IT'S easy to digest, a lucerne cubing business is offering fodder in its most convenient form yet, writes KIM WOODS
Running a lucerne cubing plant and growing enterprise, plus a cattle operation, doesn't leave much spare time.
But Murray and Bryce Riddell also like to kick back and have a water ski.
So the brothers set a cracking pace that includes pushing ahead with expansion at their Yarrawonga base.
They have imported US cubing equipment to boost capacity five-fold.
Until 2010, Murray, 28, and Bryce, 26, did farm duties for their parents, Rob and Rhonda.
But Rob's death that year plunged them headlong into running the plant and farms.
Trading as Multicube Stockfeeds, the business produces lucerne cubes for the sheep, beef, dairy, and domestic and export equine markets.
The brothers are expanding with the help and mentoring of family members and Australian Fodder Industry Association staff.
Their uncle Shane Hogan and wife Karen have helped with advice on cattle management and marketing.
Grandfather Ivan Waters and uncle Bruce Waters have lent a hand with business acumen.
Today, Murray and Bryce run a 672ha property at Mulwala carrying a 180-cow spring-calving Angus herd.
Weaners are turned off at 250-270kg liveweight through the Wodonga saleyards, while the females are grazed on clover, ryegrass and native pastures.
The pair sharefarm 121ha of lucerne with lamb and hay producer John Gorman.
"The lucerne stand is dryland, but close to Lake Mulwala, so has the advantage of sub-soil moisture," Bryce said.
"We fertilised the paddock last year with 2-in-1 super potash.
"Last year was the stand's first year and we got five cuts off, despite it being an exceptionally wet season."
This time around, harvest started in late October and so far three cuts have been achieved.
"It has been a tougher year, a lot drier," Bryce said.
"Yields are lower compared to last year's 2.5 tonnes/ha."
Bryce said the timing of cutting was critical in quality hay production.
The pair cut at 25 per cent flower to achieve a balance between maximum growth, protein and energy.
"We mow it, then leave it for a few days and rake it - we like a high leaf to stem ratio," Bryce said.
"We have received guidance from Savernake lucerne grower and baling contractor Graeme Stewart.
"In the past we were making round bales but have moved to big squares for ease of handling.
"Big square bales are also bought from growers along the Murray towards Corowa."
Once the hay arrives at the plant, it is feed tested for crude protein and energy, and visually assessed for colour and weather damage.
It is then chopped into fibre lengths of 2.5-5cm.
The chopped lucerne is compressed under high pressure into 32mm cubes.
"A cube is able to retain the fibre structure compared with a pellet," Bryce said.
"It becomes an alternative to hay and chaff with less waste - it is pure hay, no additives."
The cubes are sold at $13 (plus GST) for a 20kg bag.
The factory is operated by Murray and Bryce with help from mother Rhonda, two full-time staff plus casuals in the harvest season from October to April.
Murray, a pilot, uses a four-seat Cessna to meet customers around the country.
"We have just been granted access by Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to the West Australian market," Murray said.
Multicube Stockfeeds also exports to Asia and Pacific rim.
Bryce said lucerne cube production was about supplying a consistent and quality product year round.
"The advantage of cubing lucerne is minimal dust, wastage and mess, and selective foraging is eliminated," Bryce said.
"The cubes are easy to store and handle, and have got bulk density for transport.
"We recommend feeding horses by weight.
"Depending on their workload, they can be fed at 1-1.5 per cent of their bodyweight.
"The cubes can be wetted down or fed dry, it is up to the preference of the horse owner."
A 50-50 blend of export quality oaten hay and lucerne is also made, and sells into Queensland and along the eastern seaboard.
Murray said the next step was to introduce the cubes to the Sydney racehorse market.
"We have attended Equitana for the past two years and the response has been good," he said.
"Cubes have been around for a long time in the US and Canada but in Australia it's all about educating people on the product."
Next month, Bryce heads to the Netherlands and England on a Nuffield scholarship to attend a scholars' conference.
He will then visit racing and endurance studs, and stockfeed producers, in the United Arab Emirates.
In June and July, Bryce will go to the Philippines, China, US, Canada, France and Ireland.
He will study handling and baling techniques and the hay industries in the US and Canada.
The next stop is the dairy, beef and equine industry in Hokkaido, Japan, to learn about requirements for fodder.
Bryce is keen to study commercial production and value adding opportunities for alternative hay crops such as timothy and teff grass.
He says the opportunity for such hays exists due to a lack of Australian research.
Last winter, the brothers went to the US to buy cubing equipment which is expected to boost production five-fold from a daily capacity of 80 tonnes.
A 3000-tonne hay storage shed will be built this year on the 4.8ha factory site.
Bryce is keen to take up his father's passion for research and development.
He has conducted small trials of new grass varieties but found heat tolerance was lacking.
"I'm hoping the Nuffield tours will open doors for our hay business and our minds to new ideas - it is an amazing opportunity," Bryce said.
"We are both very passionate about the hay industry. A faint heart gets you nowhere - I think that says everything."