Putting weight behind MSA

Location: Dyraaba, NSW

Enterprise: Beef cattle targeting MSA yearling market

Producer: Tom Amey

Soil type: Ranging from sandy to clay loams of alluvial and basalt origins

Pasture type: An ongoing improvement program is targeting species and management to microclimates and land capability

Northern NSW beef producer Tom Amey has spent 12 years refining his herd based on feedback from Meat Standards Australia (MSA).

By adopting a policy of using MSA feedback figures to guide breeding decisions, Tom made calculated changes – like moving from Charolais to Murray Grey sires over his composite cows, which are half Brahman and a quarter each Murray Grey and Fresian. 

The move gave him the extra carcase fat cover he needed to more reliably hit MSA grading, without significantly denting weight gains. 

For Tom, hitting MSA criteria means a premium of about 20¢/kg compared to delivering his cattle into a non-MSA system – or about $40 extra per calf. 

With a relatively small herd, every extra dollar counts. In this way, Tom's whole beef operation has evolved around meeting MSA, so misses are rare. 

Of the last mob of 180 weaners he trucked, only one didn't make the MSA grade – a heifer who started cycling in the slaughter yards, lifting her meat pH levels above acceptable limits. 

Now Tom has a productive genetics program giving reliable results, he's looking at other ways of using MSA to boost productivity from the 230 ha and 240 ha farms he owns with wife Cathy north-west of Casino. 

Building a herd's management around MSA grading is a "no-brainer", Tom remarked. 

“People look at it as being really hard. It's just not. Whatever the challenges of producing a good carcase are, they are the challenges you have to address to work with MSA,” he said. 

Understanding the drivers

To push productivity, Tom's focused on the one figure on the MSA feedback sheet that has little to do with the way the animal grades: eye muscle area (EMA). 

That's because while MSA measures a lot of things, those measurements are mostly aimed at consumer satisfaction, not at producer profitability. 

The single biggest predictor of return to the producer is beef yield. 

“The whole yield thing doesn't come into play in MSA,” Tom said. 

“You need to take into account muscularity yourself. That's why EMA is so important – it's an indicator of the total muscularity of the carcase, and also retail beef yield.” 

Tom tracks EMA performance back to his Murray Grey bulls – bought in on the basis of their performance figures, balanced against the stud breeder's knowledge of how different sire lines perform in the real world. 

He also places a strong emphasis on temperament, which can influence pH levels at the time of slaughter. 

By building EMA in his herd, based on continuous feedback from the MSA feedback sheets, he aims to continue to steadily grow its profitability, as he has done since he adopted MSA in 2000. 

“Weaners are turned off at 9.5–10 months, at weights of about 200 kilograms (carcase weight). 

Calves are given access to grain on a creep-feed basis, a relatively minor cost that is well repaid in extra weight gain and finish,” Tom said.

Dyraaba, NSW
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