Steer competitions allow many young people the opportunity to learn a range of responsibilities and gain skills and knowledge that can be used in their future careers and in their broader lives.
Preparing a steer requires knowledge of selection, nutrition and a commitment to ensure the steer grows according to a specific end point. For young people there is the responsibility of not only feeding and caring for the animal, its also about the preparation and training.
So what brings success in a steer ring? As a judge I have some pretty clear expectations for steers. The things I consider are important not just for the show ring. I am looking for the traits that are economically and commercially relevant. Through judging I hope that people preparing steers, learn to use that experience in their approach to commercial operations, and so produce more economically valuable animals for themselves and for the clients they hope to attract.
Whenever I consider a class of steers, my first thoughts are about the class specifications. Specifications for weight and fatness are essential! The processor for various reasons sets a weight. These range from;
• ensuring that the primal cuts that the carcass will be broken down into are the correct size for further fabrication into retail cuts
• efficiency of processing within a plant
• ease of processing. For example a local butcher has smaller lighter bodies both for retail purposes and for the simple reason that there isn’t enough room in a small chiller for a larger carcass!
If a steer is too heavy or too light for class specifications, I automatically discount it as a place winner. In the commercial world this discounting happens with a lower price offer from the purchaser.
There are some important lessons to consider beyond the obvious discounting for price (or points in a competition). If your steers are too heavy then they should have been entered into a different class. Or in commercial operations sold to a heavier market.
My second consideration for class specifications is for the specifications for fatness. Again there are fat depths set for a reason. These include the minimum required for MSA grading (3mm on the rib) as well as to ensure an evenly covered carcass. Over fat cattle create more issues with excessive trim.
The lesson to consider is that if you are preparing steers, for competition or for the market, know your specifications! If you are failing to meet the specs, does this mean you need to consider:
• Feeding program – are you growing at the optimum daily rate for your target? If it is too slow will you fall below the minimum? Too fast and will you overshoot?
• Fatness – Consider not just your feeding but also your animals maturity patter. Is your maturity pattern correct for your target market / class specifications? Later maturity animals lay fat down later, so will you be able to meet the requirements with your maturity pattern. Similarly are you not being too ambitious with early maturity patterns?
Once I’ve considered the suitability of the steers to their class specifications, I assess each steer for its overall muscle volume. Muscle is directly related to saleable red meat, and so the more an animal has, the more saleable red meat is available and so the value of that animal increases.
I assess muscle volume using the industry accepted muscle scores. I find it useful to think about volume in the same way it is calculated for any shape. Essentially it means to consider length, depth and width.
So I look at the length of the animal. I consider its width, through the loins and rib eye, and the width of stance and through the hindquarters. Lastly I look to see how deep is the muscle volume extending from the hindquarters down to the stifle. I like to see broader, rounder, longer steers.
My final consideration is to look at the overall fatness of the steer. It’s one thing to meet specifications. However it’s another to be evenly covered across the carcass. I look and feel over the major primals and over the carcass to see if the fat appears to be evenly distributed. Sometimes you can feel the fat coverage is uneven or hasn’t quite extended across the major areas.
As a carcass judge I’ve seen many bodies that are unevenly finished. This adds to the processors level of trim and overall reduces the value of the carcass to the processor. So its something I do try and consider and provide feedback on.
Essentially I use these three key areas to judge steers. Ultimately the steers that meet specification, display the high degree of muscle and even distribution of fatness are the ones I will select to be my place winners.
I don’t spend any time worrying about what the herd is like that produced these steers. I don’t worry about the heifers in the herd or anything outside of the ring. As a judge I can only assess what I see in front of me. Just as a buyer will only consider what is in front of them at the sale and if they will suit the processors needs. Focusing on these things does provide breeders with the information they need to fine-tune their program at home.
And for young people making their way into the industry, the lesson of knowing the market specifications, choosing cattle that suit their market and selecting for yield are lessons that will take them a long way into commercial and show ring success.
Earlier this week I was talking to a beef producer from the New England region about our markets. With current prices it seems everyone wants to discuss the value and opportunities of beef production! And lets face it, its exciting to see the demand and value flowing through for cattle. One of the things we talked about was the point that domestically, Australia can only consume so much red meat in any one year. The simple reality, which we both reckoned, is that sometimes, its easy to forget just how dependant we are on our overseas exports!
The Australian beef industry sends about 70% of all beef produced overseas, to over 100 countries. For other red meat producers, such as shipmate its around 97% while lamb producers have about 54% exported. For goat producers that figure is an extraordinary 95%! So maintaining the confidence of those overseas consumers and purchasers of red meat is essential for all of us!
A key component in maintaining this confidence starts wit a vendor declaration. The National Vendor Declaration (NVD) is the opportunity for you as a producer to stay some facts around your animals, and the way in which you have produced them. It also covers the important things like veterinary treatments. feeds that may have been offered and if there are any issues associated with chemical residues.
