The next big things for red meat production

23 May 2016

What’s around the corner for Australian red meat production? We asked 10 of MLA’s technical experts to share their predictions for what will have an impact on-farm in the next 10 years.

1. Animal health: Fully inked

A tattoo that can be applied to animals using a simple, single-use patch, and which will change colour according to their health status

The goal is to develop intelligent inks that will react to progesterone (pregnancy), cortisol (stress) and high temperature (infection or heat stress).

Potential applications include tattooing the noses of breeding cows with a progesterone-sensing ink. When it comes time to pregnancy test, producers could run the cows up the race and draft based on tattoo colour, providing significant labour efficiencies.

Richard Apps, MLA Program Manager Genetics and Sheep R&D // E: rapps@mla.com.au

2. Animal welfare: Numbing pain relief

Castration will be less painful with the ‘NumNuts’ device.

The tool, designed to be used by producers, applies a ring and local anaesthetic simultaneously, greatly reducing animal discomfort and stress.

With the R&D phase winding up, the emphasis is now on finding a commercial partner to deliver ‘NumNuts’ to the marketplace.

Dr Jim Rothwell, MLA Program Manager Animal Health, Welfare and Biosecurity // E: jrothwell@mla.com.au

3. Grassfed cattle productivity: Efficient converters

It may be ‘blue sky’ research now, but work on identifying and transferring energy-efficient rumen microbes could have huge implications for herd wellbeing, profitability and a reduction of the industry’s carbon footprint.

Researchers are drilling into the microbial population of the rumen and finding new biochemical pathways to manipulate animals’ ability to convert feed to energy.

By transferring rumen fluid, animals could be pre-programmed from weaners to make them more efficient digesters for their intended environment, for example, for the feedlots of northern Australia.

The win–win is that more efficient feed converters tend to have lower methane emissions.

Dr Nigel Tomkins, MLA Manager Grassfed Beef R&D // E: ntomkins@mla.com.au

4. Cattle genetics: Information superhighway

There will be a closer relationship between what producers breed for and what they get paid for in the supply chain.

Closer alignment between consumers, producers and products will be seen, with feedback tools such as MSA and Livestock Data Link becoming major drivers of genetic improvement.

Payment will be based on more accurate measures of yield and eating quality from the processing sector and those measurements will flow back to producers, enabling them to make better bull selection decisions based on their herd’s feedback performance.

Sam Gill, MLA Manager Beef Genetics, Data Insights and Livestock Productivity // E: sgill@mla.com.au

5. Feedbase: Powerful pastures

Continued research into improving Australia’s pasture base and its management should result in broader adaptation and persistence of legumes that boost soil nitrogen and improve pasture quality, dry matter production and livestock productivity.

There is likely to be a convergence of better plants and improved knowledge of their management, supported by technologies to improve and reduce the risk in business decisions.

More producers will realise the benefits of planting legumes, such as desmanthus, leucaena and stylos, to address seasonal variations. This should improve land condition, with increased adoption of pasture management tactics and improved skills at matching stocking rates, feed supply and long-term carrying capacities.

Cameron Allan, MLA Program Manager Sustainable Feedbase Resources // E: callan@mla.com.au

6. Sheep genetics: Traits for the plate

Genomic/DNA technologies and the capability to measure eating quality in processing plants will provide a greater focus on improving the eating quality of lamb while improving productivity traits.

Sheep Genetics (co-invested by MLA and Australian Wool Innovation) is working towards releasing the first indexes that include eating quality by May this year.

Improvements are also being made to reproductive traits. The main breeding value for reproduction is ‘number of lambs weaned’. Current developments are working on splitting this into the components of fertility, litter size and lamb survival.

Hamish Chandler, MLA Manager Sheep Genetics // E: hchandler@mla.com.au

7. Market information: Strengthening the chain

Livestock Data Link (LDL) aims to provide producers with more timely and accurate slaughter feedback, showing producers their livestock in processor grids and how they performed relative to other stock (in a graphical format). It also provides links to online support tools when non-compliance is identified.

The goal is to lift compliance to market specifications, saving the beef industry up to $51 million a year and the lamb industry $8.4 million a year in losses due to non-compliance. LDL is being piloted in nine supply chains across 15 cattle and sheep plants.

Jo Quigley, MLA Manager Integrated Industry Systems // E: jquigley@mla.com.au

8. Value chain: It’s a scan

Real-time, objective measurement of profitable carcase traits that determine elements of meat yield and eating quality will be delivered by modern scanning technology.

This technology may include high definition cameras, dual-emission X-ray imaging, CT scanning, hyperspectral cameras and will have applications in beef, sheep and goat processing, as well as live animal measurements.

Objective measurement will underpin value-based pricing, with research showing significant benefits for producers turning off animals that display these desirable carcase traits: up to $900 more for cattle and $90 more for lamb, compared with prices based on traditional weight and subjective fat measurements.

Mick Crowley, MLA Manager Eating and Carcase Quality Integration // E: mcrowley@mla.com.au

9. Animal health: A step forward

Work is underway to develop an effective vaccine to protect sheep against all strains of footrot.

The vaccine would protect sheep from body weight losses and reduce meat and wool production impacts of virulent footrot.

The project is using gene-sequencing technology and builds on earlier work supported by Australian Wool Innovation.

Dr Johann Schröder, MLA Project Manager Animal Health and Biosecurity // E: jschroder@mla.com.au

10. Environment: In neutral territory

Producers will have more opportunity to be financially rewarded for good land stewardship and on-farm management practices that produce carbon neutral products.

Biodiversity Credits (which relate to BioBanking) may gain momentum during the next decade, to join the Emissions Reduction Fund’s carbon credit auctions as a viable additional income stream for producers.

Currently there are two schemes, the NSW ‘BioBanking’ scheme and the Victorian Native Vegetation Framework. A national scheme will encourage more producer participation.

The next decade will also provide producers with the opportunity to showcase their diminishing carbon ‘hoof print’ through the supply of certified carbon-neutral products.

Dr Tom Davison, MLA Manager Sustainable Feedbase // E: tdavison@mla.com.au

This article was first featured in the March/April addition of Feedback Magazine (pages 8-9). Available here to read online.

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