Recent research from Charles Sturt University has proven dairy beef is right up there with eating quality.
The five-year project investigated the potential for creating a viable dairy beef supply chain to add substantial value to dairy steers commonly sold into lower value markets.
CSU professor of veterinary physiology and animal science Jane Quinn said the study recruited Holstein, Jersey, and crossbred dairy steers just after birth and focused on their initial growth, performance in the feedlot and the eating quality of the end product.
"Those steers were tracked all the way through from day four weight all the way through to that finishing weight in the feedlot," she said.
Prof Quinn said the steers were grouped into different pathways of low growth and high growth.
The low growth steers were given a small amount of supplementary feed initially in the paddock and were aimed at getting up to about 0.7 kilograms per head per day average daily gain.
The high growth group were supplemented up to 1.2 kilograms average daily gain.
"It was really tracking to see how those different growth pathways impacted their entryway to feedlot and then their performance in feedlot and then their finishing at the end," she said.
"Essentially, what the project showed was that both the high growth group and the low growth group almost grew equivalently."
Prof Quinn said the Holsteins had the best growth profile, while Jerseys had the lowest however all the steers met the market weight for feedlot entry.
"Then we were able to accelerate them to finishing weight by putting them on grain," she sad.
Prof Quinn said there was another group with no antibiotic diet compared to the normal feedlot ration from birth which were finished at 15 months.
"We were able to really accelerate their growth pathway using a no antibiotic high carbohydrate diet and that was very successful," she said.
The next step of the process was taste testing comparing the dairy beef against European continental beef products.
"Almost without exception, depending on muscle type, the dairy beef products ate at the same level of consumer satisfaction or better than our standard European," she said.
"So they produced a really high eating quality product to the end. What was interesting was that although our Jerseys had the lowest weight gain and growth curve across the whole period of the trial, inversely they often ate better than anything else."
Prof Quinn said European studies had looked at Jersey beef and also found it to be very high quality.
"The success of the of the story really was that we were able to accelerate growth in dairy steers to meet traditional target specifications for feedlot entry and exit," she said.
"We were also able to overlay that to show that we produced a really high quality ting product at the end as well."
Prof Quinn said the research was a pathway for male dairy calves to no longer be simply a byproduct of the industry.
"Whilst there is now an increasing focus on actually how to use genetics to make those high performing beef animal by using beef over dairy crosses, that hasn't been common in the industry for many, many decades," she said.
"And so every year there are a significant number of male dairy calves that are produced that don't really have an economic endpoint."
Prof Quinn said dairy farmers had seen them as a challenge.
"What we were really looking to do was to set up an effective value proposition for those calves to enter into a growth pathway for beef production so it has got really significant opportunity for producers," she said.
While that specific study had finished Prof Quinn said there was more research that could be done.
"We certainly would like to follow on and look at beef over dairy cross," she said.
"We know that there's a burgeoning interest in use of beef sires over dairy and it would be we'd really like to go and look and see what the meaty quality of that product looks like.
"It would be really nice if that just sat on a nice line of trajectory between our really high eating quality dairy steers and our good eating quality beef steers."
Prof Quinn said dairy beef was a product that could fill the volume gap in the industry.
"We're seeing enormous uptake in dairy beef and beef over dairy in the US, where they've traditionally always taken more more dairy animals into feedlot than we ever have done here," she said.
"I think that there's a value proposition that is unmet at the moment in the beef or dairy market, which could produce really high volume and really high quality as well."
Prof Quinn said consumer message was also important.
"I think that there is a fantastic proposition for the consumer to know the provenance of their beef but particularly the breed origins in addition to the traditional beef breeds that are really widely promoted in Australia," she said.
"We've seen without exception that our dairy beef had consumer acceptance and I think for for the consumer to know that there is a pathway for these dairy steers that not only meets really high welfare standards and and market expectation, but also is a product that the consumer can really value.
"I think that is a really important message."
The project was in conjunction with Meat and Livestock Australia, Meat Standards Australia (MSA), Teys Australia, Dairy Australia, Northern Co-operative Meat Company and Manildra Meat Company.
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