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Consolidated approach to scoring sustainability goals

24 January 2024

Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC) is well along its carbon journey, with its cluster of nine Australian cattle properties and two Indonesian feedlots the beneficiaries of an innovative approach to sustainable business development.

Increased productivity, improved feed conversion, earlier weaning, increased survival and improved ground cover are just some of the benefits.

CPC has been involved in the Clean Energy Regulator’s (CER) Beef cattle herd management method (BCHM) project for five years, and to date has yielded 197,182 Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) for its Australian-based properties.

The BCHM rewards ACCUs for avoided emissions, primarily methane, through herd efficiency.

CPC’s Chief Executive Officer and Director, Troy Setter, said being involved in the methodology has been a positive for its people, the environment, the 300,000 cattle involved in the project, and the company’s bottom line.

“We’ve got nearly 200 staff in Australia, plus 600 staff and 12,500 families who rely on our business in Indonesia. We have a huge responsibility to those team members and the supply chain families to be a sustainable business, not just economically but also socially and environmentally,” Troy said.

Getting started

CPC’s first step in the project was to establish the required baseline measurement of emissions per kilogram of beef produced.

The baseline calculates the ‘business as usual’ herd emissions prior to the project starting. Under the BCHM method, a baseline is established from the most recent three years of historical herd data out of the past seven years – where herd-level liveweight gain was positive. Poorer years, where herd-level liveweight declines over the season, cannot be used to set the baseline.

Data collected was specific to each CPC property, and included:

  • liveweights
  • liveweight gains
  • stock movements.

Plans were then made to implement a suite of activities to reduce emissions and boost productivity.

Steps to success

Reducing emissions has involved a range of adaptations to CPC’s management activities. The company selects bulls and cows with superior genetics, which has introduced hybrid vigour, better fertility and more efficient feed conversion into its herds.

“We’re also doing artificial breeding with both artificial insemination and IVF to get the best genetics globally to increase our productivity,” Troy said.

This was just the start however, with impressive results seen from a dramatic increase in strategic supplementation of phosphorus and nitrogen over the past decade.

“We’ve reduced mortality and sped up the age of turn-off in our herd. Since 2017, through a combination of management, nutrition and genetics, we’ve increased kg/ha of beef by 74%, increased branding rates by 25% and reduced the age of turnoff by 50%. They’re half as old as what they were at the same turn-off weights for the same markets,” Troy said.

Weaning earlier has helped cows get back in calf more quickly, reduced mortality and set up calves for improved performance in paddocks and feedlots.

“We’re focusing heavily on rumen development by weaning at lighter weights and then supplementary feeding the calves earlier,” Troy said.

CPC further reduced emissions by adding more watering points. This opened up access to pasture and reduced distances cattle walk. On top of this, new fence lines to split paddocks have enabled better herd segregation and paddock security.

A good match

The BCHM aligns closely with CPC’s overall business management goals to be as productive and sustainable as possible.

“The methodology certainly makes it worth our while to achieve these goals – it’s a good economic reward,” Troy said.

Troy sees an opportunity for the methodology to further reward producers who maintain and even improve ground cover, particularly those properties in northern and central Australia.

“CPC is committed to sustainable grazing as it’s the right thing for the environment and the business,” Troy said.   

Points to consider

Currently, the BCHM is well set up for larger operations with herd numbers great enough to deliver a solid return on investment. CPC produces between 0.2–0.4 ACCUs/head.

The potential for alternate revenue is an indirect benefit (based on spot pricing), in addition to direct performance benefits of BCHM activities.

“There are some challenges involved with data collection ­and scale to make it worthwhile I’d hope for the future, the scale issues can be addressed for smaller producers and smaller properties so they can be involved,” Troy said.

Troy is happy with the methodology’s capacity to handle seasonal fluctuations and adverse events such as droughts, floods and fires.

Unlike most soil and vegetation methods, BCHM activities do not need to be maintained for multi-year periods (i.e., have ‘permanence’) to generate carbon credits. For a project owner, this means credits are awarded in years when emissions reductions are achieved but there is no penalty or credit clawback in years where emissions have not been reduced.

BCHM contracts are short-term with a maximum length of seven years compared with lengthier 25–100-year obligations on land title and project owner for soil and vegetation projects.

Beef cattle herd management method (BCHM) 101

What is it?

  • An emissions abatement method under the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) which awards carbon credits for activities that reduce cattle emissions per kilogram of liveweight produced.

Benefits for eligible producers:

  • It’s a win:win, rewarding grassfed beef cattle enterprises for management activities that reduce emissions intensity of beef cattle i.e., activities that result in more efficient production (earlier turnoff, faster weight gains, higher reproductive rates).
  • Producers and enterprises that don’t wish to undertake a formal ERF project can still benefit from production benefits, and therefore financial gains, of managing for herd efficiency.

What is required?

  • To consider BCHM, you’ll need a minimum of three years’ herd data to establish your herd emissions baseline, including:
    • separate records for each herd involved (i.e., property, numbers, stock class)
    • records of movements in and out of the herd along with liveweights
    • records of liveweight gain (mob averages can be used).
  • A ‘herd’ is a group of cattle with similar characteristics under common management/treatment but doesn’t need to be the same animals.
  • Consider your ability to manage the reporting responsibility for the project, or whether to engage a carbon service provider. CPC enlisted the support of carbon project developer, South Pole during the project.
  • Identify activities suitable to your enterprise to improve efficiency, to deliver:
    • increased weight for age of the herd
    • reduced average age of the herd
    • reduced proportion of unproductive animals in the herd
    • changed ratio of livestock classes within the herd to increase total annual liveweight gain.
  • Record the required data and calculate the corresponding reduction in emissions using the CER’s herd management calculator. ACCUs are awarded when producers demonstrate that emissions from their herd are lower than they would have been if the activity or activities were not undertaken.