Breeding quality on the plate the key to beef future

30 June 2016

Walcha cattle producer David Murray sees genetic selection for eating quality traits as critical for producers to capitalise on future premiums for their beef.

Mr Murray is committed to measuring the performance of his Kilburnie Angus herd because he says it’s the key to the future in ensuring that feedlots and processors will keep coming back to suppliers of high eating quality beef.

And he’s not alone in his views. In 2014-15, Meat Standards Australia (MSA) registered producers achieved on average an additional $0.33/kg over-the-hook for young cattle that met MSA and company specifications.

Kilburnie will host a ‘Quality on Your Plate’ field day on 12 July, because Mr Murray sees it as important to “keep making a noise” about selection for traits like marbling. MSA Producer Engagement Officer, Jarrod Lees, will be at the day to talk to producers about the MSA Index.

Over the past five years on his Kilburnie Angus stud on the 1,130 ha property ‘Straban’ east of Walcha, Mr Murray and fulltime manager Andy Burwell have had Angus steers bred, finished, slaughtered and MSA graded to provide progeny test information on the bulls they produce and use.

In 2014-15, the average MSA Index from two groups of Kilburnie test steers was 62.2, which put them in the top 25 per cent of all grassfed steers that were MSA graded. A group of 16-month-old steers that went from weaning to an oats crop had an average carcase weight of over 300kg and average MSA Index value of 64, putting them in the top 5 per cent.

“Genetic improvements are yet to make a big impact on eating quality in the Australian cattle herd with most advances probably due to improved management and feeding, but for us, they’re critical and so is measurement,” Mr Murray said.

“The MSA Index provides a consistent benchmarking tool to evaluate the impact of management, environment and genetic differences on the eating quality of our livestock at the point of slaughter.”

The MSA index is a weighted average of the predicted MSA eating quality scores of 39 cuts in a carcase. It is independent of any processing inputs and is calculated using only attributes that the producer can influence.

In 2014-15 just over a third of the cattle killed in Australia were MSA graded and given an MSA Index value within a range of 30 to 80 points. The average score in that year was 57.61, an increase of 1.7 per cent since 2010-11.

An industry-determined objective of increasing the national MSA Index by two points to 2020 has placed a focus on helping MSA producers implement on-farm changes to achieve this.

Mr Murray said on the Northern Tablelands, the two main factors impacting on meat quality are age at slaughter and the amount of marbling in the meat of the animal. These can both be influenced by changing the animal’s genetics.

“We need to grow animals to target weights faster and optimise their marbling, and the MSA Index is the best indicator of whether you’re meeting these objectives,” Mr Murray said.

Kilburnie has been MSA-registered since 2010 and Mr Murray said that this complemented Kilburnie’s very early adoption of Breedplan in 1983. He runs 200 registered cows and their progeny on fertilised native grasses and standard improved pasture - not high value, high input finishing country.

He’s a firm believer in breeding and feeding ‘local’ cattle that do well in their local environment, whether they’re finished on grass or grain.

“Within the Walcha district is some of the best cattle country in Australia but our country isn’t like that, so we’ve had to breed cattle to match the local conditions,” he said.

“We aim to increase the growth rate of the cattle and put some fat on them, and marbling is critical. I think the level of marbling in the breed today will be regarded as pretty average in a few years’ time.”

And Mr Murray firmly believes the way to stay profitable in the long term lies in producing a consistent, quality product.

“When we improve the MSA Index Value of our steers we are able to create a more valuable carcase through its increased eating quality attributes, and that’s good for Australian beef in the long term.”

For media enquiries contact: Josh McIntosh, MLA Media Manager, p: 0404 055 490, e: jmcintosh@mla.com.au

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