for commercial breeders in Southern Australia
World class science
creating first class beef
Written and edited by Bob Gaden with grateful acknowledgement to NSW Department of Primary
Industries Beef Advisers Brian Cumming, Steve Exton, Jeff House, John Irwin and Greg Meaker.
The Beef CRC was established with a Commonwealth grant in 1993 with four core parties
– CSIRO, NSW Agriculture, Queensland DPI and the University of New England. They had a
seven-year charter to develop strategies to capitalise on the potential for producing higher
quality beef. The program was renewed in 1999 to continue the research and continue fine
tuning and implementation. A new seven year program began in 2005 with a wider range
of participants, to develop and implement new genetic technologies for the benefit of the
Beef Impact across the whole industry
Since the first Beef CRC began in 1993, the • The Meat Standards Australia (MSA)
Australian beef industry has generated the grading program, developed jointly with
ability to become the major supplier of MLA, delivering a consumer guarantee
high quality grain-fed beef to the lucrative of eating quality from a wide range of
markets of Japan and Korea. Our domestic production systems.
consumers are benefiting from better meat
• The blueprint for producing beef to
quality through improved management of
meet the specifications of local and
animals and processing.
The Beef CRC has worked with the Australian
• New ways to improve the quality of
beef industry to improve its competitive
beef from sub-tropical and tropical
position relative to other nations and other
protein products. Its main achievements
include: • Teams of scientists capable of
underpinning on-going development of
• BREEDPLAN with new EBVs for carcase
the Australian beef industry.
and meat quality traits and Net Feed
Intake. • A huge database of cattle with full
pedigree, DNA and performance records,
• BREEDPLAN with greater accuracy for
that will enable validation of new gene
markers, not yet discovered.
• A detailed understanding of factors
• Training and education programs across
affecting eating quality, from conception
to cooking methods, used to underpin
the MSA program .
B eef CRC largest
integrated beef research program
Getting the best from CRC
results and information
CRC research has given us a range of • Feed utilization – do I have a fertile herd
methods to improve the quality of beef that calves at the best time of year to
products and the efficiency of many of our turn the available feed into beef? Do I
production systems. This leaflet outlines the have the best balance between breeding
ones that you will find most useful. and growing stock? How well does this
system handle drought?
Apart from these, there are many factors
that help determine the profitability of your • Age and weight of turnoff – am I adding
herd. To maximize profit it is important to the most value to my progeny by making
get the basics right first - having healthy best use of the growing season and
cattle, adapted to their environment and suiting market demand?
producing marketable progeny.
• Market suitability – Do my turnoff stock
Ask yourself these basic questions: match buyer requirements for breed,
age and weight and time of year? What
• Breeds – is my breed or breeds the best
other markets are available or likely to
adapted to low cost breeding, growth
and market suitability my environment?
Many of the suggested actions in this
• Breeding system – could I be more
leaflet will then add to your profit and set
productive with a crossbreeding or
the direction for on-going improvement in
composite system that combines higher
female productivity with higher turnoff
rates and market suitability?
CRC began with a huge program of testing • MARBLING is moderately heritable and
the progeny of selected sires in seven varies between breeds. For marbling
mainstream breeds, and a crossbreeding markets, choose suitable breeds and
experiment. An overlay of experiments in select sires using EBVs and gene
nutrition and others in animal behaviour markers.
and meat processing helped define exactly • TEMPERAMENT has a moderately
what determines the carcase and meat heritability but is hard to select for
quality characteristics. because seedstock breeders usually give
CRC Findings and principles: fractious bulls extra handling to quieten
them. Culling females doesn’t work
• BREEDPLAN EBVs work – and with CRC either in the long term.
research, they predict the performance (a) The best approach is to measure
of progeny with more accuracy. temperament in all animals (flight time,
• BREEDPLAN has new carcase traits – fat crush score or yard test) and use the data
depth, eye-muscle area, retail beef yield to produce EBVs.
and marbling. (b) EBVs are especially good for selecting AI
• SCANNING produces good EBVs for
carcase traits and is much cheaper and • FLIGHT TIME in tropical breeds is
more practical than testing the carcases genetically correlated to tenderness.
of steer progeny. These breeds can use flight time
measurements on young stock to
• The same EBVs can be used for grass produce EBVs for tenderness. (First of
or grain production systems and for these EBVs due in 2007).
domestic and export markets.
