seasons, however the business understands the next drought is always just around the corner. Receiving regular estimates of feed on offer also better enables McNicholl Livestock to set and manage a minimum amount of feed on offer. This is important for managing soil, pasture and animal health in the lead up to, during, and coming out of drought.
“Our pasture management decisions are powered by Cibo Labs’ feed on offer estimates, coupled with boots on the ground knowledge of our production system. Technologies and practices like these support our business to make sustainable development decisions. We grow pasture to create value, and graze livestock to capture value, so tools that help us do those two things better will make us better graziers.”
Doug has no qualms about the fact that McNicholl Livestock can improve operational excellence with the assistance of Cibo Labs and AgriWebb. He says that efficiency only starts with the time saved with automatic feed on offer estimates. There were too many factors involved when it came to carrying out manual feed on offer estimates and this was affecting the validity, consistency and reliability of the data that he and his team were collecting. “Before Cibo Labs we used manual assessment techniques which were inaccurate and varied from person to person, mainly because of rose-coloured glasses bias, lack of training, and lack of regular and timely data entry.”
“Most businesses have multiple decision makers and influencers. Reaching the truth behind the subjective views of different people with different capability levels is challenging, time consuming and often causes conflict. Tools like Cibo Labs and AgriWebb enable objective, accurate, accessible and timely presentation of information, which helps take the guesswork out of decision-making.”
A powerful integration
The integration between Cibo Labs and AgriWebb has allowed McNicholl Livestock to track feed on offer which is having flow on effects throughout the business. They have been able to make livestock purchase and sale decisions with greater confidence, improve grazing management practices and built greater resilience into their business. “We can quickly view feed on offer in all paddocks to determine which cattle to sell, if we have room for more, which paddocks to move stock to and which paddocks to stay out of. We set minimum feed on offer levels in each paddock to 1,000-1,250 kgs of dry matter per hectare and the AgriWebb/Cibo Labs integration helps us to manage to that level.”
The integration has also enabled McNicholl Livestock to begin looking at options for climate-friendly livestock production schemes. “Cibo Labs provide a range of biomass estimate services, which is useful when thinking about carbon levels above and below the ground in grazing lands. AgriWebb enables users to record and share individual or mob-based livestock feeding regimes, which is useful if feeding supplements that reduce livestock methane emissions. We’re in a position to use these tools to demonstrate our environmental credentials alongside our livestock production credentials. This is powerful when thinking about future trends in the global food system.”
Climate, cattle, and biodiversity
McNicholl Livestock strives for balance between food production and environmental impact by focussing on the role of livestock in nature’s carbon cycle. Matching stocking rate (how many cattle they run) with carrying capacity of the land (how many cattle their land can carry at any point in time), plus designing their farms with 15-20% of land area with tree cover for shade and shelter delivers healthy cattle and creates carbon and biodiversity co-benefits.
“These simple yet highly impactful practices enable us to continue to produce food whilst protecting biodiversity and limiting global temperature rise. We want customers to buy from us knowing the meat we produce is good for people and the planet.”
Doug’s closing thoughts on AgriWebb’s integration with Cibo Labs? “The integration has worked seamlessly. The feed on offer data from Cibo Labs flows into our AgriWebb farm map every 5 days, which means we have weekly information on feed on offer alongside livestock inventory. The feed on offer data integration has transformed my use of AgriWebb. It has dramatically increased its value proposition and is another step towards a whole-of-farm management tool.”
If you’d like to hear more about how AgriWebb can improve efficiency on your operation, click here to take part in a free interactive demo today. PLUS if you’re interested in learning more about our integration with Cibo Labs you can join the waitlist to stay up to date with all the latest updates.