Thursday, December 7, 2023

Steaks are high in breeding choices

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Eventual eating experience must inform every step of the way – What’s the Beef roadshow.
Cleardale Station has been making genetic progress with its Angus beef cattle since 1954.
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Diners choose beef for the flavour, aroma and mouthfeel when they are eating a premium cut – and aiming to get a good steak on the plate should be the goal of beef breeders “no matter what part of the value chain you are in”.

This was the message from Pure Angus director Guy Sargent to more than 60 farmers gathered for the What’s the Beef roadshow hosted at Cleardale Station in the Rakaia Gorge.

“If you are not aiming at the top for the best eating experience then you may as well be breeding Friesian cross,” he said.

PGG Wrightson national genetics manager and What’s the Beef co-ordinator Callum Stewart said the aim of What’s the Beef is to help as many farmers as possible across all beef breeds to shift from the commodity into the premium market.

“You can take two different directions when approaching this: either what’s in your paddock, or the steak that sits on the consumer’s plate. Understanding both is useful,” Stewart said.

“If you begin with the genetics of the herd then adopt farming practices that will ensure they provide you with what you need for success. Those factors are largely in your control.

“In the meantime keep the other end of the equation in sight – the satisfaction of the diner consuming your product, and What’s the Beef shows you how to fit it together and make it all work.”      

Jake Phillips of Angus Australia said applying some logical principles will result in an effective breeding programme.

Step one is to recognise and understand your target market, while establishing a robust breeding objective that should be based on consumer demand.

“Knowing who you are producing for gives you purpose and direction when deciding how to manage your farm and your stock,” Phillips said.

When the major influence on the genetics of a commercial herd is the bull, it pays not to make selection decisions lightly.

“Those decisions have long-term consequences and will pay back over an extended period as good selection decisions roll on down the generations and through the decades.

“Beef breeders who adopt sound record-keeping practices, make informed decisions, understand the profit drivers in their business and focus on satisfying the consumer, will be well placed to face emerging new trends and optimise the productivity of their farming business,” Phillips said.

Ben Todhunter says a recent trip to the United States confirmed the opportunities for US genetics in the Cleardale Angus beef herd. Photo: Annette Scott

Aiming to get a good steak on the plate, the Todhunter family of Cleardale Station breed their Angus herd with the focus on fertility and carcase driving high profit animals and farm systems to help produce top quality meat.

Now under the ownership of fourth-generation farmer Ben Todhunter and his wife Donna Field, Cleardale has been making genetic progress year on year since 1954.

“A premium quality eating experience for the end consumer is absolutely imperative and our aim is to provide this with fertile, functional, low-cost cows that thrive in the high country environment,” Todhunter said.

Todhunter recently returned from a bull scouting trip in the United States.

“This trip confirmed the opportunities that exist to incorporate US genetics into the Cleardale herd to build on the eating experience,” he told the gathering.

Travelling though several states looking at bulls and talking to American Angus breeders and chefs, Todhunter observed that the US is significantly ahead of New Zealand in terms of carcase traits, driven largely by the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) programme they run as part of their branding.

“For a programme that was nearly shut down twice in its early days, its focus on delivering great customer experience is something everyone in the industry can learn from.”

He found the technologies used in the US interesting.

“They are not use in NZ and are not even on the discussion radar.”

Hormone growth promotants are used widely as are genetically modified crops – and now even gene editing of food animals has gained approval.

“For NZ it is important for us to understand our customers and some of these technologies may not be acceptable, however they do provide competitive advantage to US producers and as time goes on NZ runs the risk of becoming non-competitive.”

The US is not the only opportunity Todhunter is eyeing up.

“I also feel that maybe there is greater opportunity for us in Asia than in the US, playing off the grass-fed, pure quality offering we have there.” 

AngusPRO genetics will go under the hammer at Cleardale’s annual bull sale on June 12.  

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