Webinar wrap: Understanding price grids and carcase feedback

16 March 2017

Helping producers interpret price grids and carcase feedback were the topics covered in a recent webinar, facilitated by FutureBeef and Beef Central. In the webinar, Meat Standards Australia (MSA) Producer Engagement Officer Jarrod Lees teamed up with Ben Robinson from AUS-MEAT.  

Here’s the information that was shared by MSA’s Jarrod Lees and the producer questions that followed.

What are the MSA requirements?

The world-leading MSA eating quality grading system takes the following factors into account to predict eating quality:

  • the effect of tropical breed content in the animal (hump height)
  • fat distribution, subcutaneous rib fat and marbling
  • sex
  • ossification
  • the use of hormonal growth promotants
  • ultimate pH.  

“It’s important to understand that MSA is one part of the processor’s wider specifications, so you are required to meet more than just MSA or company specifications,” Jarrod said.

“To get any premiums on offer for MSA cattle you will need to meet the MSA minimum requirements and the customer specifications on that price grid as well.

 “You’ll find the common theme between all MSA producer requirements is about optimising eating quality.”

MSA producer requirements:

  1. Producers must be MSA registered
  2. Cattle must be kept on the registered property a minimum of 30 days before dispatch
  3. Cattle should run as one mob for a minimum of two weeks prior to consignment
  4. No drafting of cattle within two weeks of consignment
  5. Best practice stock handling should be employed to minimise stress
  6. Allow access to feed and water prior to dispatch
  7. Send your NVD and MSA vendor declaration with the cattle.

Producers can refresh their knowledge of MSA producer requirements with this online training program.

How do you measure your performance?

Eating quality scores for each cut are a combination of tenderness, juiciness, flavour and the overall liking of the beef. The MSA Index is a single number between 30 to 80 and a weighted average of all of the eating quality scores in the carcase. It is a standard national measure of the predicted eating quality of a carcase, based only on the factors a producer can control.

“The Index is essentially our feedback mechanism to you (the producer), and is provided for every carcase that meets MSA minimum requirements,” Jarrod said.

MSA feedback is provided by the processor but can also be accessed from the MyMSA member’s portal. Producers can access daily reports such as non-compliance and Index graphs to help them understand why an animal did or didn’t meet MSA minimum requirements and use the ‘reports over time’ function to gain a better understanding of their own compliance trends and the causes. Producers can also customise their reports to track data such as top performing animals and performance by kill date.

“The MSA Index is useful for evaluating on-farm genetic progress and management strategies over time,” Jarrod said.

Check out the MSA Index calculator to see how the Index varies with changes in carcase attributes.

What are the most common areas of non-compliance?

In 2015–16 7.3% of MSA graded cattle were non-compliant to MSA minimum requirements: 5.3% had pH levels exceeding 5.7, 1.5% had less than 3mm rib fat and the remaining 0.5% failed due to other reasons.

As high pH is a major cause of non-compliance, it is vital producers recognise and understand the importance of glycogen and the animal handler’s role in ensuring well-fed, non-stressed animals.

Glycogen is the energy store in the muscle. It is built up by good nutrition and depleted through stress. Upon death glycogen turns to lactic acid, lowering the pH of the muscle.

“Think of your cattle as four-legged buckets – it’s important to keep the bucket full,” Jarrod said.

“Nutrition goes in the top and falls out the holes in the bottom of the bucket.

“Generally the holes are quite small, but as soon as an animal is stressed the holes get bigger.”

A full bucket provides a buffer to ensure cattle make it from the property of origin to slaughter with enough glycogen to prevent dark cutting (defined as pH greater than 5.71).

“It’s important to remember we’re dealing with ruminants. It takes a long time for energy consumed to reach the muscle,” Jarrod said.

Question time with Jarrod Lees

Can the MSA Index differentiate between grassfed and grainfed cattle?

The MSA Index is about eating quality. Research has shown that feed type as a direct measurement does not have an effect on eating quality so the Index does not differentiate between the two. Feeding regimes may influence the expression of carcase attributes that do impact on the MSA Index however. It is possible to look at the differences between feed type categories in the Eating Quality Audit Report.  

How is ossification measured?

Ossification is measured on the slaughter floor or in the chillers against a set of standards, by looking at the level of cartilage in the spine that has turned to bone. The closer to the head (where cartilage has turned to bone), the higher the ossification score.

Is there a measurement for taste?

The consumer sensory testing panels we use to validate impacts on eating quality take flavour into account. They (the participants) score their sample of meat based on tenderness, juiciness, flavour and overall liking. It is this combination of factors that are used to predict the eating quality of each cut in the carcase.

What are main causes of high pH?

Realistically, high pH is caused by not having enough glycogen in the system, which could be due to an animal being highly-stressed, or not being on a rising plane of nutrition heading into the abattoir. The 30 days prior to slaughter are critical for optimising that glycogen bucket.

How do you become an MSA registered producer?

Go to the Meat Standards Australia website and click on the Become a beef and/or sheepmeat producer icon. You will need your PIC and LPA number. There are a series of questions to answer (and online training to complete). When you’re good to go, you’ll receive an email from MSA confirming your registration.

Questions that were not answered due to time constraints at the webinar will be addressed in a follow-up article on www.beefcentral.com.

More information

Watch a recording of the webinar.

Jarrod Lees, Meat Standards Australia

E: jlees@mla.com.au

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