Manage the nutrition, health and welfare of sale animals to meet target market specifications on time

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Guidelines for managing the grazing system to achieve livestock performance targets

The stocking rate (DSE/ha) and total number of cattle sold each year has a major impact on the profitability your beef enterprise. Retail yield is affected by muscling (principally due to genetics) and fatness (partly due to genetics and partly due to quantity and nutritional quality of feed consumed). It is important to know your herd capability (genetics) in regard to muscularity, yield and fatness.

Ensure market specifications are met at the point of sale

Sale animals typically include weaners, cull breeding stock and traded stock. The predicted sale liveweight, carcase weight and any other characteristic need to be within the specified range to ensure market specifications are met at the point of sale. The liveweights at different ages are well known for most prime beef markets. So are the minimum and maximum backfat requirements for different cattle liveweights. Refer to Tools 7.01 and 7.02 for a range of market specifications.

Manage the production system to meet target market specifications

A goal is to have no more than 10% of animals fall outside the target market specifications for age, sex, dentition, weight (live or carcase), muscle and fat. To achieve this, manage the grazing and husbandry system to reach the desired target performance and market outcomes.

The main contributor to growth rate is how the supply and nutritional quality of feed on offer is managed. For arid zone pastoral enterprises there are significant limitations as you are working with a predominantly natural vegetation system. Growth rate will affect:

  • weight for age - faster growth rate results in heavier and fatter animals of the same age, or younger animals of the same weight. 
  • fatness and marbling - a higher growth rate within a herd sale group results in increased fat thickness and intra-muscular  fat (marbling) at the same weight and are influenced by how feed quality and supply is managed.
  • ossification score - increases as animals get older, also, at the same age, heifers have higher ossification scores than steers. Ensuring a whole-of-life growth rate of more than 0.6kg/day will allow animals to retain ossification scores below the maximum allowable for Meat Standards Australia quality grading (less than 300 or as low as 200 in some markets).

Poor growth early in life (up to weaning) can result in smaller carcases than from cattle grown rapidly to weaning when marketed at the same age, or conversely they will be older when marketed at the same weight (which could affect market suitability). These slow grown animals will, however, show little or no difference in carcase composition or beef quality when finished. Take this into account when planning the beef breeding enterprise around the seasonal changes in native pasture (see Module 1: Setting directions).

Avoid feed and nutritional restrictions longer than two months in cattle up to 250kg liveweight

Animals fed to achieve target weights more quickly will eat less feed per kilogram gain. So plan carefully how your sale cattle need to grow to meet the market specifications. The benefits will be greater precision in marketing, a higher proportion of your cattle meeting market specifications and a higher price. The focus needs to be on the relationship between cattle nutrient requirements, pasture availability and nutritional quality and how these interact to affect rate of growth, composition of growth and product quality.

Manage the feedbase and grazing system to meet target market outcomes and use flexible management to meet stock performance targets

The timing of these decisions needs to be early enough to allow the growth path to be adjusted to meet the timing of the revised point of sale and to maintain the feedbase and vegetation/natural resources.

Use feedback from the marketplace to inform future marketing decisions

Other corrective actions may be based on market feedback. Although this is received after the current sale event it can be used to improve future planning and management of the nutrition and health of your cattle to meet future market specifications.

An additional option is to change the genetic characteristics of the animals selected for mating, if the current genetic compostion of the herd is unable to deliver to the specifications required. It is important to assess whether this will be profitable and feasible for the business, and recognise that it is a longer-term solution, as discussed in Module 1: Setting directions and Module 4: Cattle genetics.

What to measure and when

  • Ongoing measurements need to be taken for liveweight and any other characteristics included in the target market specifications that can be monitored for live animals. This may involve one or a combination of:
    • real-time ultrasound measurements of fat depth, marbling score and eye-muscle area
    • visual appraisal of muscle and fat score
    • dentition
    • pregnancy testing of females.
  • The percentage of your animals that met target market specifications, when they were sold. Collect feedback when available.
  • The timing of stock health treatments should be planned to ensure there is no restriction to market access. Comply with the manufacturer’s instructions for use.

Good live animal assessment skills should be obtained or honed by all producers to adequately allow them to assess stock at critical times for marketing purposes. The skills can be acquired at a number of live animal assessment skills workshops generally conducted by various state departments of primary industries and agriculture across Australia.

Further information