Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Trial results kick in

An exciting project is under way in the southern-west corner of New Zealand. It has the potential to bring increased returns and opportunities to Angus and Shorthorn farmers. A meeting of like-minded people has led to western Southland’s Mt Linton Station and a group of Shorthorn breeders coming together to test the crossing of Mt Linton Angus heifers using premium Shorthorn bull semen. The key focus of the trial is the hybrid vigour effect on increasing meat marbling, prized by the high-end Asian niche market. There is also focus on showing how growth gains can be achieved by cross-breeding for no extra cost.

The trial results to date are promising, showing there are positive gains to be made in both areas.

The two breeds are renowned for their marbling ability. World Shorthorn Association president Bill Austin said he envisaged huge opportunities for farmers.

Austin knows a thing or two about meat marbling. With his wife, Judy, they muscle scan a large number of beef cattle throughout NZ annually. Although a Shorthorn man through and through, Austin said the Angus breed had gained critical mass as breeders had responded to the market extremely well with their unique strategies, bolstering the breed’s popularity with consumers and beef farmers.

Via this trial work, he believes many new opportunities will open up for both Shorthorn and Angus breeders and finishers, bringing a win-win to the wider beef industry.

Austin said this country’s feedlot business had been driven by the Angus breed and although the marbling of meat was highly favoured by the top-end Asian market, which pays a premium of up to 20% more for it, the Japanese, in particular, were not as keen on red cattle. The Angus Shorthorn-cross was accepted into the feedlots and this, coupled with the hybrid vigour of increased meat marbling and growth rates, was where the opportunities lay.

“Time has already shown the strength of the Shorthorn Angus-cross and the hybrid vigour gained from using two purebreds is well-proven,” Austin said. “But we need to see the commercial relevance of this particular hybrid vigour.”

So far the trial results are showing there is an opportunity for Angus breeders to increase growth rates by using a Shorthorn terminal sire, which in turn provides opportunity for Shorthorn breeders.

Bill and Judy Austin hard at work muscle scanning trial progeny.

Choosing Mt Linton Station’s Angus was a planned move.

“I picked my target,” said Austin, describing the Mt Linton Stud as possessing the key Angus traits and recording history, and a strong focus on marbling, making it a good fit with the trial.

Mt Linton General Manager Ceri Lewis said the marbling aspect convinced him of the merits of being part of such a trial. He also sees the potential such a trial can have in strengthening the industry through growth opportunities in overseas markets, and bringing more options to farmers in terms of breeding calves that are able to convert feed to a premium meat product more efficiently.

Eighty of Mt Linton’s commercial Angus yearling heifers were artificially inseminated in the trial – 40 heifers to an Angus and 40 to a Shorthorn. These heifers calved down in September 2011, and were weaned the following March 2012. Weaning weights of progeny averaged a 0.5 difference, with the average Angus weight at 234kg and Shorthorn at 233.5kg. Calves were wintered together on brassica crop until October 5 last year when they went on to pasture.

Leading up to weighing and ultrasound scanning in January of this year, Ceri Lewis said it looked like the sire effect had “kicked in” since spring. He was right. Shorthorn-cross heifers averaged a 10.1kg gain over the Angus heifers with the Shornhorn-cross steers averaging a 30.3kg gain over the Angus steers.

Austin said these results didn’t come as a surprise given the hybrid vigour effect, but what he was most interested in was whether a lift in total carcase quality could be achieved.

“In fact there were no losses of quality, with rump and rib fat covers being very similar with slight gains for the crossbreds in eye muscle area and, importantly, intramuscular fat (marbling).”

A first cut of the top weights from both were to be sent for processing at Canterbury Meat Packers early in March and Austin said it would be interesting to see the slaughter analysis, which was going to be graded using Asian premium market standards.

The results were to be presented to those at the New Zealand World Shorthorn Conference Tour at Mt Linton Station on March 13.

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