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Tips to improve MSA compliance, from the pasture up

by Beef Central, 18 June 2018
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WITH winter and spring being notoriously difficult times for many beef producers targeting Meat Standards Australia requirements, some timely tips to help improve compliance have been compiled for livestock managers.

MSA’s 2017 Australian Beef Eating Quality Insights revealed that across the 2015-17 period:

  • For Queensland producers, average non-compliance was the highest in August 2015, peaking again in spring 2016.
  • In NSW, average non-compliance during the two-year period was highest through winter in 2015, peaking again around autumn in 2016.
  • In Victoria, the report identified two key periods of non-compliance – spring and late summer into early autumn. Average non-compliance during the past two years peaked in October 2015, and February 2017.
  • For Tasmanian producers, MSA’s Australian Beef Eating Quality Insights revealed average non-compliance was highest in early winter and late autumn.

In all four states, high pH was the main contributing factor.

MSA program manager Sarah Strachan said there were some key areas that producers could target to address pH and improve MSA compliance.

“Ultimate pH is heavily influenced by on-farm practices and there are two major components to this – nutrition and stress,” she said.

Carcase pH levels are driven by muscle glycogen, which is built up through good nutrition and then depleted by stress. To address issues of non-compliance to pH, producers needed to maximise the amount of glycogen at the point of slaughter by optimising nutrition and minimising stress.

Ms Strachan encouraged producers to look carefully at their production systems to identify what might be contributing to issues of high pH.winter and spring being notoriously difficult times for many beef producers targeting Meat Standards Australia requirements, some timely tips to help improve compliance have been compiled for livestock managers.

Northern strategies

For northern producers, she suggested monitoring feed on offer and pasture quality to achieve the desired rate of growth and a rising plane of nutrition.

“If you notice higher rates of dark-cutting in your cattle despite abundant feed, do a feed test to clarify pasture quality. Alternatively, if pasture is in short supply, supplementing cattle with other nutritious feed sources will help to optimise their performance,” Ms Strachan said.

A high-energy ration for at least 30 days before slaughter could increase muscle glycogen and reduce the risk of dark cutting.

Ms Strachan said northern producers should assess their cattle management in the lead up to slaughter to identify potential stressors and consider the following tips:

  • muster and handle stock as quietly and efficiently as possible
  • familiarise animals to handling and train stock persons in handling skills
  • maintain animals in their social groups – don’t mix mobs within 14 days of dispatch
  • ensure livestock have access to water at all times prior to consignment.

Southern state strategies

For producers in southern states, Ms Strachan said there were some key nutrition areas that producers could target to address pH and improve MSA compliance.

“An animal’s energy requirements will vary according to conditions – for instance, cattle might use more energy to stay warm on a cold, wet day,” Ms Strachan said.

“While one chilly day shouldn’t have a major effect on its own, a week or two of consistently dreary weather could drain your animals’ energy stores, cause them to lose condition, and/or lead to higher incidence of dark cutting, which is defined as carcases with an ultimate pH of more than 5.7.

Carcase pH levels are driven by muscle glycogen, which is built up through good nutrition and then depleted by stress. To address issues of non-compliance to pH, producers needed to maximise the amount of glycogen at the point of slaughter by optimising nutrition and minimising stress.

“If your cattle aren’t receiving enough feed or adequate nutrition to grow, they’re likely not storing much glycogen,” Ms Strachan said. “Low pasture growth during February and March can also lead to lower pasture quality, which means that total feed on offer, and therefore intake, would also be low.”

“Endophytes in some plants can cause increased rates of dark-cutting as they produce mycotoxins which effectively “stress” the animals. When the plant is under stress from lack of moisture, endophyte concentrations are higher, particularly if there has been a false break, so cattle are more at risk of dark-cutting as a result .“During times of improved feed on offer, the impact of endophytes is diluted, so livestock are at less risk. However, low concentrations will still hinder cattle performance and increase the likelihood of non-compliance to pH,” she said.

Research focuses on magnesium deficiency

Recent research has suggested that a magnesium deficiency in some southern cattle could also contribute to a higher incidence of dark-cutting, as affected cattle are more susceptible to stress.

“The acceptable range of magnesium levels will vary according to soil type, profile and pasture composition. The safest bet is to conduct soil and feed tests and discuss the results with your agronomist,” Ms Strachan said.

Preliminary research has shown that pasture with a magnesium concentration greater than 0.24pc can decrease the risk of dark-cutting.

Ms Strachan said the next step for southern producers was to adjust management and feeding practices according to conditions.

“Monitor feed on offer and pasture quality to achieve the desired rate of growth and a rising plane of nutrition,” she said.

“Research has shown that magnesium absorption can be hindered by high potassium and nitrogen levels in pasture, which occurs when feed is growing green and lush.

If a producer noticed higher rates of dark-cutting in their cattle despite abundant feed, they should look to include a more fibrous supplement in their diet, such as straw or hay, to slow digestion and improve magnesium absorption.

“Alternatively, if pasture is in short supply, supplementing cattle with other nutritious feed sources will help to optimise their performance,” Ms Strachan said.

“A high-energy pelleted ration of 2.5kg/head/day, for 14 days before slaughter, can increase muscle glycogen and reduce the risk of dark cutting. Grain-free options are available,” she said.

Southern region producers could boost low magnesium levels by:

  • applying appropriate fertilisers to improve magnesium levels in soil and pasture
  • supplementing stock with a magnesium-based lick, pellets or liquid – as it is bitter in taste, introduce it slowly
  • ensuring daily supply, as magnesium is not stored in the body.

 

Source: MSA



Reader's Comments


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  • Sandi Jephcott June 18, 2018

    Really pleased to read an article that uses quiet and efficient handling skills not low stress stock handling. In recent years, low stress stock handling has become a buzz word and really all we need is good, quiet cattle handling.

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