The NVD is also required for any movements of stock between properties that have different Property Identification Codes (PIC) or through saleyards or to processors.
NVDs help provide a clearer understanding of livestock and support the traceability of animals.
Completing NVDs isn't really a new concept for most producers. National Vendor Declarations have been around for a number of years. The have been updated and revised as markets and consumer expectations change.
What is changing is a requirement for all producers to now ensure that they are using the current version of the LPA NVD. All older versions of the LPA NVD are being phased out over the next two months.
And from the 16th of November 2015 all older versions will no longer be accepted by the industry. Which means no processors, feedlot, saleyards or other producers will accept them! Which is going to make marketing or moving cattle, sheep or goats pretty difficult for you if you don't get organised now!
So how can you tell if you have a current LPA NVD?
If your LPA NVD has the number 0413, it is the current version and you will be fine to continue to use the form when moving or marketing livestock. In the picture above, you will notice a C, which stands for Cattle. The Sheep & Lamb NVD has an S before the 0413 code.
So what do you do if you don't have the current LPA NVD? Well I reckon the first thing you need to do is check that you don't have it! If you are definitely using older NVD forms, then you need to get in touch with Meat & Livestock Australia and order the current forms.
If you want hard copies, which are the books you will fill out (they come in triplicate) you can order them online. They cost $40. The other option is to use an E-declaration (an electronic form). Known as E-Decs, they can be a more cost effective way of ordering forms, particularly if you prefer doing work on line.
Which ever way you choose to go is up to you. I reckon its a matter personal preference on this one. However, I also reckon you don't have time to do nothing. If you are planning on selling or moving stock after the 16th of November you need to have the LPA NVD up to date. So don't leave it until the last minute before you sort yourself out!
According to industry figures, around 70% of producers already using the current LPA NVD forms. This is largely helped by processors such as JB Swift and Teys Australia only accepting current forms. But it still leaves 30% or 3 in 10 producers who haven't updated. And that might be due to marketing only once a year or not moving stock between PICs and you haven't had to update until now.
If that is the case, or you're a small producer or hobby farmer, and you haven't worried until now, you need to make a coupe of calls and decide if hard copies or E-Decs work best for you. As soon as you decide that, get onto MLA and order the current LPA NVD.
I reckon the sooner you can do that, the less stress you'll have and most importantly you are doing your part to protect the confidence consumers have in your product.
Don't forget, if you have any questions or you's like to discuss your options to get in touch with me!
I'm often asked by producers for my ideas on ways to increase the income they receive for their cattle. Getting a better return is something most people want from their cattle. And along with the desire to make a better return, there is always some new idea or marketing strategy that someone wants to do because they have heard it will make them more money!
Sadly I don't think there is one simple scheme, breed or idea that will guarantee you will make more money! In my experience the way to make money in cattle production is through a combination of work and focus. And while most people work hard, the focus is often the area that is most lacking.
So what should you be focussing on? The first thing is your market. Australian beef markets are well defined. If you are selling cattle to a feedlot or to an abattoir, both of these destinations can clearly describe what type of cattle they want to buy and they can say how much they are prepared to pay for those cattle.
Despite these specifications being readily available, many people don't appreciate what a powerful tool they are in helping you make money.
Specifications provide you with target weights and fatness. This helps you determine suitable growth paths on farm for your animals. It means you can use your feed reserves and make grazing decisions that will direct your animals to a market end point. This is the focus that many people need to have but often don't.
Sadly I often see people who put cattle into a market and those animals are overweight or over fat. This creates a few problems. Firstly the animals are out of specification, and so will be valued at a discounted level. So instead of an optimum price per kilogram, it is sometime much lower than the animals deserve.
Secondly it takes your feed resources, and therefore adds to the cost of producing those animals, to get them to the weight you sold them. So not only are they worth less per kilogram, but you also wasted feed getting them to that point.
I reckon a lot of people don't notice they are losing money. The extra weight, even though it has a lower value, will mask the lower each animal has made. So that producers often miss the fact their animals didn't receive the optimum price.
Focussing on a market specification, either for feedlots of for processing, helps set realistic work goals. Decisions about grazing management, feeding programs and other tactical decisions become easier if you are working towards an end point.
More importantly at a strategic level you can start examining your genetics and your herd. Are your bulls helping you achieve the correct growth rates and level of fatness required by your target market? Do you need to be selecting a different type of cow in the breeding herd?
Are your pastures capable of supporting your growth program?
These are important decisions that can help you target your financial resources more effectively in the long term. While in the short term you can focus on hitting a market specification that will return you the greatest return.
I recently worked with a client who was aiming for a specification for a feedlot. The optimum price was for steers that were 400 - 449kg. Over 450kg the price difference was 5c/kg lower. Initially this didn't seem to bad, however we started to look at the feed resources we had to use. The extra cost in this instance to get steers over 450kg, effectively worked out to be the equivalent of a 25c/kg discount! We started to look at how we were growing those steers, and by aiming for an earlier turn off at the optimum weight we were able to save around $70/hd on the steers that normally would have been in the heavy category. To wrap this story up in past years about 10 - 15 steers would always have been too heavy, so we saved around $1000 by making a few changes and staying more focused on the plan!
