John Bruce said the decision was driven by the breed’s improved genetics, scale and performance, including in the MSA eating quality grading system.
Their 625-hectare farm is fully stocked in spring at 1400 head, which includes animals that are bred and animals that are bought in and finished. They carry about 1000 head in winter as pasture growth declines.
From the late 1970s, the family had South Devon cows, but as they increased the size of the property and herd, the Bruces found it difficult to get enough bulls from the smaller breed that suited their operation and were of consistent quality.
And while they had a lot of success with the South Devons, including in carcase competitions, the Bruce family decided to return towards an Angus breeding herd. Mr Bruce said the breed had improved its genetics and efficiency a lot in the past 30 years.
“The Angus breed has improved all facets that are reflected in the MSA index score, including intramuscular fat, eye muscle area; as well as breeding traits and growth,” he said.
He said because there were more Angus studs offering more Angus bulls each year, it was possible to secure the bulls needed that suited your operation.
The family’s recent bull purchases include two groups from Heath and Sam Dobson at Pine Park, Cluan, Tas.
The cattle at Western Plains are grass-fed. The pastures are rotationally grazed to ensure clean fresh pasture for all cattle every two to four days. The rotation length is determined by monitoring the leaf emergence rate of the ryegrass. There’s also 60ha of dryland and irrigated lucerne/alfalfa to supplement summer production.
The cattle are supplied to Greenham Tasmania for the Cape Grim brand. Greenham Tasmania also packs the Never Ever antibiotic-free and HGP-free brand, and has encouraged Tasmanian beef producers to enter the Global Animal Partnership animal welfare program. Western Plains is accredited for both programs.
Mr Bruce said they’d found how cattle are managed, particularly how they are fed, could have a bigger impact on their performance than their breed.
“More specifically, MSA grading system shows that if the cattle are consistently fed good quality pasture it shows up in good marbling, lower ossification score, fat cover which all goes towards MSA grading and thus eating quality,” he said. “Where as if they are given poor feed for any period over autumn or winter, it can affect their MSA grading performance.”