Beef up carcasses: Researcher

Zoetis genetics area manager Amy Hoogenboom inspects a rib eye after speaking about using DNA...
Zoetis genetics area manager Amy Hoogenboom inspects a rib eye after speaking about using DNA technologies to make more informed decisions concerning animal selection at the roadshow What’s the Beef in Gore last week.PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Beef carcass weights need to rise after decades of "disappointing" results on the hook, a genetics researcher told a room of farmers in Gore last week.

Zoetis genetics area manager Amy Hoogenboom, speaking at a "What’s the Beef" roadshow at Heartland Hotel Croyden last week, said cattle carcass weights in New Zealand had increased by 4% on average in the past 30 years.

"Does that surprise anyone? Does that disappoint anyone?" she asked a room of about 40 beef farmers.

Dr Hoogenboom, of North Canterbury, said the increase was "not a great improvement".

"When the primary thing a farmer gets paid on — before anything else — is carcass weight and we’ve only lifted it by 4%."

Cattle carcass weights in Australia and United States had improved to a point where farmers were being penalised for providing animals which were "too heavy" to meatworks.

A farmer at the roadshow argued the data could be skewed due to cattle being sent to the meatworks at a younger age in recent years than they were three decades ago.

Dr Hoogenboom disagreed, and believed the age cattle were being sent to meatworks had not changed much.

"I see sales of 20-month-old steers that still need finishing."

Another farmer said the data was "misleading" as it included carcass weights of dairy cattle.

Dr Hoogenboom disagreed.

"If we took the dairy out — that would look worse," she said, pointing at the line graph.

Farmers were focusing more on the growth of their cattle rather than carcass weights, she said.

Data showed carcass weights of cows and heifers had increased more than steers’, which created "a less efficient unit".

To improve carcass weights, cattle needed some fat cover but not too much, as it would be trimmed at the meatworks and reduce yield.

The next speaker at the roadshow, Macfarlane Rural Business director Jamie Gordon, spoke of four ways farmers could produce top quality beef.

By selecting cattle for its intramuscular fat to improve marbling scores.

By providing their cattle plenty of high energy feed.

By handling cattle well including avoiding stress on them before slaughter.

By harvesting then when they are ready — and not too old — with a fat cover from 8mm to 12mm.

Angus Pure director Guy Sargent said the roadshow was "driven" by Angus Pure and PGG Wrightson "because we think there’s a big opportunity for beef farmers to move out of the commodity business and into premium paying markets".

The roadshow visited nine locations from Gore to Whangarei and finished in Wairoa on Monday.

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