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Tips to improve MSA compliance for NSW producers

11 April 2019

New South Wales beef producers targeting Meat Standards Australia (MSA) are being urged to plan ahead to meet the nutritional requirements of their cattle to help offset the challenging conditions of winter.

Average non-compliance for NSW producers throughout 2018 peaked in June at 6.64%, as a result of high pH.

MSA Producer Engagement Officer, Laura Garland, 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 day,” Ms Garland 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.

"If your cattle aren’t receiving enough feed or adequate nutrition to grow, they’re likely not storing much glycogen.

“Many production areas experienced low pasture growth during February and March due to ongoing dry conditions, and this can also lead to lower pasture quality, which means that total feed on offer, and therefore intake, would also be low.”

Ms Garland also encouraged producers to manage their pastures carefully going into winter, following the recent rain in some parts of NSW.

“The rain has encouraged a flush of pasture growth, on the back of a dry summer. Pasture management tools are available to ensure cattle get the most nutritional value from the pasture, especially when young green feed has a high water content,” Ms Garland said.

“Utilising fibrous supplements such as hay, can aid in slowing the rumen passage to optimise nutrient absorption.  

“Endophytes in plants produce mycotoxins which can cause staggers and may be fatal to cattle in high concentrations.

“It has been shown that subclinical cases of staggers will deplete energy reserves in muscles through increased shaking and stress, and may lead to dark cutting in these animals. When the plant is under stress from lack of moisture, endophyte concentrations are higher, particularly if there has been a false break.”

Ms Garland said recent 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.

“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,” Ms Garland said.

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

Ms Garland said the next step for producers is to adjust management and feeding practices according to conditions.

“Monitor feed on offer and pasture quality to achieve the desired rate of growth and a rising plane of nutrition,” Ms Garland said.

“Research has 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 can be used as a supplement in the 14 days prior to slaughter, which can increase muscle glycogen and reduce the risk of dark cutting. The amount of supplement fed depends on the gap between the animals’ energy requirements and feed on offer. Grain-free options are available.”

Ms Garland said producers can boost low magnesium levels by: 

  • applying appropriate fertilisers to improve magnesium levels 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.

To access MSA carcase feedback, purchase MSA vendor declarations, or brush up on MSA standards and training, log in to Here, producers are also able benchmark the performance of their cattle against national, state and regional Index results.

The benchmarking feature is an extension of the 2017 Australian Beef Eating Quality Insights report, which established a baseline for beef eating quality, based on MSA grading results for 5.9 million cattle from the 2015-17 financial years.

To understand the impact various production factors can have on the MSA Index, visit the MSA Index calculator.