European Union production system
Growing cattle for European Union (EU) markets is a specialised beef production enterprise, requiring a focused and professional approach to both herd and pasture management. It also provides the highest returns.
Cattle need to meet strict export standards and attain live weights of 550kg to 580kg within approximately 21/2 years of age (no more than 4 permanent teeth). Achieving the required meat quality and weight gain requires consistent, professional management and moderate to highly productive pastures, or grain supplements. The peak feed demand occurs from spring to summer, but the need for around 23 DSE per breeding unit during winter is also very high compared to other production systems.
Suitable pastures contain clover and average more than 8 DSE/ha. Light-medium textured soils require regular top-dressing with single superphosphate to maintain soil phosphate levels of at least 35ppm (as measured by Colwell P tests) or 15ppm (as measured by Bray P tests).
The production system must be traceable and audited to meet market certification requirements. To justify the longer transport distances to slaughter for this specialist product and the higher management levels, a herd size of over 80 breeders is recommended. Hence, even on highly productive country, a relatively large holding is required to sustainable operate this higher value enterprise.
In the Hunter region the average feed requirements of such an enterprise is 29.5 DSE per breeding unit.
Feeder steer production system
This is a specialised higher value enterprise, which raises weaned cattle for sale to feedlots or bullock growers. Calves may be raised on the property or brought in as weaners and subsequently fattened to around 400 kg at around 18 mths of age. In the feedlot, they fatten for a further 150 days or more for the Japanese market.
Cattle need to have a consistent liveweight and moderate post weaning growth rates (0.7kg/day) are required to achieve the target live weights. Hence, this enterprise suits properties with semi-improved pasture, or with areas of highly improved pasture. To realise optimum prices consistent batches of cattle need to be produced in the required numbers, hence relatively large herds and properties are required.
In the Hunter region the average feed requirements of such an enterprise is 21.3 DSE per breeding unit. The relevant published DPI gross margin budget is Heavy Feeder Steers.
Two other options for the Hunter region are; Japanese Ox production systems (export market) and organic beef production systems (briefly outlined below).
Japanese Ox production systems (export markets)
Grass-fed Japanese export markets require steers to reach a required target dressed weight of 300 – 400kg (approx 530 – 700kg live weight) at around 2 years of age. This was a common enterprise in the region and provides good returns from poorer quality lands, but requires a higher level of management and larger landholdings than basic weaner operations. A suitable balance of native and improved pasture is also required to sustain the breeding herd and two lots of progeny.
Organic beef production systems
Organic beef production is gaining interest and may provide alternative marketing options. However, its suitability is limited by; the high risk of clostridial diseases and internal parasites in high rainfall areas, and the relatively low growth rates of native pastures and low phosphate soils. The additional effort required to control weeds and maintain feed quality may also be unsuitable for smaller scale properties where the owners spend considerable time off-farm.