Improving MSA compliance from the pasture up

15 June 2018

Peak times for non-compliance to Meat Standards Australia (MSA) requirements can vary from state-to-state, so some timely tips have been compiled to help producers overcome seasonal variation.

MSA’s 2017 Australian Beef Eating Quality Insights revealed average non-compliance for producers throughout 2015–17 and offered information on peak non-compliance.

The insights show:

  • Non-compliance for NSW throughout 2015-17 was the highest through winter in 2015 and peaking again around autumn in 2016, as a result of high pH.
  • Tasmania's non-compliance was highest early winter and late autumn, with high pH the main contributor to non-compliance to MSA minimum requirements.
  • Non-compliance for Queensland cattle throughout 2015–17 was the highest in August 2015, peaking again around spring in 2016, as a result of high pH.
  • The two peak periods of non-compliance for Victorian cattle were spring and late summer into early autumn. Throughout 2015–17, average non-compliance peaked in October 2015, and February 2017, primarily as a result of high pH.
  • South Australia's non-compliance peaked in August 2015 and in both January/February 2016 and 2017.
  • In Western Australia non-compliance was highest in November and December 2015.

Focus on nutrition

MSA Program Manager, Sarah Strachan, said there are some key nutrition areas that producers can target to address pH and improve MSA compliance.

“An animal’s energy requirements will vary according to conditions - cattle might use more energy to stay warm on a cold, wet day,” Sarah said.

“While one chilly day shouldn’t have a major effect on its own, a week or two of consistently dreary weather could drain your animals’ energy stores, cause them to lose condition, and/or lead to higher incidence of dark cutting, which is defined as carcases with an ultimate pH of more than 5.7."

Carcase pH levels are driven by muscle glycogen, which is built up through good nutrition and then depleted by stress.

“To address issues of non-compliance to pH, producers need to maximise the amount of glycogen at the point of slaughter by optimising nutrition and minimising stress," Sarah said.

"If your cattle aren’t receiving enough feed or adequate nutrition to grow, they’re likely not storing much glycogen. Low pasture growth during February and March can also lead to lower pasture quality, which means that total feed on offer, and therefore intake, would also be low.

“Endophytes in plants produce mycotoxins which can be fatal to cattle in high concentrations. When the plant is under stress from lack of moisture, endophyte concentrations are higher, particularly if there has been a false break."

Magnesium matters

Research suggests that a magnesium deficiency in cattle could also contribute to a higher incidence of dark cutting as affected cattle are more susceptible to stress. Dark cutting is defined as carcases with an ultimate pH of more than 5.7.

“The acceptable range of magnesium levels will vary according to soil type, profile and pasture composition. The safest bet is to conduct soil and feed tests and discuss the results with your agronomist," Sarah said.

“Preliminary research has shown that pasture with a magnesium concentration greater than 0.24% can decrease the risk of dark cutting.”

Research has also shown that magnesium absorption can be hindered by high potassium and nitrogen levels in pasture, which occurs when feed is growing green and lush.

“If you notice higher rates of dark cutting in your cattle despite abundant feed, look to include a more fibrous supplement in their diet, such as straw or hay, to slow digestion and improve magnesium absorption.

“Alternatively, if pasture is in short supply, supplementing cattle with other nutritious feed sources will help to optimise their performance.

“A high-energy pelleted ration of 2.5kg/head/day, for 14 days before slaughter, can increase muscle glycogen and reduce the risk of dark cutting. Grain-free options are available.”

Producers can boost low magnesium levels by:

  • applying fertiliser to improve magnesium in soil and pasture
  • supplementing stock with a magnesium-based lick, pellets or liquid - as it is bitter in taste, introduce it slowly
  • ensuring daily supply as magnesium is not stored in the body.

More information

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