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Tips to improve MSA compliance for Tasmanian producers

23 May 2019

Tasmanian beef producers targeting Meat Standards Australia (MSA) are being urged to plan ahead to meet the nutritional requirements of their cattle to help offset challenging conditions as temperatures continue to drop.

Tasmania had the highest average MSA non-compliance rate for 2018 of 9.63%, as a result of high pH. That’s in contrast to Victoria which had the lowest non-compliance rate for 2018 of 4.3%.

Non-compliance in Tasmania in 2018 increased significantly throughout autumn and peaked in May at 14.2% due to high pH.

That figure was even higher for older females - defined as having an ossification score greater than 300 - with non-compliance peaking at 37.3% in March, and remaining high throughout winter.

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 5.70.

“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.

“The first three months of 2019 were Tasmania's driest start to a year since 2006, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Low pasture growth can lead to lower pasture quality, which means that total feed on offer (FOO), and therefore intake, would also be low.”

Ms Garland encouraged producers to manage their pastures carefully going into winter, following a record hot start to autumn in March, and then a cold finish to the month.

Pasture management tools are available to optimise pasture growth and ensure cattle get the most nutritional value from the pasture,” Ms Garland said.

“New research suggests 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. Endophytes in plants produce mycotoxins which can cause staggers and may 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.”

Ms Garland said recent research, conducted in Tasmania, 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.

“Research has shown that magnesium absorption can be hindered by high potassium and nitrogen levels in pasture, which occurs when pasture is in an early growth phase, is growing quickly and is green and lush.

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

“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.”

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.

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

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

“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 FOO. Grain-free options are available.”

To access MSA carcase feedback, purchase MSA vendor declarations, or brush up on MSA standards and training log in to www.mymsa.com.au. 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.