Fine-tuning meat production with increased efficiencies

To improve the sustainability of livestock production, we need to improve efficiencies across the whole production line.  This includes efficient fertiliser use, good animal nutrition, and supplying animals for processing that will meet eating standards.

Our Regional Landcare Facilitator recently partnered with Accioly Livestock Industries Services, Meat and Livestock Australia and V&V Walsh Meat Processors to deliver the Fine-Tuning Meat Production workshop. The event attracted 12 farm entities from Kojonup to Karridale with a combined area of 22,000 hectares used for grazing approximately 74,000 sheep and 5,000 cattle.

Feedback showed significant learnings, including the economic benefits of soil testing for nutrient deficiencies, a better understanding of supplementary feeding, and the importance of muscle glycogen concentration at slaughter.

Summary of presentations

Pasture Nutrient Curves and Animal Requirements – Jeisane Accioly, Accioly Livestock Industries Services

Pasture will only meet nutritional requirements for young growing animals during limited periods because of seasonal fluctuations in dry matter, protein and energy.  In general, winter pastures are high in protein and energy but low in fibre (may require roughage supplementation), and summer pasture is low in energy and protein and high in fibre (will require supplementation for protein and energy).

With careful planning, there may be profits to be made by investing in supplementation to finish livestock off-season (e.g. early summer) when prices are higher.

To minimise meat quality related issues, animals need to be on a rising plane of nutrition in the weeks preceding slaughter with minimal stress. In the two weeks prior to slaughter recommendations are: 1kg/day weight gain for cattle, 100g day for cross breed sheep and 150g/day for merinos.

Monitoring pasture, supplementing strategically and monitoring animal nutritional response (weight/condition score) are the keys to maximise profit.


Wise and Profitable Fertiliser Application – David Rogers, DAFWA

In general, soil phosphorus is not limiting agricultural production in WA. It is estimated that only 30% of paddocks in South West WA would respond to an application of phosphorus.  In many cases, money would be better spent on potassium, sulphur or lime, which are often more limiting to production.  But without soil testing, you don’t know what a paddock needs, so you can’t conduct a cost-efficient fertiliser programme.

One aim of soil testing is to increase farm productivity by applying the right fertiliser blend with the required ratio of elements, in the right amount at the right place.  Applying fertiliser at the right time is also critical to maximise utilisation by plants.  Spring applications are best because this is when there is a high requirement for nutrients by plants.  However, if paddock access is likely to be a problem in spring, leave applications as late as possible in autumn or winter.

These “4 R’s” of fertiliser management are vital not only for production efficiency and profitability, but also to improve water quality outcomes in the south west agricultural area.  Phosphorus loss from agricultural landscapes into streams and estuaries is the main contributor to algal blooms and other environmental issues in south west waterways.  Because grazing is the most extensive landuse in these agricultural areas, it is also the greatest contributor to phosphorus loads into these waterbodies.

An important soil test is the phosphorus buffering Index (PBI), which tells you how well the soil retains phosphorus.  For soils with low PBI, a slower release or less soluble form of phosphorus may help to increase production and decrease P loss.

While soil testing is good for assessing phosphorus, potassium, sulphur and pH status of soils, tissue testing is better to determine the micro nutrient status of your pasture.


Understanding Meat Quality – Neroli Smith, MLA

Meat Standards Australia (MSA) is a national eating quality grading system for beef and sheepmeat.  MSA aims to predict eating quality for individual beef and sheepmeat cuts in conjunction with cooking method.  By understanding and controlling the factors that affect eating quality, the industry has the potential to improve average eating quality and reduce variability in beef and sheepmeat products.

Cattle must meet a minimum set of criteria to be given an MSA grade.  These criteria include:

  1. Subcutaneous fat – a minimum of 3mm is required at the rib site and there must be adequate fat distribution
  2. pH – must be below 5.71

Sheep must meet a minimum set of criteria to be given a MSA grade.  These criteria include:

  1. Minimum Fat score 2
  2. Hot Standard Carcase weight above 18kg

If a carcase does not meet the above specifications it is no longer eligible to be packed as a MSA product.  This may incur a financial penalty to producers.

The key factors impacting on eating quality influenced by the producer are:

  • Tropical breed content (TBC), verified or determined by hump height measurement
  • MSA marbling score
  • Ossification score
  • Hormonal Growth Promotant (HGP) status
  • Milk-fed vealer category
  • Saleyard status

The MSA system has utilised advances in technology to provide producers and processors with access to their data via the MSA website .


Nutritional Interventions to decrease dark cutting in grass fed cattle – Cam Jose, Murdoch University

Dark cutting in beef is when carcases are abnormally dark in colour and have a pH greater than 5.7.  Dark meat colour is unappealing to consumers and results in inferior quality, which consumers reject due to poor palatability.  Additionally, dark cutting beef is dryer in texture, variable in tenderness and more prone to bacterial spoilage and reduced shelf life.  Estimated total losses to the Australian beef industry based on a 5.63% national dark cutting average is $19 to $55 million per annum.

Dark cutting is predominately caused by low levels of muscle glycogen at slaughter.  While low levels of glycogen can be a result of stress and exercise in the animal pre-slaughter, it can also be an indication of poor nutrition on farm especially due to seasonal variation in pasture quality in grass-fed cattle.  Late season grass-fed cattle can be at being at a greater risk of dark cutting as the change in feed quality affects the muscle glycogen concentration pre-slaughter.

Muscle glycogen is directly related to the metabolisable energy intake of the cattle, and glycogen concentration in feedlot cattle is typically higher and less variable than grass-fed cattle.  Research suggests that supplementing grass-fed cattle with a high energy restricted ration will increase muscle glycogen concentration at slaughter.  This may be important for grass-fed cattle producers who are finishing cattle without adequate nutrition.

Adapted from “Nutritional interventions to decrease dark cutting in grass fed cattle.” Cameron G Jose, Kate Loudon, Courtney Martino and Peter McGilchrist, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University.


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