Northern Co-operative Meat Company at Casino has a special relationship with its members that allows producers access to the processing side with the intention of sharing tricks of the trade.
At a recent open day breeders and feeders were shown clear examples of good and bad beef carcases with the take home message being on-farm management plays a crucial role in eating quality.
According to Joe Leven, NCMC’s collaborative member services specialist, the opportunity for producers to learn from the processing sector is not as common as one would think.
“There is a gap between the producer and the processor,” he said. “The producer might look at the odd grid price or kill sheet if they consign directly or they might take notice of a stand alone measurement, like P8 fat, but MSA eating quality is not just about one trait. It’s about how they all fit in together.”
“Producers were amazed at how influential their practices were on carcass pH reading at the stage of grading, and how important low stress handling and the plane of nutrition were in achieving the MSA pH grading requirements”.
Central to the notion that MSA eating quality is affected by on-farm practice is the concept of a rising plane of nutrition and how the legacy of either good or bad husbandry is told through ossification, which is the process of cartilage turning into bone.
“When we look at two animals of the same age, the one coming from a high plane of nutrition will have matured physiologically slower than the one that has experienced deficiencies,” explained Mr Leven.
For this reason younger animals are not necessarily better eating than older ones. It is how those animals are treated – low stress, above average nutrition, minimal setbacks – that produces better beef.
By the same token management of post weaning and climatic constraints are other factors that help reduce set back on farm.
“When we look at two animals of the same age we can start to compare things like genetics and nutritional stress. When we link that with weight we can clearly see those differences,” Mr Leven said, noting that lower grade beef has implications for the processor and further down the chain towards the consumer.
That difference might mean beef from an animal with a greater ossification score might have to be aged for 35 days instead of two weeks.
Comparing animals based on these ossification scores is impossible at the saleyard, and young weaners with a milk bloom courtesy of their mothers might not tell the whole truth.
Certainly dentition, or the number of teeth, do not define eating quality.
“The key take home message for producers was a better understanding of what influences ossification and central to that is, ideally, a constant and above average rising plane of nutrition,” said Mr Leven.
Making sense of kill sheets is an important job that benefits beef producers and might require an interpreter, as an agronomist might decipher a soil test.
Looking forward on farm, not back
Angus bull breeders Mark and Carol Gillett, Ghinni Ghi, at Iron Pot Creek, Kyogle, pride themselves on maintaining consistent nutrition – even when a month like November with just 10mm of rain puts the place back into drought.
“You can have the best genetics in the world but if you don’t keep your animals on an even plane of condition they won’t be able to express their potential,” said Mr Gillett. “It’s important they keep going forward all the time.”
For the Gilletts, on light soil in a normally high rainfall zone, strip grazing of improved pasture on creek flats has proved most beneficial provided there is an accurate measurement of dry matter going forward. “You can’t rely on last year,” Mr Gillett said. “You have to work off what is happening right now.”