Location: Rolleston, Qld
Enterprise: Finishing steers on grass to EU and PCAS specifications
Producer: Ian and Kate McCamley
Soil type: Scrub soils, sandy loam and duplex soils
Pasture type: Predominantly buffel grass
Central Queensland beef producers Ian and Kate McCamley have been using the UltraMac fat-depth scanner in their finishing enterprise since late 2011 and have learned “through trial and error” how to make the most of the device.
When Ian McCamley appeared in Feedback magazine in August 2013, he said the fat-depth scanner meant the difference between receiving a $250/carcase premium for hitting EU (European Union) market P8 (rump) fat specifications, or missing out.
Since the advent of the Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System (PCAS) and the offer of significant premiums for PCAS cattle in Central Queensland, the scanner is now helping Ian secure premiums of up to $315/carcase.
“The PCAS premiums mean the fat scanner is meaning a lot more to us in dollar terms than it did just 18 months ago,” Ian said.
“When the big PCAS premiums are running in Central Queensland during June to September, there are times you could lose $1/kg on a 315kg dressed weight animal for not hitting the specifications.
“In our case, prior to using the scanner, we had a good handle on all the other specifications. What we could only guess was the fat and, invariably, not all that accurately.
“The scanner has improved our compliance considerably – it’s an integral part of our business.”
The McCamleys have been using the scanner since hosting a market compliance MLA Producer Demonstration Site in late 2011.
They learned to use it as part of the PDS investigations and now, according to Ian, “we’ve pretty well honed our skills through trial and error”.
Since his appearance in Feedback, Ian has taken about 40 telephone calls from producers interested in the technology and here he shares some of his insights and learnings.
Ian’s top tips
1. Use the scanner correctly
“You have to know where the P8 site is located, and you have to apply vegetable oil evenly and liberally to the site. We use a backline product applicator gun, because it goes on in a good even band. We buy bulk vegetable oil from food wholesalers.
“You then have to move the scanner around a bit to find the right spot. Once you’ve done enough cattle you’ll get the feel.”
2. Cross-check results
“You must record your scanning results for each animal and then cross-check with the carcase data on the processor’s kill sheets.
“If you’re finding the two sets of results aren’t correlating when one particular person is using the scanner, you can give them a bit more training.”
Ian also uses cross-checking to ensure he doesn’t miss out on premiums due to human error at the abattoir.
“When we see an odd, low fat measurement on our kill sheets, such as 5mm, we look in our records and see what we measured it at.
“If there’s a discrepancy we ring up the processor and ask for someone to go back to the carcase while it’s still in the chiller and re-measure the P8 fat.
“We’ve had a reasonable number changed as a result. “The processor knows we’ve carefully measured the cattle and have the hard data, and they understand human error can occur in a big plant, so they’ve been quite happy to follow up for us.”
3. Use the scanner for more than compliance
“We turn off 3,500–4,000 head each year and fat depth scan everything that leaves the place at least once – nowadays about one-third are done twice.
“To comply with low-stress handling requirements, we scan the cattle about two to three weeks before they’re due to be sold, but we also use it about two to four months before their expected turn-off, as a management tool.
“While we draft cattle on weight ranges and put them in finishing paddocks, we can also draft them on fat depth. This allows us to select cattle that are nearly meeting specifications, but not quite, and allocate them to the best available paddock.
“Scanning also identifies the animals that are tending to run to fat early so we can treat them as a separate mob, because they’re not very efficient. If they’re just going to lay down fat we’d rather get rid of them and go buy a better quality replacement.”
Interested in starting a PDS? Contact Renelle Jeffrey MLA, firstname.lastname@example.org
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