• NET FEED INTAKE (NFI) is a moderately
• EBVs are calculated for all traits, but heritable measure of feed efficiency and
they are more accurate if all traits are EBVs are now available in some British
measured in all animals. breeds.
• TENDERNESS: (a) The level of blood protein IGF-1 is
correlated to NFI and is easier to measure,
(a) has a low heritability in British and
so it is used to help calculate EBVs.
European breed types – concentrate on
factors other than genetics to improve (b) The correlation with IGF-1 may not be
tenderness. as strong in tropical breeds and this is
being studied further.
(b) has a moderate heritability in tropical
breed types – there is potential to use (c) Testing for NFI must be done in each
genetic techniques to improve it – use breed to ensure the same genetic
gene markers and EBVs calculated from principles apply, and enable calculation
(d) EBVs from actual testing are more (c) In the next few years it is expected that
accurate and will always be needed. hundreds of genes and gene markers
will become available to improve the
(e) CRC is developing gene marker tests for
accuracy of genetic analyses.
NFI and in future this will make selection
easier and more accurate. What to do
• BREEDPLAN EBVs are not comparable • Select the appropriate breed(s) and
across breeds, but eventually all breeds breeding system to suit your property
will move to a common base. As a step and markets.
towards this, research has produced a
set of adjustment factors for some traits • Get to know BREEDPLAN and use it with
in some breeds. confidence to select sires for growth and
• GENE MARKERS for marbling and
• If you are aiming at markets requiring
tenderness represent the beginning of a
marbling, use gene marker information
new era of gene discovery.
as well as EBVs to help choose bulls.
(a) Gene markers are useful for improving
marbling and, in tropical breeds, for • Encourage bull breeders to measure all
improving tenderness. traits rather than rely on BREEDPLAN to
predict them, to increase the accuracy of
(b) In future, BREEDPLAN will add EBVs.
knowledge about GENE MARKERS to
• Encourage seedstock producers and
improve the accuracy of EBVs. This
their breed organizations to measure
will be known as “marker-assisted
and produce EBVs for temperament
Growth to weaning
A series of experiments has examined the • Calves restricted for 4 months at weaning
effects of normal and restricted growth (200kg, 9 months) will only partly
before birth (during pregnancy), from birth compensate when returned to good
to weaning, around weaning time and in feed – their growth potential is reduced.
the growout (backgrounding) period before
• Eating quality of meat is virtually
entering finishing on grass or grain. Studies
unaffected by a period of growth
have included the effects on subsequent
growth and compensatory gain, and the restriction, except for a slight reduction
ultimate effects on carcase and meat due to increased age at slaughter.
What to do
CRC findings and principles:
• Ensure cows are adequately fed during
• Overall, cattle can tolerate quite a wide pregnancy, to ensure cow fertility and
range in nutrition in early life without future growth potential of the calf.
serous adverse effects on meat quality,
but severe restriction can reduce their • Ensure cows and calves are adequately
future growth potential. fed so calves grow at a minimum of
0.6kg/day (to reach a minimum of 140kg
• Cows restricted during pregnancy will at 6months, 180kg at 9months).
give birth to lighter calves that have
reduced ability to grow during pre- • If weaning calves early, make sure they
weaning, backgrounding and finishing. continue to gain at least 0.6kg/day to
(a) Cows calving 100kg lighter would have preserve their future growth potential.
calves weighing about 5kg lighter. This may require specialized feed
(b) A 10kg reduction in birth weight flows
on to become 30kg at weaning, 40kg at • Set market targets for growing stock and
yearling and 55kg at finishing. manage their growth to achieve targets
and maximize pasture utilization.
• Calves restricted in early life, between
birth and weaning, will only partly catch • If supplements are needed, make sure
up when returned to good feed. they complement the available feed and
are cost effective and practical.
• Early weaning requires quality feed
or supplements for the calves. They • Manage weaners to achieve target
must gain at least 0.6kg/day to achieve weights for feedlot entry/finishing before
adequate growth and meat quality later. reaching market limits for dentition/age.
