Carcase trait emphasis pays off

By: Tony Leggett

In Livestock6 Minutes

Greater emphasis on carcase traits at bull selection time is paying dividends for a large scale central North Island beef finishing enterprise.

Atihau Incorporation has been supplying steers to the Angus Pure programme since its inception seven years ago, and recently began supplying the Alliance Group’s Hand-Picked Beef programme.

Chief executive Andrew Beijeman says Atihau slaughters about 2500 steers annually through the two programmes and its own beef brand, Awhi Ruapehu, which is mostly sold on the domestic market in New Zealand.

“All our finished cattle go into branded programmes and we’re now getting 80-90% into the specification where it achieves the premiums on offer,” he says.

For the past two years, of the 60 bulls bought by Atihau annually, only high-ranking Angus Pure Index bulls with estimated breeding values for marbling above the breed average have been bought for use within the Atihau herd.
Beijeman says it was fortunate that Atihau had been buying sire bulls for many years from a Canterbury stud that was increasingly focusing on carcase traits, particularly marbling.

“I believe that we are still benefitting in terms of carcase performance from all those years of buying bulls from Te Mania Angus stud. Although we were more focused on other traits back then, Te Mania was already lifting its own emphasis on marbling score,” he says.

“It doesn’t mean we focus just on marbling now either. We still need genetics that perform well on our stations, so it has to be a balance of traits.”

Supplying two branded beef programmes with high numbers of animals each week requires superb feed and stock management. He credits Atihau’s Ohotu farm manager Dean Francois and other managers for their skills in preparing the stock for each consignment and PGG Wrightson stock agent Simon Luoni for assisting with stock selection and logistics.

“With any tightly specified programme, it’s not just a case of selecting on weight. The animals have to be finished to the right level and that’s what requires Dean and Simon’s expertise,” he says.

Atihau bought bulls from several studs which have a strong focus on eating quality. They include Te Mania, Storth Oaks, Waitangi and Kakahu studs.

“All our finished cattle go into branded programmes and we’re now getting 80 90% into the specification where it achieves the premiums on offer.”

Simmental-cross cattle excel

Silver Fern Farms Lower South Island Supplier of the year 2020, Jeff Cleveland says his preferred Simmental-cross cattle can give traditional breeds a run for their money when it comes to eating quality.

He is the third generation on the family’s 864ha Braelynn Farm outside Oamaru where he finishes 300 cattle each year under the Silver Fern Farms programme and achieves very high strike rates for Beef EQ – their quality beef programme.

“Though there may be other breeds more commonly recognised for high marbling and superior eating quality, we are managing to deliver on that front and still produce high growth rate cattle,” he says.

“With the Simmental influence we finish virtually all progeny after one winter at around the 18-20 month mark, and this is what drives our profitability.

Jeff can remember back in the early days of the farm when progeny used to take two winters to grow out before sending to slaughter.

“These days our progeny are going out heavier after one winter than they were after two back then, as well as making their mark in eating quality stakes. The Simmental Angus-cross works brilliantly for us.”

Cleveland is a firm believer that the temperament of the Simmental breed has made huge gains over the years, which has had a big influence in his gains in terms of growth rates and eating quality.

“We all know quiet cattle grow faster, and with lower pH levels the overall eating experience is superior.”

Hereford Prime index success

Hawke’s Bay Hereford stud owner Phil Barnett says farmers targeting branded beef programmes like Hereford Prime are increasingly emphasising carcase traits when buying bulls.

“I’ve certainly noticed that farmers aiming at the Hereford Prime brand with their cattle are much more aware of the carcase traits and actively seek out bulls that offer higher marbling as well as the other usual traits like growth and calving ease,” he says.

“They are also looking for animals that have soft coats because they seem better at withstanding a challenge and will still keep producing.”

He urges farmers to talk to stud masters about their requirements so they can help with bull selection.
He says index-assisted buying is also becoming more mainstream and Hereford NZ recently refined its Hereford Prime Index to help bull buyers with their bull selections for targeting the Hereford Prime beef programme.