Central Australia Quality Graze Steer Challenge

Chris Materne, Jane Tincknell and Pieter Conradie - Department of Primary Industry and Resources - Meat & Livestock Australia

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

This research article looks at the Central Australia Quality Graze Steer Challenge which assembles the benefits of applying the latest grazing land management research recommendations.


What is the problem?

This raises the question as to how the Central Australian pastoral industry can take advantage of these strengths. Production of finished steers for slaughter and premium prices through the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) meat quality grading system is one option.

These plan targets were:

  1.  to examine and indicate growth rate potential and consistency of grass-fed cattle in central Australia
  2. to explore and reveal the ability of central Australian cattle to be grown and finished on native pastures for Meat Standard Australia grading
  3. to allocate a neutral venue for producers to compare their steer performance under the latest industry grazing land management recommendations
  4. to require the builder in the Department of Primary Industry and Resources Central Australian Quality Graze trial
  5. to denote the power of the Remote Livestock Management System to help producers pinpoint timing of sale to their selected market
  6. to escalate the farmers understanding of changes in pasture quality and subsequent impacts on animal liveweight performance

What did the research involve?

3.1 Challenge activity
-The project ran from March 2014 to December 2016. Seven central Australian producers (each with different cattle breeds) committed to participating in the trial and were approached to supply five weaner steers (180-220kg) for the Challenge to be managed alongside steers bred on OMP.

3.1.1 Grazing strategy
-The grazing strategy utilized for the Challenge was a two-paddock rotation plus capped variable stocking strategy set up under the Central Australian Quality Graze Project. Carrying Capacity Management
-This strategy is based on the estimated Long Term Carrying Capacity (LTCC) of the watered areas within the paddocks (within 5km of waters). Spelling
-The research suggests incorporating spelling during pasture growth can aid in land condition maintenance and improvement (Walsh et. al. 2014, Chilcott et al. 2005). Hence a two paddock, 12-month rotation strategy was chosen to demonstrate the benefits of spelling in its simplest form. Annual Stocking Rate
-Management As per recommendations from the Northern Grazing Systems project (Walsh et. al. 2014) a restricted flexible stocking rate strategy should be utilized in central Australia to optimise beef production in a remote location under extreme climate variability.

3.1.2 Animal activities
-Ten different breeds and cross-breeds made up the Challenge.
-All steers presented were tested for disease risk to ensure the disease-free status of the OMP herd was maintained. On-Research Station
-Activities Five to eight steers from each property that met the selection and testing requirements were transported to the Arid Zone Research Institute (AZRI) by DPIR staff where they were isolated for a minimum of 10 days prior to the final BVDV: AGID blood test results.

3.1.3 Pasture activities
-The Challenge steers entered a two-paddock rotation system under a restricted variable annual stocking strategy based on GLM principles in June 2014.

3.2 Producer assessment/evaluation of demonstrated technology and implementation into their own environment
– No formal evaluation of the demonstrated grazing strategy or Remote Livestock Management System was requested from participants.

3.3 Communication / extension activities

3.3.1 Challenge participants
-In the experience of the DPIR staff, producers in the Alice Springs region are for the most part reluctant to attend group activities due to the remote demographic location of their businesses, or if in attendance are relatively reserved when it comes to active participation when in large groups.

3.3.2 Greater industry
-Opportunities to share results from the Challenge with the greater pastoral industry proved to be more than anticipated.

What were the key findings?

4.1 Rainfall
-Rainfall data from the closest Bureau of Meteorology station at the Alice Springs Airport (located approximately 20 kilometers east of the Challenge site) were used to gain a better understanding of, and to provide context to, the seasonal conditions both prior to and during the Challenge.

4.2 Pasture performance
-Due to utilizing best practice rangeland management techniques, OMP had sufficient feed reserves to be able to carry the animals nominated for the Challenge.

4.3 Animal performance

4.3.1 Static performance data
-The quarterly static data collected during the Challenge shows the steers average liveweight finished at 603kg.
4.3.2 Remote Livestock Management System performance
-This Challenge provided an opportunity to introduce the participants to the RLMS. The general alignment of the RLMS data with the quarterly static weight data gave the participants confidence in the technology output, and in decision making such as determining steer turn-off date.

4.3.3 Carcass performance
-Of the 54 steers, 91% met MSA requirements and only 5 steers (9%), independent of breed, failed to meet MSA criteria.

4.5 Monitoring, evaluation and reporting (MER)
-Although participants filled in surveys pre and post their involvement in the Challenge, it was through personal communication with producers that it became obvious that producer perception has changed from doubtfulness or even disbelief that grass-fed cattle from their properties can get MSA grading consistently, to a belief that it is possible every year.

5.2 Key benefits from this Challenge for producers

*Relationship with DPIR – As a result of this Challenge participants feel greater confidence in engaging with DPIR. Four producers have requested pasture assessments by DPIR staff to assist in more effective fodder planning.

*Understanding paddock dynamics – The strategy to involve a small group in this Challenge provided a forum that encouraged the producers to share ideas, opinions, and experiences amongst themselves and DPIR staff.

*Realising environment is more important than breed – As an industry, there is a lot of focus placed upon which breed of cattle performs best under certain environments.

5.3 What was learned from the project design
5.3.1 What worked well

*Venue – hosting the Challenge at OMP ensured that the paddocks were available for the entire challenge.

5.3.2 What can be improved
– Economic analysis to determine possible points throughout the Challenge when the steers could have been sold and the possible profit margins.

– RLMS data sharing was a challenge throughout the project. Managing the expectations of participants/project staff and what the technology is designed to deliver could have been handled better with improved communication between project staff and Precision Pastoral.

5.4 Communication/extension activities and their success
The combination of specific events for participants and a wide range of communication tools to connect with the greater industry helped to generate significant interest in the Challenge. The team at DPIR were able to provide many small opportunities to engage with participants throughout the Challenge by emailing performance reports, utilizing phone calls and emails in seeking opinions or answering participant questions.

Final comment

The caution is that pastures and in particularly stocking rates need to be managed to ensure the land condition is able to utilize rainfall events.

2017 - Australia - Chris Materne, Jane Tincknell and Pieter Conradie - Department of Primary Industry and Resources - Meat & Livestock Australia
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