• For maximum marbling, aim for an uninterrupted growth rate of around 0.8kg/day from
weaning to feedlot entry.
• If backgrounding growth is slower than about 0.7kg/day, they will show faster, more
profitable compensatory growth in the feedlot. See if you can get paid for this.
• Beware of buying weaner or yearling cattle that have had an early growth check as
their potential for growth may be reduced and they may reach market limits for age
(dentition) before they reach weight targets.
Weaning is a critical time for calves. (c) Essential requirements are to confine
Continuing satisfactory growth is important weaners in strong, well-drained yards
to retain their potential for growth during (not small paddocks) at high density (4
backgrounding and finishing. It is also a sq m per beast) for 5-7 days on good hay/
key time for learning experiences that will silage and good quality water, preferably
help them adapt to production systems in troughs.
that take them toward a domestic or export
(d) Replacement females will become
markets. These experiences will affect their
quieter and are trained for feeding and
future growth, health, meat quality and
• TEMPERAMENT is related to feedlot
CRC findings and principles:
performance and meat quality, not to
• Earlier weaning allows more efficient use mention safety to you and your staff or
of pasture. Cows can recover quicker and family.
can do so on lower quality feed, so your (a) To achieve on-going improvement in
best feed can be targeted to weaners. temperament, you must use genetically
• You can wean after the youngest calf docile bulls. Culling temperamental
is 100days old, and the lightest calf females doesn’t fix the problem.
is 100kg. HIGH QUALITY PASTURE (b) Bull breeders can hide the genetics of
OR SUPPLEMENTS will be needed, to poor temperament by giving fractious
ensure they gain at least 0.6kg/day after bulls extra handling – but they will still
weaning. breed fractious progeny.
• Weaning is an ideal time to carry out (c) EBVs for temperament identify the quiet
HEALTH TREATMENTS according to local genetics – use EBVs, or encourage your
recommendations. breed to introduce EBVs for temperament
• DEHORNING should be done by weaning (docility).
at the latest, or preferably earlier (2-3 (d) Weaning is a good time to address
months). Better still, use a polled bull. temperament. Measure flight time, crush
• YARD WEANING is a simple practice score or yard test.
that improves the performance of cattle
when they enter a feedlot later in life: What to do
(a) Disease in feedlots is strongly related to • In southern Australia, WEAN EARLIER (5-6
poor immunity resulting from high levels months) rather than later. This maximizes
of stress. cow fertility and lets you target the best
pasture to the weaners.
(b) Yard weaning is a learning experience
that reduces stress when they later enter • Wean down to 100 days of age or 100kg
a feedlot. liveweight for maximum feed efficiency
but it is critical feed the weaners a high
quality diet to ensure growth of 0.6kg/
• Yard wean by confining calves for 5-7
days at 4sq m per head on good quality
hay/silage and water.
• Be particular about health – drench, and
if necessary, use fly control to reduce
• Dehorn well before weaning if possible.
• Measure temperament on all calves. Cull
any with unacceptable temperament.
The period of growing out after weaning What to do
and before entering a grass or grain
finishing system is known as backgrounding. • Define target markets (e.g. feedlot entry
The CRC has identified significant effects or slaughter specifications).
of backgrounding growth on feedlot • Set target growth rates and manage feed
performance and meat quality. It is also
quality/quantity to achieve them.
a time when cattle can be given special
vaccines to prepare them for optimum • Develop a relationship with your
feedlot performance. markets - seek feedback on growth and
CRC findings and principles: compliance to key carcase specifications
• Adequate growth is required to meet (yield, fatness, marbling).
feedlot entry weight before reaching • Understand the differences between
market limits for age (dentition).
breeds with respect to growth, carcase
• Faster growth during backgrounding yield and marbling, and market
results in earlier feedlot entry, fatter preferences, so you can target the right
carcases, slower feedlot growth and markets.
