Rayner Reckons

Aug 13

Producing Optimal Carcasses

Posted on Tuesday, August 13, 2019

What does it take to produce an optimal carcass?  This is a question that producers often ask.  While there are a number of things we can do as livestock managers, I think the first step it to actually define what an optimal carcass means. 

In my mind, an optimal carcass is one that meets the target specifications for weight; fatness, eating quality – MSA Index and has a high yield of saleable meat. I also think this is something that producers need to do consistently, and do so with the most efficient use of resources.  There are a few steps I think producers focused on optimal carcass production need to consider.

  1. Clearly define the breeding objectives for your herd.  I’ve often talked and written about the importance of defined breeding objectives.  The reason being, these objectives define the type of genetics you need to use to meet your market and to breed cattle suited to your program.                                 
  2. Know what you are actually trying to achieve!  Markets are well defined for weight, fatness, and eating quality.  If you know what these specifications are, you can start to plan on the process of growing to meet these.  Specifications are readily available from processors and from feedlots.  So you need to get in touch or at least look at the specifications on company web sites and choose realistic options for your program.
  3. Focus on what your can control.  There are three key areas you control as a producer.  These are:
  • Maturity pattern:  This determines the ability of your animals to meet specifications.  It also impacts on productions traits such as fertility, so you need to consider both aspects in order to be productive and profitable.
  • Growth rate:  Your ability to choose the correct genetics, and to manage nutrition to express those genetics, has a massive impact on optimal production.  Using EBVs and feedback from previous sales can help you fine tune growth rates.  But you still need to manage pastures, crops and supplements to make that growth happen.

Finally, you need to manage the way you finish and sell animals:  The final stage of production, selling and transport can derail your program.  Stress, poor handling or other factors can impact on your eating quality index and cause you to miss the optimal.  So this final stage should be managed as carefully as your genetic decisions or feeding programs. 

Managing Growth

A large part of optimal carcass production is the management of growth of animals.  This actually starts with your choice of genetics.  The ability to select for growth using EBVs is an opportunity you shouldn’t overlook.  It’s well proven by many research and commercial trials that, EBVs do work and can be a very effective tool for producers.  

However, genetic potential can and is often limited by nutrition.  Growth is a function of the daily intake of energy and protein.  Ensuring your cattle have sufficient to maintain growth paths is the practical aspect of management.  

The CRC for Beef Cattle highlighted the impact growth paths have on carcass yield, fatness and eating quality.  The research showed quite markedly that slow pre weaning growth resulted in cattle that were smaller than normally grown cattle.  

However these slower grown cattle never catch up in weight, even in feedlot conditions.  The simple message being that to meet carcass weights, these cattle had to be grown longer, and this ran the risk of impacting carcass fat specifications or lowering MSA Index values.  Either way, slow pre weaning growth is not ideal

Slow post weaning growth was also researched.  It was found that slower than the optimal 0.7kg / day resulted in cattle that grow faster in finishing programs.  They tended to be a bit leaner and have less marbling.  So if this is an issue for your markets, this may also be a path to avoid.  

The CRC data really suggests we aim for 0.7kd / day for animals up to feedlot entry.  To do this, you should remember that your cattle will need to eat at least 3 – 3.5% of their live weight on a Dry Matter basis each day.  Ideally this feed would have a minimum of: 

  • Energy 10.5MJ / Kg 
  • Crude Protein 14% 
  • Fibre 30 – 40% NDF

A simple rule to remember is that the faster your cattle grow, the fatter (and slightly more muscular) they will be.

Eating Quality

There are many factors that have an impact on MSA Index values.  As producers, its important to focus on the ones that have a high impact and are controllable on farm.  High impact variables include Marbling and Ossification. 

Your genetic selection and nutritional management will influence your animal’s ability to develop marbling.  It’s a trait worth considering if this can be selected for without compromising your other production traits.  Ossification, can be improved by growth rates and achieving higher weight for age. Again it’s important to balance this with other traits that matter to you, like carcass fatness and marbling.

The amount of Tropical Breed Content will impact on your MSA Index.  But you need to be realistic. If your environment is nest suited to Indicus cattle, then you should use that to your advantage. You can still select for growth, marbling and fatness and achieve MSA Index scores that are quite high if you manage these traits well.

How you sell your animals also has a huge impact on your ability to meet optimum carcass specifications, particularly for eating quality.  The work done by MSA highlights the impact that sale yard stress and handling has on eating quality.  Cattle sold through saleyards have MSA Indexes that are 5 units lower than those sold direct to processors.

Summary

Producing optimal carcasses does require some serious attention across genetics, nutrition, and turn off.  More importantly, if you don’t have a clear idea of what your optimal carcass requirements are, and utilize past feedback to fine-tune your program, you’ll find it a much harder challenge.  Having some clear objectives and using the tools that are now available is the key starting point for anyone determined to consistently hit their targets.  

It’s important to remember that if you are not entirely sure where to start, to seek advice or help to define your goals.  Its one of the services I’ve been delivering over recent years, and it's certainly something you may want to consider in your program.


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