CATTLE producers supplying OBE Organic’s beef supply chain stand to benefit from an ambitious new performance feedback model that promises to put more money in producers’ pockets, as well as improving animal health and wellbeing outcomes.
The OBE Organic supply chain is driving the development of a slaughter data facility called Feedback Loop, which aims to improve producer productivity and animal health and welfare performance. MLA has supported the project dollar-for-dollar through the MLA Donor Company.
OBE is a producer-owned supply chain delivering Certified Organic grassfed beef into premium food service and retail markets across the US Asian Middle Eastern and domestic markets.
The 12-month project will utilise existing data collected by OBE’s service kill processor, to assess the extent and cost of carcase downgrades caused by parasites, disease or husbandry issues.
The basic premise behind the project is that lots of carcase performance data is already being collected at slaughter by processors which has potential to tell producers how their cattle are performing, but which is not currently being well-utilised by industry.
OBE’s Feedback Loop project, covering between 10,000 and 12,000 Certified Organic slaughter cattle each year, is expected to get underway in coming weeks.
In discussions with cattle suppliers to the OBE program, the subject of animal welfare and animal wellbeing often arose – as both an opportunity, but also a risk, OBE Organic general manager Dalene Wray told Beef Central.
“There are a lot of clues about animal wellbeing already included in slaughter data in areas like parasites, disease, bruising and meat colour, which does not necessarily get back effectively to producers,” she said.
The service kill abattoir where OBE gets its kill performed already records offal condition as part of its everyday carcase assessment.
“But when we asked them why such information had not previous filtered back to producers, they simply told us they had never been asked,” Ms Wray said.
“We’ve set out to try to utilise the carcase and offal information that is available, presenting it to producer suppliers in a way that provides indicators about carcase performance and animal wellbeing, and the potential financial impact it is having,” she said.
The feedback project also plans to provide some benchmarking against both the producer’s own historical performance, as well as other suppliers across the OBE supply group.
Critically, the project will aim to put a dollar figure next to each attribute that negatively affects animal carcase performance, as well as wellbeing – including obvious attributes such as bruising, but also less obvious ones such as offal condition.
The project’s vision is that producers will respond to those dollar impact signals, addressing areas of concern through management and lifting overall performance.
That, in itself, offers an opportunity to build a stronger animal wellbeing message into OBE’s commercial beef brand messaging (see this morning’s separate story).
Thus, the Feedback Loop project represents a potential triple bottom-line: better for the animal, better for the producer through enhanced cattle performance, and better for the consumer. It can also be argued that the service kill processor also stands to benefit, through better offal performance.
Providing the data and information on welfare outcomes to producers is one thing, but taking action on it will be an important second feature of the project.
In that area, OBE has engaged Dr Sarah-Jane Wilson, a leading farm biosecurity veterinarian based at Barcaldine, to assess the extent and cost of carcase downgrades caused by parasites, disease, or husbandry.
Dr Wilson will also spend time on properties with OBE suppliers, talking about management strategies to improve performance, where necessary.
“Ideally, change happens on-farm, producers become more profitable, and cattle have better welfare outcomes,” Ms Wray said. “Reducing carcase damage and downgrades should reduce waste in the supply chain, improve grazier productivity by reducing diseases and parasites, and improve cattle health and welfare.”
Presence of fertility diseases will also be monitored, Ms Wray said.
“In many cases, producers in remote extensive western Queensland areas put calf loss down to wild dog predation, when in fact fertility diseases like pesti might well be a significant factor. Shifting calving performance even a few percentage points could have a significant impact on profitability,” she said.
The project is designed to be retrospective, meaning Dr Wilson will begin engaging with some suppliers, based on data that has already been collected from previous kills. The new feedback sheets on future kills will only add to that in terms of parasite and disease management, and animal wellbeing outcomes.
OBE Organic cattle suppliers should start seeing the new feedback sheets within the next month or two.
Unique animal health challenges in Organic production
Project consultant Dr Sarah-Jane Wilson said organic livestock production posed its own unique management challenges.
“The Feedback Loop project is a first for utilising data that is already being collected on organic livestock through processing to tailor management solutions,” she said.
“Providing feedback will enable better biosecurity and animal health planning and ultimately provide financial gains through reduction in avoidable losses. OBE has been instrumental in finding opportunities to provide better outcomes for their organic producers to enhance productivity and maintain sustainability. It’s an exciting avenue to be pursuing,” Dr Wilson said.
Sharing and utilisation of data
Sharing and utilising data MLA Donor Company chief executive Christine Pitt said the project was a significant opportunity across the value chain to increase the sharing and utilisation of data.
“The sharing of data across the entire value chain has the potential to improve performance and ultimately profitability for producers and our industry,” Dr Pitt said.
“MDC is great vehicle for producers and others to access co-investment and support for innovative approaches to improving the efficiency and profitability of individual businesses. And projects like this with OBE Organic in the digital space are a key component of our investment portfolio.”
The results of the OBE Organic Feedback Loop will be shared with the industry at the end of the project, and regular updates provided on OBE Organic’s social media platforms.
- Beef Central and FutureBeef are hosting a webinar this Friday, March 10 to pinpoint topics that producers need to be mindful of when assessing carcase feedback that directly influence the farm gate price of cattle. Click here for more details.