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Brahman underpins successful paddock to plate concept

Brahman underpins successful paddock to plate concept

Far North Queensland graziers James and Deana Nasser are proving the eating quality of the north’s own beef breed – the Brahman – one plate at a time.

The beef producers launched a paddock to plate concept 18 months ago, to complement their successful beef fattening operation and remedy a quality issue at James’s family’s historic Atherton establishment, the Barron Valley Hotel.

Atherton Grass Fed supplies Brahman cattle from the couple’s fattening operation based on the rich red, high phosporous soils of the Atherton Tablelands.

Steers are processed at the Byrnes family’s Rocky Creek Abattoirs at Tolga, where the primal cuts are stored and wet-aged for a minimum of 21 days.

These cuts are delivered to the hotel. The chefs slice and vacuum pack individual pieces of rib fillet, rump and T-bones, topsides for crumb steak, short ribs and off cuts for curries and stir-fries.

The response from diners was immediate – with the kitchen selling 300 more steaks in the first month – and has shown no sign of easing.

The arrangement is a win-win for both Atherton Grass Fed and the Barron Valley Hotel – the latter one of the very few family owned and operated hotels in Queensland – and came at a time when the hotel was looking for a point of difference.

The enforced COVID-19 three-month closure in 2020 impacted patronage to the hotel, one of the very few which has resisted installing poker machines. This was compounded by issues sourcing a consistent line of good quality beef at an affordable price.

James and Deana Nasser, Atherton Grass Fed.

Pub’s point of difference

Michael Nasser, Barron Valley Hotel proprietor, said prior to the arrangement with Atherton Grass Fed, the hotel hosted a weekly grassfed rib fillet special but issues with consistent quality made it challenging.

“It was 50:50 chance on whether the steak was good eating because the beef was from an unknown source,” Michael said. “If you want to serve a genuine article, then you need to know the source.”

Michael said serving genuine grassfed beef had given the hotel a point
of difference.

“Hospitality venues all try to get the same piece of the pie,” he said. “It’s a hard slog and everyone serves grainfed beef because it’s safe to do so – because they can guarantee the tenderness of the meat.”

Michael said every element in the paddock to plate concept worked cohesively to deliver beef that you could “cut with a butter knife”.

He said the right cattle genetics and good handling, coupled with legume-based pastures as good as “anywhere in Australia” and short distances between the paddock, abattoir and hotel, combined to deliver a superior meat product.

Patronage has been strong, with the hotel’s weekly steak nights packed to the brim and regular wine nights popular with patrons.

“We have travellers who are astounded at the quality,” Deana said. “It’s fresh – processed and aged and served – not sitting in cold stores for months or transported over long distances.”

The end result, an Atherton Grass Fed steak exclusively available at the historic Barron Valley Hotel.

Focused on quality

Quality drives James and Deana – and is paramount not only in the end product but from the very beginning.

The couple purchased their first block, 30 bare acres on the outskirts of Atherton, at an auction in 2009.

Once fenced and improved with yards and water, they stocked it with a mob of Santa Getrudis steers from James’ uncle, David Nasser.

With a vision to expand their beef fattening operation but unable to source large mobs of local cattle, the couple turned to the Brahman breed, and initially purchased steers from brothers Ron and Greg Borghero at Wondecla.

“Brahmans and Brahman cross steers are easy to access,” James said. “They are low maintenance and easy to manage. They are good convertors and do well.”

Today, James and Deana purchase around 450 head a year and turn off close to 400 steers, which are fattened across 300 hectares, 165 ha of which they own.

They run the operation on rotational grazing to manage and maintain the legume-based pasture and regularly monitor the weight gains of the steers to ensure they meet market requirements.

With a priority on cattle temperament, the Nassers were introduced to Cameron and Doreen Quartermaine, Watson River, southeast of Weipa, on Cape York Peninsula.

“We buy steers off people that handle their cattle well,” James explained. “We make temperament a priority and buy cattle off breeders who focus on temperament when they are buying bulls and culling heifers. We have three boys and we can muster a mob of 270 head.”

James said the Quartermaines were focused on cattle temperament.

“We visited the property three times to watch how they handle their cattle, how they run them through the yards and educate them,” James said. “It showed when we brought the cattle home.”

With the sale of Watson River to a carbon trading company last year, the Nassers are now working with Glen and Cheryl Connolly, Blancourt, Georgetown, and Josh and Tas Wellington, Barwigge, Mt Garnet – both of which have similar approaches to temperament and cattle handling.

They also purchase Brahman and some Brahman cross steers from Peter and Mariah Cheisa, Palm Creek Brahmans,  Josh Watson, Featherbed, Petford, and Kelvin and Kelly Bethel, Georgetown.

Before establishing the paddock to plate concept, the Nassers were selling 14 head – two year-old butchers steers, dressing an average 300kg – fortnightly to the abattoirs.

If the response to and constant restaurant trade at the Barron Valley Hotel is anything to go by since the launch of Atherton Grass Fed, opinions about the eating quality of the Brahman have been well and truly put to rest.

“Brahman cattle are bred in some of the most harsh environments in Australia,” James said.

“But with the right rising plane of nutrition to ensure the cow is supplemented and the calf grows to a decent weaning weight, Brahman cattle will survive and rear a healthy calf. As we are located in northern Australia where the predominant breeding herd is Brahman, we can turn the Brahman over much quicker than other European breeds.”

By Lea Coghlan

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