New label tackles seasonality issue

20 Dec, 2016 02:00 AM
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Instead of re-stocking the feedlot this November, the Lester family property is running solely grassfed beef for the first time in 40years.
Instead of re-stocking the feedlot this November, the Lester family property is running solely grassfed beef for the first time in 40years.

THE WA beef supply chain has joined together to work through seasonality issues with grassfed product.

This season Coles commenced stocking WA scotch fillet, mince and porterhouse under its GRAZE label in 90 Coles stores across the State.

Harvey Beef livestock manager Kim McDougall said there had been attempts at getting a grassfed product on the market before, but none that spplied all year,

"This product has the backing from Coles, the Lester family and Harvey Beef," Mr McDougall said.

"The product is going well, there has been a lot of work done behind the scenes to get to this point.

"The Lesters have been able to produce the right type of pastures, get the right type of cattle and deliver the volumes every week, like clockwork and that's hard to do in agriculture."

The GRAZE range has previously only been available in supermarkets in the Eastern States, with Coles sourcing cattle from more than 180 local producers in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.

The locally-grown grassfed beef range is now available for the first time in WA Coles' stores, amid the favourable seasonal conditions for cattle producers.

The beef is sourced from Manypeaks farmers, the Lester family that have said goodbye to its lotfeeding days and hello to its new grassfed project for Coles.

It might seem like a dramatic change from 40 years of intensive grain feeding, but the respected beef producers said the move to a year-round grassfed product was a natural progression.

Alongside their lotfeeding operation, the Lesters have been producing spring grassfed product for a number of years.

Kim Lester said the family saw the potential in the initiative.

"The market seems to want grassfed beef and we realised we were in a position to be able to supply that demand," Mr Lester said.

"We're in a location where we do get a lot of rainfall at the right time meaning we can have green grass for three quarters of the year, on an average to good year."

The doors haven't completely shut on the feedlot but for now the Lesters are excited about the opportunities they see in the grassfed niche of the market.

So, instead of re-stocking the feedlot in November as per usual, they are in their first year of running only grassfed beef on their 2025 hectare South Coast property.

Starting off by loading one B-train a week, headed to Harvey Beef, the Lesters said there was plenty of room for new approaches in their operation.

"We're still in the trial and error phase of working out how GRAZE will work for us," Mr Lester said.

"It's a matter of seeing how the brand performs, but also a matter of how we do things here."

The Lesters are confident they can produce consistent quality, year round.

"While we've been exploring the options of how to run the grasses we've worked out how to be strategic with paddock grazing, what kind of animals we need to be sourcing and how best to utilise supplementary feeding that isn't grain based," Mr Lester said.

"For example some areas of the farm are wetter than others which stay greener for longer so we factor that into our grazing rotation and we are careful with stocking rates over the summer months.

"We also focus a lot more on higher production of ryegrass and clover pastures and we sow oat crops for grazing.

"Between those supplementary feeding options, we're pretty much covered for disaster years."

The family runs a breeding herd of about 500 Angus breeders but will continue to buy in stock as per usual for the GRAZE product.

"We're continuing our relationships with producers who have been supplying us with stock for the feedlot - so not much will change on that front," Mr Lester said.

"In our opinion there are some of the State's best herds on the south coast.

"It's also a big advantage to already know their stats through the figures in the feedlot."

"We want well-conditioned animals that mature quickly and are going to put on weight without gaining too much bone."

Mr Lester said so far clients were supportive of the change.

The Lesters hold Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System (PCAS) and GRAZE certifications which mean they require vendor declarations stating the cattle bought in have never been fed grain or given antibiotics and/or hormones.

"The guidelines for those certifications are fairly stringent," Mr Lester said.

"There's a lot of recording involved, including the amount of time the cattle spend in the yards which is limited by the certification.

"But I guess that is the point - paddock grazed beef is the brand and that is what we're producing."

Mr Lester said he was under no illusions about the size of the market for grassfed beef.

"I think this will only ever be a niche market," he said.

"While I hope it will gain a bit of a foothold, the main fattener of beef is always going to be lotfeeding.

"But we were looking for something different and we were well-positioned to make that change.

"It's bittersweet to leave the feedlot behind but by the same token you can't keep going with something that is not working for you.

"And we were well positioned to make the change."

Coles beef category manager Marcus Walta said the decision to start supplying locally-grown GRAZE beef to WA supermarkets had resulted from customer feedback.

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READER COMMENTS

Hebe
20/12/2016 8:46:00 AM, on Farm Weekly

So pleased to find this in my local Coles...and a label that we can trust. Consumer trends are moving more and more towards healthier food choices, and pasture-fed beef is seen as a healthier choice over grain-fed (often GM-feed) so many thanks for this welcome initiative.

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