Cattlemen tailor operation to suit premium Japanese market

26 Nov, 2003 10:00 PM
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CATTLE producers Leigh and Geoff McLarty implemented backgrounding systems and tailored the management practices of their operation when they started supplying the Nebru Plains feedlot ten years ago.

The McLarty family have been involved in beef production on their 1600ha (4000ac) property for 160 years and run a mixture of 500 Shorthorn Red Angus and Simmental breeders with an annual turn-off of 200-250 steers to the Nebru feedlot.

According to Leigh there were significant benefits to be gained from restructuring the enterprise and supplying the Nebru feedlot on a monthly basis.

"Ultimately our decision to start supplying the Nottles came about as the cattle we breed are the preferred types for the Japanese market they supply," he said.

"In addition we have the advantage of supplying cattle to a guaranteed market that attracts a premium price and this motivated us to purchase and background extra steers to suit that market.

"We also were really inspired by the conviction and determination of Rob and Di Nottle and the work they put into the developing a small-scale cattle feedlot into a very successful international beef supply chain which benefits all producers involved."

The brothers started out supplying 30 steers per month which grew to 75 and are now in the formative stages of developing a mini-alliance with other local producers to fill an order of 200 steers per month to the Three Springs feedlot.

With the increase in numbers to 200 steers per month Leigh and Geoff are in the early stages of adjusting their operation to accommodate the larger order which will equate to a turn-off of 2000 steers annually.

Leigh said that steers had to been the right type and weight.

"We buy from anywhere, including the saleyards at Boyanup and Brunswick and have also sourced cattle from station country,² he said.

³In particular we have found that the cattle from Wyloo station in the Pilbara are proven performers in the feedlot.

"Cattle are easier to source from September through to December yet the period from March through to June when steers are in short supply will be the testing time when we will need other producers to come on board to fill the order.

"Heavier steers from March to June have either gone on boats or have been slaughtered.

³And carrying steers over the summer is costly because we need to supplement feed them with quality hay. We are also looking into silage production."

The weight requirement for steers being sent to the Nebru feedlot is between 450-500kg so the McLartys aim is to buy heavier steers that will require less time and feed to achieve the required weight.

"We prefer buying in cattle over 400kg and are also conscious of keeping our stocking rates reasonable,² he said. ³So at the moment it is really a matter of achieving the balance and working out the best way to manage a consistent supply in the right weight range, something we'll have a much better grasp on in the next twelve months."

When the steers arrive at the feedlot they are fed on a special grain diet for 350 days with the finished live animal weighing 850kg and producing a carcase of 470kg with an average rib fat of 20mm that is then exported to Japan.

The McLartys are also involved in the Durham Research and Development project, an initiative developed four years ago to target the identification of Shorthorn sires most suitable for high quality domestic and export beef production.

"We became involved with the Durham project to get feedback on bloodlines, help us identify the role of both carcase and scanning measures to identify superior carcase sires and too receive any available feedback on high marbling and high weight gain animals because these animals with high marbling are what the Japanese market requires," he said.

³At the moment we have some progeny test calves on the ground and next August the steer calves will go up to the Nebru feedlot and from there we hope to gain more information on their performance.²

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