The day of the five-year-old bullock has gone, but beef must speed up its full chain conversion efficiency to stay in the race with chicken. Australia is far behind Northern Hemisphere efficiencies.
In my 60-odd years as a breeder, I have seen Australia’s emphasis move from Shorthorns to Herefords, to Brahmans, with their superior survival and weight gain in Northern Australia, and then to Angus, as the US Certified Angus marketing took over.
Any actual efficiency gain has been clouded as the blackened coats on European breeds see them included in the “innards ignored” craze.
Now we see a stampede to Wagyu marbling. The public relations teams will have to negate years of lean beef promotion.
Wagyu’s slow growth rate and survivability is being overlooked. In 1968 I gave a perpetual trophy to the Crookwell Show to be awarded to “the female with the greatest potential to convert grass to beef”.
It has been won by cows with calves with over 80 per cent of their mother’s weight at under 10 months. It is speed of turnoff that gives return per hectare, as well as factors like mating at 15 months and then calving without assistance each year.
The northern industry suffers as environment forces first mating as late as four years, producing calving rates as low as 65pc.
So, what have I done here to address the efficiency problem in 63 years? I started with dad’s Poll Herefords, ran into eye cancer, heifer dystocia and dwarfism.
I improved with Vern-blood Herefords. I then used Jersey and Jersey/Angus bulls over the 15-month heifers to almost eliminate dystocia. Time with Keith Gregory at Clay Centre, Nebraska, US, and Tom Lasater, of the Dale Lasater Ranch, Matheson, Colorado, US, during my 1983 Churchill Fellowship showed me crossbreeding could lift production by 23pc.
I used 20 Limousin/Red Angus bulls resulting in big lifts in weaning weight. Pinzgauer was then introduced to address temperament issues, and in 1996 this five-way cross dominated the one and only Ausmeat National Feedback Trial awards.
Touring France in 2003, I found the dual purpose Normande so quiet, so long and with a world record feed conversion. I have since used 15 better muscled Normandes and also use Palgrove-blood Charolais and one top US calving ease sire.
In a good season, I aim at 350kg at nine months. Feed conversion is most efficient up to this age, and we can now get much better weights, so supermarkets should consider lowering the bottom end of their grid to reintroduce these weights – in a sense, a return to buying “sappy vealers”.
They are not as efficient on the kill chain as the bigger carcase weight animals, but you avoid the inefficiencies inherent when these calves are put in the feedlot.
Cattle don’t convert as well as chickens, so beef will always lose on efficiency at that level.
- John Carter