FOR Benalla cattle producer Gary Coventry, named Victoria’s top Meat Standards Australia producer last night (see separate story) the secret to producing high quality MSA beef is in capitalising on available feed.
Mr Coventry ensures there is feed available before buying-in grower cattle, and reduces the number of cattle grazing during the drier months when feed supply is limited.
All his cattle are pasture-fed on a combination of clover, rye and phalaris, supplemented with hay when required.
“For me the secret to getting a high MSA Index score and good compliance is to finish cattle off when the feed is there, and don’t have too many cattle on when there’s no feed – it’s as simple as that,” he said.
Click the link below to view a short video of Gary Coventry’s approach to MSA compliance
MSA is an MLA-supported program where the eating quality of every beef cut is determined using a grading system that measures key attributes such as carcase weight, ossification, marbling, rib fat, tropical breed content, meat pH and temperature, hanging method, hormonal growth promotants and meat colour. Each carcase receives an MSA Index value that represents its potential eating quality based on the measurements collected.
To be eligible for the MSA awards, a producer’s annual MSA-graded volume had to be equal or above the average for the State they were produced in during 2014-15.
Each producer that met the eligibility criteria received a score out of 100 weighted on two factors: the compliance to MSA minimum requirements, and eating quality performance as determined by the MSA Index for cattle consigned to MSA in 2014-15.
“To be named the MSA producer for the state is a real feather in my cap, and also my agent’s cap,” Mr Coventry said.
“I like to think that I’m doing a good job with my cattle and producing good quality beef that people are going to enjoy.”
The MSA assessment revealed his beef was of extremely high quality due to low ossification or maturity scores – a measure which has a significant impact on tenderness – as well as a desirable amount of marbling, corresponding to excellent flavour, and high levels of juiciness.
The high marbling scores reflect Mr Coventry’s focus on high-quality nutrition.
Mr Coventry farms ‘Ballentubba’, a 240ha pasture block, as well as another 160ha farm at nearby Lima East, which is owned by his extended family and was selected by his great grandfather in 1876.
One block is used to grow-out steers and the other for finishing. The steers are usually bought at close to 300kg in February or March from saleyards within a 200km radius – Wangaratta, Wodonga, Yea, Euroa, Echuca or Shepparton – with the aim of turning them off in October-November.
The steers are generally Angus or Hereford types but Mr Coventry doesn’t mind a Euro-cross animal, as long as the cattle have good temperament.
His farms lie in a 750mm rainfall belt and turn off 250-300 steers annually to produce a 250kg carcase for the domestic market, or a heavier carcase of up to 400kg for export, depending on how the season unfolds.
Mr Coventry said that alongside the consistent supply of nutrition his land can produce, the other factor influencing his exceptional MSA scores was keeping the stress levels of his cattle low.
He achieves this by avoiding the use of dogs, frequently rotating his cattle in paddocks, and only yarding when necessary.
“I only yard them when I really have to, and by rotating them around the paddocks, it keeps them quiet and they get used to people moving around amongst them all the time.”
While Mr Coventry believes he’s just a ‘small cog’ in the larger wheel of the beef industry, he is proud to be doing his bit to ensure that consumers are eating good quality beef.
“And MSA accreditation does make a difference to the bottom line because it’s all dollars and cents in the long run,” he said.