Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) is investigating the potential of creating a viable dairy beef supply chain to add substantial value to dairy steers commonly sold into lower value markets.
A research project is underway led by Charles Sturt University, in conjunction with Meat Standards Australia (MSA), Teys Australia, Dairy Australia, Northern Co-operative Meat Company and Manildra Meat Company, to study the impacts of genetics, nutrition and management on the performance and eating quality of beef from dairy breeds.
Researchers are also investigating the viability of establishing a veal pathway for dairy beef to achieve eligibility for MSA grading. Currently, carcases classified under the AUS-MEAT veal cipher are not eligible for MSA, however milk fed vealers that are turned off at higher slaughter weights are eligible.
MSA Program Manager, Dr David Packer, said the project aligned with MSA’s long-term objective to make all cattle eligible for MSA grading.
“The project is designed to understand the eating quality potential of dairy cattle and management to optimise eating quality outcomes for these breeds. The project aims to add substantial value to a currently under-valued resource,” Dr Packer said.
“The project started in 2018 and involves cohorts of Jersey, Holstein-Jersey cross, and Holstein cattle, all following a range of pathways, alongside cohorts of beef breeds including British and Euro-cross cattle.
“The first cohort of cattle has completed both low growth and high growth pathways. The pathways use low-cost and high-cost feeding regimes comprising a range of timeframes and combinations of pasture feeding, feed supplements and grain feeding in feedlots, to reach a target of 300kg carcase weight.
“Overall results to date show a similar carcase and eating quality trait performance from Holstein cattle to beef breeds, but lower carcase quality and higher MSA non-compliance for Jersey cattle.
“While the Holsteins were quite slow at gaining weight in the early stages of the trial, in a feedlot they had a better feed conversion ratio than the beef breed cattle in the trial.
“The Holsteins had comparable ossification and marble scores, though they had lighter muscling and a smaller eye muscle area compared to beef breeds.”
The project will also explore a Spanish feeding treatment pathway, with cattle intensively fed on a custom ration to reach a target of a 300kg carcase weight. Under Spanish feeding conditions a liveweight of 460kg is obtained at 10 months of age, however, in this project the feeding period will be extended to increase carcase weight in line with market requirements.
The project is expected to finish in 2022, with an analysis conducted on the economics of the feed cost versus the sale price of the product, with support from Dairy Australia.