SURVIVAL, reproduction and carcase were highlighted as three critical factors affecting profitability in a beef cattle enterprise by Santa Gertrudis Breeders Australia Association (SGBAA) classifier Russell Gray, Queensland, at a beef cattle field day at Gingin last Friday.
Speaking to a crowd of about 70 people, Mr Gray said this had led him to formulating his three Cs of constitution, conformation and carcase.
“Animals have to survive and thrive, they need to get calves on the ground and then good calves on the ground,” Mr Gray said.
“If we are looking at bulls, they need to be able to walk to feed, serve cows and produce progeny with the ability to lay down beef, while cows need to get in calf, raise that calf well and get in calf again quickly.”
In the case of pastoral environments Mr Gray added a fourth C – coat type.
“We want a finer coat type because hair takes energy to grow and energy to shed,” he said.
In his role with SGBAA Mr Gray classifies thousands of cattle a year and in some cases several hundred in a day, allowing him only one to two minutes to assess an animal, so it was important he had a quick method of appraisal (SGBAA is the only breed society in Australia which annually classifies all nominated progeny recorded young animals here and in New Zealand to determine if they meet the breed standard).
Mr Gray said he adopted a nose-to-tail checklist for assessment which he routinely applied to each animal, taking in ears, eyes, nose, jaw, front legs, shoulders, topline, navel, testes, udder, thurls, vulva, thickness and walking ability.
“The feet will tell you a lot about the structure above, as will any lumps, bumps or swellings in the joints,” he said.
“In the case of bulls the back feet and legs are more important than the front as they need to support 100 per cent of that bull’s weight when he serves a cow, whereas the front feet and legs only need to support the front end of the animal.
“Width in the hindquarter and thurls (hip joint) allowed for more beef to be packed on and related to pelvic area for ease of calving in females.
“When producing steers, it was important to note that the muscle score in a bull would generally be reduced by one in its steer progeny because they lacked testosterone.”
Mr Gray said producers needed to be critical at home assessing where their herd was at and what they needed to improve it.
“Bulls are the cheapest part of your operation and the price versus the number of calves will give you return on outlay,” he said.
“Buying better bulls pays off, as does turning your bulls over regularly and semen testing them annually.
“Old bulls can get lazy and can intimidate younger bulls, keeping them away from doing the job, while not doing the job themselves.
“Cows on the other hand will likely be on your place for 10 years or more so they too have influence.
“They are your factory and the bulls are your inputs.
“It’s important to keep a clean tidy factory, then introduce good bulls and quality progeny will follow.
“And this is where consistency comes in (for the processor) because you are not just breeding a four-legged beef animal you are breeding boxes of beef.
“And like in a biscuit factory you want the biscuits to come out the same size to pack in the boxes, similarly for beef, or be an even line to sell in the saleyards.”
A question from the crowd about hump height in Santa Gertrudis cattle and market acceptance was answered by fellow SGBAA classifier Nigel Ferguson.
He said of 120 registered feedlots he called (on the east coast) not one said they would not accept Santa Gertrudis cattle and in fact most said they loved them and the majority of Santa crosses for their weight gaining ability.
Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) MSA business development officer Jarrod Lees, provided insights into new technology in the meat industry including DEXA (dual energy X-ray) and gave an update on Meat Standards Australia (MSA).
Mr Lees said DEXA was a medical industry product which had been found to have great application in the meat industry for measuring the amount of meat, bone and fat in a carcase, plus ossification, where previously eye muscle area (EMA) had been the only measure.
“For our purposes DEXA is proving to be as good and as accurate as a CT scanner, but is far cheaper than CT and can do much larger numbers more readily,” Mr Lees said.
“In lambs DEXA is showing 90 per cent accuracy compared to CT and is also being used to determine cutting lines on carcases on the kill chain which is far more accurate than the human eye.
Other technology available utilised infrared to measure eye temperature in animals which gave a good indication of their stress level.
“This means we can potentially hold over any animals showing high stress levels and kill at a later date, which could potentially help to alleviate problems of dark cutters,” Mr Lees said.
Cameras were also being used within MSA to determine meat colour and marbling.
“Meat colour is no longer an MSA requirement but where once MSA graders used their set of grading chips to score colour and marbling subjectively it can now be done using a camera which fits in the palm of your hand, linked to a phone app,” he said.
“This technology was actually devised by a couple of uni mates.
“Ones mother was an interior decorator and she was ruing the difficulty in being able to accurately match paint colours so they devised this colour reading app for her.”
In 2016-17, 40pc of the Australian cattle slaughter was MSA graded, accounting for 2.8million cattle from 42 licensed processors and the aim was to increase this to 50pc of the kill by 2020.
In WA 60pc of the annual kill was MSA graded, behind Tasmania at 69pc and ahead of South Australia, 58pc, New South Wales, 54pc, Queensland, 36pc and Victoria, 17pc.
Mr Lees said the MSA grading index had increased 0.16 year on year showing eating quality was on the rise.
The national MSA index average was 57.56 with WA ahead of the quality curve at an average of 60.25.
“The benefit of producing MSA cattle is clear with non-feedlot cattle across the board attracting a premium of $0.23/kg, equating to $65/head and grainfed cattle attracting a $0.11/kg premium or $34/head more, totalling $130 million of added value delivered back to the farmgate.
Mr Lees said in its 20th anniversary year MSA continued to be a world leader in meat eating quality and it underpinned 163 Australian beef brands.
“But there is always room for improvement and our vision for the future is that by 2020 all cattle in Australia will be eligible for MSA, 50pc of the national cattle slaughter will be MSA graded, we will be able to accurately predict the fitness for purpose (cooking/utilisation method) of every cut in the carcase, identify on-farm practices that improve eating quality and increasingly utilise quality and yield technologies which will deliver greater accuracy and transparency.
The field day, held at Mark and Chloe Madew’s Cundarra stud, Gingin, was run by WA Santa Gertrudis breeders, who thanked major sponsor SGBAA and Primaries, Elders, Landmark, S & C Livestock, Zoetis and Allflex.
See more stories in next week’s Farm Weekly.