EMPHASIS on whole-of-life nutrition, improving the herd’s genetic composition and using carcase feedback to measure progress - these are some of the key pathways to optimising beef eating quality.
The important thing is to set a goal and benchmark.
So says Meat Standards Australia producer engagement officer Jarrod Lees, who advocates knowing the “MSA play makers” and tailoring the science to best fit your system.
The MSA Index, a standard measure of the predicted eating quality of a carcase expressed as a number between 30 and 80, is calculated on attributes influenced by pre-slaughter production.
It’s designed to enable producers to identify the key drivers of of eating quality to understand how changes in their operation can shift the MSA Index in a positive way. Mr Lees outlined just how much a difference shifts in areas like marbling and ossification can have.
These are two of the main factors impacting eating quality influenced by the producer.
Marbling, Mr Lees explained, was the driver of juiciness and flavour. It’s the last fat to be laid down by an animal and the first to be lost when they need energy.
“It has a high impact on the Index,” Mr Lees said.
“As MSA marbling score increases by 10, the Index increases by around 0.15.”
Ossification, or weight for maturity, also has a big impact. As ossification score decreases by 10, the Index increases by 0.6.
The other main players include tropical breed content, hormone growth promotants, rib fat, hot standard carcase weight and the sex of the animal. Once heifers get older they also tend to have slightly higher ossification.
Milk fed vealers have a positive effect on eating quality and saleyard pathways a negative effect.
All of these impacts have been validated through MSA’s consumer sensory testing process, Mr Lees said.
Knowing these production factors and the degree to which they can affect the Index can allow producers to work out how much their Index may shift with various interventions, he said.
Why do we want to increase the Index?
“Because consumers want quality,” he said.
Carcases with a higher MSA Index offer a higher proportion of three, four and five star cuts that can be harvested into MSA brands.
“It’s about giving brand owners more confidence that they can supply a product consistent eating quality,” Mr Lees said.
The average MSA Index of the national herd has indeed been increasing each year and the latest insights report shows it now sits at 57.56, an increase of .16 year-on-year.
Mr Lees says other production considerations naturally come into management decisions and a producer’s perfect MSA Index is the highest possible index under his or her particular system.
There are several ways producers can effect change such as increased marbling, carcase weight or rib fat depth but nutrition is one of the key considerations.
“Keeping animals growing without any setbacks and turning them off earlier at the same weights will help optimise ossification’” Mr Lees said.
Ensuring animals are finished on a high plane of nutrition prior to slaughter will also aid in ensuring marbling is developed.
“However, no matter how much feed and how high quality it is, they need to have the genetic potential to do what you’re asking them to,’ Mr Lees said.
“So improving the genetic composition of your herd is another way to influence change in carcase attributes.