There is no doubt we had to work a little bit harder and change a few management practices. However I reckon using resources more efficiently, and targeting a specification more closely, has helped realise better returns on farm.
I reckon working with producers to be more focussed and efficient in their work programs has helped gain a better return for the clients I've worked with.
Grape Marc is the focus of many phone calls I've received in the last few days. People want to know what this product is, if it can be used to feed cattle and if there is any usefulness to this as a feed.
Basically Grape Marc is the remains of wine making. It consists of the stems, seeds and pulps after the grapes have been processed for wine.
Grape Marc can be very variable in its feed value. The moisture content of this product can vary significantly depending on its processing method.
The energy and protein content of Grape Marc is also variable. Tests by state Departments of Agriculture highlights the variation in feed values of Grape Marc.
NSW DPI figures indicate Grape Marc has an average value of 50.7% DM; just over 13% CP and around 6MJ of metabolisable energy (ME).
At best Grape Marc can have a dry matter of 90%; and up to 8 MJ/ ME.
Effectively this means Grape Marc is a basic feed which can be used as a filler in a ration.
I reckon a lot of producers need to consider how cost effective this type of feed can be to their circumstances. If feed is low in Dry Matter, e.g. 50% then you needs to work out how much it is costing to actually get that feed home.
For example; if a truck load of feed is 55% Dry Matter; 45% is moisture. So for every 1000kgs on the truck, 450kgs of that load is moisture!
When you feed your stock, your are feeding a ration based on Dry Matter & MJ/ME So in the case of that 55% DM feed it might have 7MJ/ME, it works like this:
- if your animal needs 80MJ/ME day (based on its weight) then it needs to eat 11kg/DM a day
- based on the DM of that feed, you would need to feed out 20kgs of feed a day.
I reckon when you start looking at those quantities, and the costs associated with such a feed, you will quickly work out if it actually is the best option for you to purchase.
Grape Marc is also a feed which can pose a residue risk to your stock. You must ask for a Commodity Vendor Declaration form and make sure you keep a record of the vendor, the stock you feed and how much you feed.
The skins and seeds contained in Grape Marc can be risk for chemical residue. The Victorian DPI notes some studies indicate oil soluble chemicals can be ingested easily from grape seeds to accumulate in fat tissue.
Dairy Australia has developed some suggestions for producers using Grape Marc, which is a handy reference.
As with any unusual feed, I reckon you need to way up the costs and the risks pretty carefully before you start using it.
If you can't get a Commodity Vendor Declaration for the products you want to use, then I reckon you should avoid using that feed.
If you do your homework and work out the options, then Grape Marc may be a good choice for you. But don't rush in until you've made a few enquiries and worked out if it is the best option for you.
If you are unsure about a feed, its usefulness or its suitability for your stock, make sure you get some sound advice before spending money or taking risks with it. I reckon the drought is tough enough without the risk of feeding the wrong products.
I've been really fortunate to travel through China over the past fortnight. The trip was called the China express tour and was a chance to see the amazing Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall and many other iconic parts of the country. Agriculture is fundamental to the Chinese way of life in many places we visited. I was fascinated to see small plots sown to maize, vegetables or to orchards.
Amongst all the overwhelming sights, sounds and smells I caught a glimpse of a sign of a steak house themed restaurant promoting Australian beef.
The words I saw which stood out for me were "Natural & Safe" and "Australia".
Now while some people might be more excited by seeing a breed name on the sticker, I think that isn't as important.
It certainly doesn't seem to be as important when talking to Chinese consumers, who want to know more about the natural and safe reputation of our beef.
Australia exports beef to over 140 countries. Our market access to these countries is always under challenge. The price of the Australian dollar, cheaper beef producing countries or countries which are physically closer to these markets are constant threats to our market share.
I reckon as producers, there's not much we can do to alter these threats. What we do have the power to control is our reputation for natural and safe production methods. This reputation underpins our market share internationally and is a reputation we have earned, not bought.
The importance of traceability, correctly completing vendor declarations, ensuring that Withholding Periods are observed are among the essential on farm actions which allow our industry to compete and maintain market share, and in many cases actually allows our market access to increase.
If you wonder why traceability is so important, or correctly completing the NVD is essential, then I reckon you should think about how good it is to see a sign in a city in another country promoting Australian beef as the "Natural & Safe" option.
I was very proud to see that sign in China. I was proud because I know we take production, quality assurance, animal welfare and consumer expectations seriously.
Like any reputation which has been earned, our reputation shouldn't be taken for granted. I'm always happy to talk with producers to find ways which can help improve your on farm systems which underpin the international reputation of our beef.
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- Selection to Increase Saleable Meat Yield
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