Producing cattle with improved eating quality is the name of the game for Aberfoyle producers Bill and Jacqui Mitchell, with close analysis of both MSA feedback and their own on-farm records showing a link between an animal’s lifetime weight gain and the quality of its beef.
Running up to 2,500 head of predominantly Angus and Angus cross weaners or yearlings across the 1625 hectare ‘Glenbrook’, near Armidale, NSW, the Mitchells sell directly into Coles’ certified grass-fed program.
Acknowledging that improved eating quality is critical to strong and lasting relationships with the customer, the Mitchells first started using MSA feedback over a decade ago as they set out to enhance their product.
“The MSA Index has been extremely helpful in giving us an objective set of data we can use to fine tune our program,” Mr Mitchell said.
“We keep a close eye on key performance measures from a meat quality point of view, and then periodically we’ll go into our database and look for opportunities to improve.
“We’ve done a lot of analysis on ways to improve eating quality, and combined with non-MSA data we collect, we’ve found animals with better lifetime weight gain consistently return higher marbling and lower ossification data, therefore higher MSA indexing.”
This analysis has led the Mitchells to target animals with good weight for age and no historical nutritional setbacks, which are then maintained on a rising plane of nutrition until they are turned off at a target carcase weight of 250 kilograms.
“We mostly buy local cattle, as well as some straight lines of grass-fed cattle through AuctionsPlus. While this approach can lead to you purchasing heavier animals up front, it’s about evaluating not only what a mob costs you but also what it’s actually worth to you,” Mr Mitchell said.
“For us, ensuring consistently high eating quality is worth a lot, as it enables us to strengthen our relationships with the customer.”
Using technology and data
Sown to 100% improved pastures like tall fescue, rye grass, herbs and clovers, the focus at ‘Glenbrook’ is very much about maintaining lifetime weight gain through the use of technology and data.
“We run a pretty intensive and high input system,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Our default setting is to always maximise the nutrition of our animals, and we use a combination of both MSA data and on-farm data gained through technology like the in-paddock weighing system, Optiweigh, to ensure our understanding of an animal’s performance is as accurate and current as possible.”
For other producers considering ramping up their use of the MSA system, the Mitchells believe it has been invaluable to their success.
“We are very focused on delivering a product that provides an excellent eating quality experience for the consumer,” Mr Mitchell said.
“At the end of the day, eating quality is the key to getting them back to buy beef week after week, and as an industry it’s absolutely critical we maintain our focus on the eating quality of the beef we’re producing.”