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Back to Research & Development

Understanding market specifications

Producing livestock that meet market specifications is one of the most obvious methods of improving profitability.

To meet market specifications, particular management knowledge and skills are required including:

  • Understanding the specifications and customer requirements of the target market.
  • Assessing and monitoring the progress of animals towards target markets.
  • Managing the grazing system or using high quality finishing systems to achieve growth targets and successful market outcomes.
  • Seeking feedback and implementing practices to improve the management of the production system.
  • Evaluating marketing options regularly.

Potential livestock markets

Beef Lamb Sheepmeat Goatmeat
  • Weaners
  • Vealers
  • Feeder steers
  • Backgrounding cattle for feedlots
  • Bull beef
  • Cull cows
  • Pregnancy-tested in-calf (PTIC) heifers and cows
  • Unjoined heifers
  • Domestic and/or export trade finished cattle
  • Animals for live export
  • Niche market cattle
  • Domestic trade
  • Supermarkets
  • Foodservice
  • Farmers' or produce markets
  • Heavy export
  • Light export
  • Domestic manufacturing
  • Domestic retail
  • Domestic food service
  • Heavy export
  • Light export
  • Live sheep
  • Farmers or produce markets
  • Capretto
  • Chevon
  • Commodity export goat meat
  • Commodity domestic goat meat
  • Live goat export
  • Farmers or produce markets

Managing livestock to meet market specifications

Three key steps can help producers meet market specifications:

  1. Managing the nutrition, health and welfare of sale animals to meet target market specifications on time. Focus on the relationship between livestock nutrient requirements, pasture availability and quality and manage how these interact to influence growth rate, composition and product quality.
  2. Managing livestock 2-3 weeks before sale and during mustering and transport to achieve optimal carcase dressing percentage and avoid downgraded product. Minimise the amount of potentially discounted or unsaleable meat caused by dark cutting (low blood glycogen and low pH) and bruising through careful handling.
  3. Regularly evaluating market opportunities as feed supply, financial situation or market prices change and selecting markets that maximise enterprise profit. Revisit decisions about preferred markets on a regular basis and the associated methods and timing of sales, to capitalise on changes in market specifications, market prices and selling options.

Understanding your market

The only way to understand market specifications and the most cost effective marketing options for a particular enterprise is through being well informed. Use market intelligence to implement a continuous improvement system by responding to short- and long-term price and market signals.

The National Livestock Reporting Service (NLRS) is an independent market intelligence agency which offers:

  • Up-to-date livestock market data collected from major prime and store markets.
  • Direct sales and wholesale meat market data.
  • Regular weekly summaries.
  • Slaughter statistics.
  • Skin and hide prices.

By following markets and keeping good records of their own sales, producers may discern gradual trends and market shifts, thus enabling long-term planning to maximise returns from livestock production.

Producers should track the factors influencing prices over time, not just current prices, to identify long term trends and aid decision making.

Eating quality and markets

By meeting market specifications, producers can also help maximise the eating quality potential of the red meat they produce. The eating quality consistency of red meat and the success of programs designed to underpin eating quality, such as Meat Standards Australia (MSA), rely on producers supplying livestock to market specifications.

MSA is the world's leading eating quality grading and labelling system for consumers that identifies beef and sheepmeat eating quality and recommended cooking methods. To be MSA accredited producers must meet a number of minimum requirements and market specifications. Ultimately these affect the final eating quality of the meat.

Market specification tools

Meeting market specifications does require additional work, but the benefits of producing something that meets buyer requirements far outweighs the extra effort. There are tools to make it easier, including:

  • BeefSpecs calculator: A simple tool to help producers manage their cattle to meet weight and fat specifications.
  • Cost of production calculators for beef and lamb: An interactive do-it-yourself tool to help beef and sheep producers understand their cost of production and compare their performance annually.
  • Rainfall to pasture growth outlook tool: Developed to help producers understand the amount of pasture growth they can expect from rain events and hence plan and manage livestock movements.