A study has found that older, cull cows can become a premium beef product if fed a high energy ration for a period of four to eight weeks.
The research was completed by Charles Sturt University Honours students Jake Bourlet, Christine Harris and Jessie Phillips and supervised by Charles Sturt farming systems lecturer, Dr Michael Campbell.
Dr Campbell said the project was based on the question, how can we extract value from every single kilogram of beef we process?
"The industry is going through a stage where there is a short supply of cattle, there's a high demand for beef products, and we've moved from a commodity based product to a high value premium product that is marketed around the world," Mr Campbell said.
"At the moment we're not extracting value from the carcase of cull cows, we're letting them go into grinding mince.
"I thought there was the opportunity there for farmers to make money out of an undervalued product."
The trial fed 57 Angus and Angus cross cull cows for four feed periods - zero days, where they went straight to slaughter, 28 days (four weeks), 42 days (six weeks) and 56 days (eight weeks).
The cows weighed 474 kilograms and were condition scored two before the trial began. They were ad lib fed a grain based pellet, straw, barley hay and canola meal, consuming 16 to 18kg of dry matter per head per day.
"Over that time we saw average daily gains well over 3kg per head per day, and we had feed conversion ratios sitting between 5 to 6.5," Mr Campbell said.
"That demonstrates that these cows, who have just weaned their calves and are in lighter condition, are actually quite efficient in that period."
The most efficient time period was 42 days where they put on 150kg, after that their growth rate slowed.
In terms of a margin over feed costs, Mr Campbell said with the feed ration valued at $400 per tonne and a base carcase price of 400 cents per kilogram, after the 28 days on feed there's a $42 margin, but between 42 and 56 days that drops to a $7 margin.
However, the research was not just to see how much weight the cull cows could put on, but also to discover if the carcase of the cull cows would meet a Meat Standards Australia (MSA) index if they were fed for those time periods.
"The number of carcases that met the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) index increased to 84 per cent after 56 days on feed, compared with only 11pc after 28 days."
He said if a 50c/kg premium was added for the MSA grade cows, they would go from a $57 margin over feed costs at 28 days, to $95 at 42 days and $99 at 56 days.
"Just based on weight gain you're probably only going to feed them for four to six weeks, but if you can get that premium you could go for six to eight weeks."
The next stage of the project will involve taste tests to see if the MSA grades correspond to how the consumer perceives the product.
"We want to know whether they can actually tell the difference between beef from cows fed for four, six and eight weeks," Mr Campbell said.
Have you signed up to The Land's free daily newsletter? Register below to make sure you are up to date with everything that's important to NSW agriculture.