By Matt Sherrington
Geography and nutrition are not the friends of Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grading, says ABBA senior vice president Matthew Noakes.
“Due to where most Brahman cattle are found makes the meat quality debate hard to win,” Mr Noakes said.
He said although credited with making North Australia profitable, the Brahman breed is constantly having to defend itself in the meat quality debate.
“ABBA works hard to constantly gather data to help breeders improve their meat quality outcomes.”
An example of this was the Brahman BIN project, which started in 2012 and was then taken up by the Northern Repronomics project (including Droughtmasters and Santa Gertrudis) in 2015.
Since the start of these projects progeny from some 144 sires have been used. These represent up-and-coming and industry-relevant animals with linkage to many current pedigrees.
All of these animals have been genomically tested, as have close to 1500 head of slaughter progeny. The slaughter steers have been predominantly grass-fed with some being grain-finished when the season required. MSA gradings of these cattle have consistently been in the mid-90s with the best being 99 per cent.
Mr Noakes said one of the most satisfying results is that these steers have consistently had more than a 55pc grade in the premium range of 54.5 index and better.
“Originally the Northern industry index cut-off for a premium was 52, which would have seen over 90pc of the BIN project cattle consistently qualify. Not bad considering that the early MSA models sought to exclude Bos indicus cattle.
“While this may not compare with New England-bred Angus, we must be conscious of the environment these steers are raised in.”
All of these steers had a full set of carcase data entered into Brahman Breedplan, increasing the accuracies of the sires they’re linked to.
“These steers are genomically recorded in an effort to validate genomic values, which is a growing responsibility of breed societies as the call for genomic information increases.”
Success in CQ
Positive feedback has also come in for the Brahman article Peter and Toni O’Neill have been producing on Glenyarran, at Lochington, in Central Queensland.
The O’Neills have been managing Glenyarran for Mark and Shelly Ruff since they purchased the property 13 years ago.
When the Ruffs bought Glenyarran a herd of close to 650 cows and bulls were included in the purchase. This included a mix of Angus, Droughtmaster, Santa Gertrudis, and Charolais females and mainly Santa Gertrudis bulls.
“There was only a handful of Brahman-cross cows so when we started buying bulls we focussed on Brahmans. The herd is becoming high-grade Brahman and we only keep high-content Brahman heifers,” Mrs O’Neill said.
In the past four years, the O’Neills have also bought 120 Brahman stud cows, which formed the Glenyarran Brahman Stud, with the goal of breeding their own pure Brahman bulls.
“We’re getting more and more Brahman content across the herd to increase tick resistance. We only keep animals with a good temperament, and this along with softness, good fat cover, and bone are crucial to producing a quality carcase.”
Being EU and Grassland accredited, the O’Neills send all their steers as fat bullocks to the meatworks, usually to Teys Lakes Creek in Rockhampton, in one hit, in April, where they receive solid premiums. The last kill data from Lakes Creek showed that they’re on the right track.
They consigned 208 jap ox, which weighed 348kg dressed and averaged 11mm fat at one tooth. The consignment scored 93pc MSA, for which 55pc were above the 54.5pc index, while 90pc were above the 52pc index.
“Hump is often blamed for the inability of the Brahman to grade well, and though two Glenyarran carcases had hump height measurements of 155mm and 160mm they managed to achieve index scores of 58 and 59. This confirms that if you can get traits such as ossification and marbling right, hump height has a lot less impact.”
The O’Neills aim to sell at milk or two-tooth as if they try to sell any later than April it starts getting cold and the prices start to drop.
“It was really dry until the end of April last year so we started the steers on lick at Christmas so we could get them through to be finished in time. We have sold feeder steers to the feedlots in dry times if they aren’t ready.
The bulls are put in the paddock from early November to the end of March.
“While our numbers are down due to going from one dry spell into another we’ve still culled pretty heavily for females that don’t produce calves. Our conception rate has been between 85 too 90pc, though quite often above that depending on the season. We do supplement feed with lick in dry times.
“We keep the number required of replacement heifers and sell the rest, usually on AuctionsPlus. We recently sold 15-month-old PTIC heifers through AuctionPlus for good returns. These were high-grade Brahman and Brahman-cross and the pure Brahman made more.”
Steers are run of the southern end of Glenyarran, which consists of brigalow and buffel country, with creek flats mixed through the land.
The northern end gets close to 10 degrees cooler in summer, making it ideal for the breeding herd. This country is lightly timbered, with creek flats, while five seasonal swamps provide assistance in drought years.
The O’Neills mother up all calves from branding to weaning on horseback, with the calves taught to look for the gate before weaning. All cattle are mustered on horses with well-controlled dogs used. When the steers are weighed or backlined they’re cut out on horseback and brought up though the yards.
“This has made them well educated and very easy to handle. We believe this helps reduce stress, as the cattle are happy to leave the mob and come up into the yards by themselves, which again helps in producing a better quality carcase. “When the calves are being mothered we also record their data so if we have a couple of toey ones at the completion of weaning, we can check what paddock they came from and locate the bull they’re by to ensure he’s removed from our program.”