Extensive research is underway in Australia and Japan to drill down into the impact stress has on beef eating quality, particularly relating to slaughter.

Cattle from eight Tasmanian farms, including four from King Island, have been studied to determine the effect of both on-farm and marketing practices on their eating quality, as determined by the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) program.

For father and son Les and Troy Porteus, who run one of Tasmania’s largest cattle fattening operations Thousand Acre Plains at Smithton, tweaking management practices to improve MSA compliance is continual.

“We want to know about anything and everything that can be done to improve the quality of what we turn off,” Troy Porteus said.

“Anything that doesn’t grade holds back our prices.”

Porteus cattle actually have a very high MSA compliance – around 97 per cent – but given dark cutting is their biggest mark down, the producers see great value in this research and that is why they agreed to take part in the trials.

Their 1600 hectares over three farms turns off between 1500 and 2000 predominantly steers a year.

They buy in at 300 to 400 kilograms and take them to 700 kilograms in under 12 months.

Cattle are sold direct, with most supplying the Cape Grim brand.

Each farm involved in the research supplied 60 head, some consigning just steers and others heifers.

Boat transport from King Island, along with saleyard versus direct pathways, have been investigated.

All were assessed three weeks prior to travel and on arrival at abattoirs, with pasture samples collected from each property.

MSA program manager Sarah Strachan said the impact of stress on eating quality had been a long-term concern, allied with welfare considerations.

A series of risk minimisation pre-conditions for grading, including not mixing cattle, direct consignment to slaughter and time from farm to slaughter had been implemented already, Ms Strachan said.

“These are general best practice but it is known there are considerable variations which aren’t able to be individually and objectively assessed in the live animal,” she said.

“A further consequence is that traditional selling practices, such as saleyards and long-distance trucking beyond the current MSA requirements, have rendered cattle ineligible.”

Preliminary results show variance within all treatment groups, emphasising the need for an effective animal indicator, and the critical nature of on-property management, Ms Strachan said.

By Fairfax – Shan Goodwin