MSA Index sprouts tender meat

10 November 2016

A life-changing accident spawned an innovative business for Queensland cattle producers Rob and Sarah Cook.

In January this year, the Cooks opened the MSA-licensed paddock-to-plate butcher shop, Tender Sprouted Meats at Bundaberg, selling their own MSA-graded beef raised on barley sprouts.

The new business came less than 10 years after their lives changed forever on 30 September 2008. While mustering on his family’s Northern Territory cattle property 'Suplejack Downs', Rob was involved in a helicopter crash that left him paralysed from the shoulders down.

The champion bull rider spent three months on life support at Adelaide Hospital and another seven in rehab.

In 2009 Rob and Sarah and their sons, Braxton now 10, and Lawson now 8, returned to Suplejack where Rob’s parents and three siblings still live.

But it was difficult to find full-time carers who were willing to move to the NT’s most remote cattle station.

So the family of four packed up and hit the road in search of greener pastures.

Ten months of travelling around Australia searching for their new home led them to Central Queensland.

 The Nuffield Scholar said he and Sarah were drawn to the flat, open, irrigated country around Werribee, 30km west of Bundaberg, because they saw the potential for an “intensive cattle finishing operation”.

“Sarah and I were always aware of drought so we aimed to safeguard our business by minimising the risk,” Rob said.

“We had been using a Fodder Solutions' barley sprouting unit in the Territory, so we saw the potential for this new venture.”

Today Rob uses the MSA Index to guide his feeding regime, which produces the beef that lines the shelves of Tender Sprouted Meats.

“Becoming MSA-accredited had nothing to do with the premium… though that is nice,” Rob said.

“I’m a big believer in the idea that you can only manage what you measure. If we were going to start retailing our own beef we needed the full picture.

“I know how to raise cattle on grass, but what you see in the paddock and what you receive on the plate can often be deceiving. By adding the sprout feeding regime we can control daily weight gains at different stages of development, because we noticed the huge impact this has on eating quality (and index scores).

“Being exclusively grassfed, marbling is our final hurdle so we’re looking at using genetics to prop us up in that area.”

The paddock

The sprouting shed produces about 1.5 tonnes of barley sprouts/day.

With 100 head consuming about 15kg/day, Rob’s cost of production sits at around 12¢/kg.

Rob’s feed mixture generally includes 1.5 tonnes of barley sprouts, hay, mineralised molasses, molasses, cotton seed meal and sweet potatoes.

The Cook’s 730 head of cattle are run across 1,900ha on three properties at Bucca, Gin Gin and Agnes Water.

The Agnes Water block is home to about 400 breeders.

Calves are moved to Cabbage Tree at Gin Gin for weaning and backgrounding, before moving to Werribee when they reach about 350kg for finishing.

At Werribee, the 100 head herd rotationally grazes in small 3ha cells for four-five days at a time.

Cattle are handled in a low stress environment and loaded in yards purpose-built to be controlled via a joystick, enabling Rob to work the race and crush.

The plate

“Biggenden Meatworks, who process (and MSA grade) three to four bodies a week for us, have been fantastic to deal with, and their system allows us to correlate our NLIS tag with the body kill number, giving us complete traceability,” Rob said.

“That  way all the butcher shop needs to do is ring me up and say ‘I’ve got body number 856’, and I can look it up and we can tell the customer everything about the animal.”

As well as standing by the quality of their in-house dry-aged meat backed by MSA Index scores averaging 59-60, Rob said the barley sprout-based diet gave the meat a “rich nutty flavour”.

“There was never a time where I thought we’d get out of cattle,” Rob said.

“I fought pretty hard those first few months just to stay alive, but then I fought the next four years to get back into the beef industry.

“This was never in the too hard basket, it’s what we know and love. Without Sarah by my side none of this would be possible.”


To see more of Rob’s story, follow this link to the Landline story that aired on 4 September

To predict the potential impact of production changes on your scores use the MSA Index calculator

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