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Targeting growth rates for MSA

from Meat & Livestock Australia's Frontier magazine Spring 2010


Central Queensland Brahman breeders, David and Rebecca Comiskey, Melton, Alpha have achieved excellent results selling through the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) system, despite being located 450km from the nearest meat processor.

The couple run a purebred red Brahman breeder herd, mating half to red Brahman bulls for breeding stock and the remainder to Simmental and Angus bulls for sale steer and heifer production.

They aim to turn-off two-tooth steers at 325kg and crossbred heifers at 240kg carcase weight, all with a P8 fat depth of about 14mm.

Selling through MSA

The Comiskeys maintain a long-term supply relationship with Teys Brothers, but thought the distance to its Rockhampton meatworks would be too far to successfully participate in MSA.

In 2008, after a trial consignment with Teys Brothers resulting in high MSA compliance rates, the Comiskeys were satisfied that they could meet the MSA requirement of cattle being slaughtered no later than one day after dispatch.

Another market for the Comiskeys opened recently when Swift Australia's Rockhampton plant achieved MSA certification.

Improving MSA compliance

"We were a bit worried about hump height – given our Brahman influence – but we realised that if our cattle didn't grade under MSA, they would still meet the Japan Ox market requirements," David said.

"So the upside was an MSA premium and – in a normal market – there was no real downside."

In three years of selling cattle through MSA, 95% of the Comiskey's consigned cattle have complied with national MSA standards of meat colour 1b–3, pH >5.7, rib fat >3mm and subcutaneous fat well covered. They have also achieved 60% compliance to the more specific requirements of the processor's carcase weight, dentition, fat colour, butt shape, P8 fat depth and boning group cut-off.

MSA Livestock Supply Chain Coordinator, Mark Inglis, said the Comiskey's cattle were achieving good MSA marbling scores for the type of cattle they ran, and had low ossification scores.

"The Comiskeys are making good breeding gains for growth rates and maturity in their Brahman herd," he said.

Mark revealed that their average MSA marbling score was 284, with many animals exceeding 300 (100–1,190 range), and their average ossification score was 228, with a high percentage of animals scoring 200 or less (100–590 range).

David ceased using hormone growth promotants (HGPs) in 2008, and the first non-HGP cattle have been sold through MSA this year. As a result, he has seen boning groups improve, along with processor compliance rates.

Adapting livestock management

David said becoming an MSA beef supplier had not required major changes to livestock management.

"Our Brahman cattle are well adapted to our environment and our breeding is concentrating on growth, quick maturity and even fat cover," he said.

"Nutrition management is focused on achieving weight gains of 0.5–0.6kg/day from our mixed grass–legume and improved–native pasture base."

The Comiskeys have been increasing water points, fencing to land types and reducing paddock sizes to achieve more even grazing, increased labour efficiencies and easier management across the property.

NIRS dung sampling is used to monitor pasture protein and energy levels, and all sale cattle are run in consignment mobs, finished in paddocks that have been spelled, and not moved for 30–40 days prior to sale.

Analysing livestock data

To improve data collection and increase the pace of genetic gain for commercially important traits, the Comiskeys recently installed a Gallagher SmartTSi system for live data entry and better traceability of animals from tagging through to processing.

"We can now record, identify and trace all our stock and genetics for each animal's lifetime, and upload carcase performance data from the processor," David said.

"It allows us to identify and use the highest performing genetics for a range of attributes, including weight gain, fat cover, muscling and ossification, and it has good synergies with the MSA system because of the detailed carcase feedback and data analysis support services provided."

David and Bec said aside from the financial reward of an average 10c/kg premium for supplying MSA beef, they received personal benefit from supporting an eating quality system that was driving increased demand and returns for grassfed beef.