Supplying markets in a manner that ensures the quality and consistency of livestock is crucial to the profitability of the enterprise and requires skilled implementation of key management practices. The quality of the livestock will influence the ultimate destination of the product and this will directly affect the sale price realised by the producer.
The quality of the livestock is under the producer's influence from the moment the livestock arrive on property.
Factors influencing livestock quality include:
- Farm management
- Nutrition and feeding
- Finishing and sale
With a target market in mind, each of these factors can be managed to ensure that livestock quality is optimised and profits maximised.
Livestock selection, through the use of genetic indexes, breeding and classing or culling, enables producers to select for the most positive traits and cull for those that will negatively affect the potential to meet market specifications.
The day-to-day management actions taken by producers affect the quality of the livestock that are supplied to market. It is important that producers actively manage factors such as the health and welfare of the livestock as well as the husbandry procedures performed on the livestock with the end market in mind.
Managing and minimising on-farm risks associated with issues such as residues, as well as keeping good records in relation to management activities, will help ensure the quality of the livestock and that producers are satisfying industry and legal obligations.
Nutrition and feeding
There is a direct relationship between livestock nutrition, pasture and feed availability and quality and livestock growth rate, composition of growth and product quality. Producers should assess the costs associated with achieving market specifications and the likely return and have the flexibility within their management strategy to change their approach and, possibly target market, should conditions change.
It is important to monitor livestock progress toward market specifications to determine whether any management adjustments are necessary to meet changing nutritional requirements. MLA's BeefSpecs calculator assists cattle producers to monitor herd growth paths to enable effective decision making that ensures market specifications are achieved, within an efficient time frame, for the targeted market.
Finishing and sale
Finishing plays a major role in meat eating quality where livestock are being sold for meat production as opposed to breeding or live export, For optimal eating quality, animals should be in good condition, as defined by the market, and gaining weight prior to slaughter. This helps optimise the level of glycogen stored by the animal.
Glycogen is starch or sugar stored in muscle tissue and held in reserve for vigorous muscular activity or times of stress. If the animal has been subjected to poor nutrition and has low glycogen levels, the pH of the meat will be higher resulting in meat which is:
- Visually unattractive (dark cutting)
- Poor keeping
In Australia, approximately 10% of beef is discounted for high pH resulting in an annual loss of around $36 million to the industry.
Key points to remember
Ensure livestock are in good condition at turn off and consider:
- Selecting and marketing livestock that suit your situation and business model.
- Practising on-farm risk management.
- Ensuring ample quality feed and nutrition supplied on farm and prior to slaughter.
- Mustering and yarding stock as quietly and efficiently as possible.
- Handling livestock with care and avoiding excessive noise and force.
- Familiarising animals with being handled and ensuring handlers are trained and competent.
- Maintaining livestock in their social groups.
- Where possible, ensuring livestock have access to water at all times prior to transport.
- Maintaining flexibility within a management strategy to allow livestock to be turned-off to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities or in response to seasonal conditions.