Consumers around the world are demanding highly marbled beef, and Warwick Court Hereford and Poll Hereford stud is on a mission to help them get it.
Bob and Sue Holdsworth have been breeding Hereford cattle for close to four decades, and now run 160 stud breeders on “Glenora” via Jindera, NSW.
Mr Holdsworth said improving the carcase qualities of the breed, and specifically their client’s cattle, was the focal point of their operation.
“We’ve been heavily involved in trying to get more intramuscular fat, which leads to marbling, in our Hereford cattle,” he said.
“We’ve selected sires that maintained or improved the general characteristics that Herefords are known for but try to find ones that have reasonably high levels of IMF.
“Our last drop of calves for 2017 were in the top 10 per cent of the breed for IMF.”
Seven sires from Warwick Court have been used in the Herefords Australia Beef Information Nucleus Project over the years, and Mr Holdsworth said the first three of those bulls produced progeny in the top 5pc for Meat Standards Australia.
“That is around the MSA 64 index, which is the stuff they put on restaurant tables,” he said.
“To get high MSA index, is a combination of things – ossification, a measure of growth rate.
“Herefords traditionally do really well for fat cover and IMF and while the other breeds, like Wagyu, are terrific at marbling, they don’t get the carcase weight and take a long time to reach the potential.
“If you want to be up there, you want a marble score 2 and MSA grade 64 to have a really top product.”
Mr Holdsworth said the benefit of the IMF focus had been evident in the steers they produce.
While stud breeders were increasingly interested in their stock, he said commercial bull buyers were not as easily attracted.
“We’ve heard processors saying the Hereford is a great product but would be a greater if it produces a marble score 2,” he said.
“Then we hear from the other side saying they're not getting any special money when they do produce it.
“Buyers need to identify commercial producers and have confidence they are going to score consistently in that range, so they will consistently buy them. If not, they will shy away from it.”
He forecast the flow-through of data from DEXA (dual energy xray absorptiometry) to measure and grade a carcase would give greater feedback to producers and processors.
“People will be surprised at the outcomes because the flow of information is not there at the moment,” he said.
“That is one of the reasons we went into the Beef Information Nucleus trial.
“We sent our steers off to a feedlot and we’d been promised we’d get kill sheets and feedback – it never happened.
“Industry has come from that background, where the abattoirs had the information so they knew whose cattle worked for them and whose didn’t – that was their competitive advantage, not the farmers.
“The opening up of information will certainly help producers breed a better product.”
High IMF sires used at Warwick Court recently include Bowmont Dom Lad G085 with an Estimated Breeding Value of 2.4 for IMF (the breed average is 0.4), as well as Allendale Anzac E114 and Otapawa Spark 3060, both of which have a 2.2 IMF.
Fertility and calving ease have been the other sort after traits at Warwick Court.
While the poor season meant this was the first year in about 15 the Holdsworth hadn’t conducted a wide-scale artificial insemination program, they kept a tight calving period to allow for an easy transition back to an AI next year.
“We only had four animals calve in the last three weeks of the bulls being out, of 160 calves,” Mr Holdsworth said.
“One of the big drags on fertility is you can just let it creep out.
“Unless a cow calves in the first 21 days she will go out with bulls rather than into AI, in order to bring her calving forward again. If it doesn’t, they get culled out of the system.
“We certainly had a big push on calving ease, which was for our own sake as much as anything else because we are not here all the time.
“It has been a selling point with a number of our commercial clients because they had got themselves into a bit of trouble with difficult calving so are now coming here looking for those sorts of bulls.
“A lot of people in this area only buy a bull every three years and want to use over heifers and mature cows, so they need to be careful with the sort of bull they buy.”