• If the cattle are not yard-weaned or their
• Slower growth during backgrounding
results in faster, more efficient finishing history is unknown, give them a “yard
growth, leaner, yielding carcases but not weaning” experience for 5-7 days.
as much marbling. • Discuss the use of vaccines and other
• Vaccines against respiratory pre-feedlot health treatments with your
disease (Bovilis-MH ™) given during feedlot buyer.
backgrounding will reduce sickness and
improve performance in the feedlot. • Consider retaining ownership (custom
feeding) if your stock are above average
• If cattle are not yard weaned, an performers.
equivalent experience early during
backgrounding is better than nothing.
Beef output per hectare is a key profit • It is more efficient to maintain a high
driver for commercial beef producers. In stocking rate by using supplementary
both breeding and growing enterprises, feeding to fill short term feed gaps,
producers can accept lower performance compared to reducing cow numbers.
per head to achieve higher stocking rate • Feed supplements are best if they
and total beef output. complement the available feed by
The Beef CRC has focused mainly on meat supplying missing nutrients, rather than
quality rather than grazing management in replace available feed.
its research so far, but has helped define the • Cost of the limiting nutrients and
effects of different growth rates in the early practicality for feeding out are important
life of steers on achieving market targets. considerations when choosing feed
• Pasture growth follows a seasonal What to do:
pattern. Cattle production is most • Maintain a restricted joining/calving
efficient if animal requirements peak period and calve when it best fits
when feed is most plentiful and vice- seasonal pasture growth.
versa. • Wean calves early and ensure they
• Cows generally eat a lot more than receive priority pasture or suitable high
weaners but can utilize lower quality quality supplements to achieve growth
• After weaning, cows are very efficient at • Manage the nutrition of cows and feed
using lower quality feed. them if necessary to ensure fertility.
• Cow fertility declines if cows slip too low • Buy feed supplements according to their
in body condition. suitability, cost and practicality.
Future Research and Information
Delivery in CRCIII
The new CRC for Beef Genetic Technologies improving carcase and meat quality
will run from 2005 until 2012. It is developing traits and feed efficiency.
and implementing new tools to help produce • Improving tick resistance and defining
high quality beef products efficiently and animal welfare.
keep our industry competitive.
• Genetic improvement of fertility in the
Using these tools we will be able to identify northern environment.
and breed animals with better carcase traits
• A major program with supply chains and
such as yield of saleable meat, tenderness
producer groups, working to achieve
and marbling, while at the same time faster adoption of new technologies.
improving the basic herd productivity
traits such as fertility, adaptation, parasite Progress is already impressive, and if
resistance and temperament. research targets are met and the industry
adopts the findings, benefits are estimated
Programs under way include: to be worth an additional $179m per year to
the Australian beef industry.
• Genetic and other technologies for
improving beef yield and quality in To take advantage of the opportunities,
commercial supply chains. breeders will need to stay in touch with
changing markets, keep an open mind and
• Genetic studies linking maternal be prepared to modify some traditional
efficiency in the breeding herd with practices.
Futu r e I n f o r m a t i o n
Livestock Library Queensland Department of Primary
A new searchable database of livestock
research information: John Bertram ph 07 4671 6704 or
Victorian Department of Primary Industries
BREEDPLAN Tim Hollier ph 03 6030 4569 or
WA Department of Agriculture
Emma Giumelli ph 08 9780 6181 or
For news, some publications and coming firstname.lastname@example.org
events check our website:
South Australian Research Development
For general enquiries: ph 02 6773 3501 or
Ben Hebart ph 08 8303 7654 or
email@example.com to contact Bob
Gaden, Project Leader, CRC Information
Awareness, phone 02 6770 1800 or Meat and Wool New Zealand
Mark Aspin ph +64 4 473 9150 or
State Departments of Agriculture or
NSW Department of Primary Industries:
Bob Gaden ph 02 6770 1800 or
Beef CRCMajor Research Sites
Brian Pastures, Qld
Swans Lagoon, Qld
Glen Innes, NSW
Struan, SA Brisbane
Armidale (Beef CRC HQ)
Established and supported under the Australian Government’s Cooperative
Research Centres Program
World class science,
creating first class beef
CJ Hawkins Homestead, University of New England, Armidale NSW 2351
ph 02 6773 3501 • fax 02 6773 3500 • email firstname.lastname@example.org