MONITORING all areas of production, collecting and analysing data and continually running actual performance against genetic potential, along with dedicated people and committed financial backing, has underpinned one of the beef sector's most successful stories in recent years - that of Stone Axe Pastoral.
The company, which started in Western Australia only seven years ago now has operations in four states, runs one of the country's largest Wagyu herds and has built a solid brand in both domestic and global markets.
Along with having a 50 per cent share of the Yarranbrook Feedlot in Queensland, Stone Axe owns or leases 17 properties.
It's beef supplies the Australian premium wholesale, retail and restaurant markets as well as markets including China, the UAE, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Korea.
The operation is majority owned by ROC partners, a Sydney-based private equity business which purchased a majority interest in 2017.
One of the largest Wagyu embryo transfer programs in the world has allowed the operation to grow rapidly, and combined with the strategic property acquisitions in NSW, WA, Queensland and Victoria, the Stone Axe herd is now 15000 head of fullblood Wagyus, plus unmarked and spring drop calves.
Three years ago, the WA-based Margaret River Premium Meat export business was added to the mix. It included around 19,000 pure-bred and cross-bred Wagyu cattle. The Stone Axe fullblood genetics will continue to be introduced into that breeding program.
Further, the operation has around 3000 commercial Angus, black baldly and Hereford breeders that will continue to be part of the embryo transfer program until 2023/24.
The current Stone Axe herd totals 37,200 plus unmarked calves.
Brands include Margaret River Wagyu, which is a purebred and crossbred Wagyu product and Stone Axe Wagyu, the ultra-premium full blood product.
Processing of cattle has been running for about 18 months, with average marble scores of 9.4, and already Stone Axe has been awarded gold medals and overall champion titles two years running at the Australian Wagyu Association's branded beef competition.
Whole-of-life data collection has been a key principle at Stone Axe operations.
The analysis process actually starts before birth with embryo transfer and genetic matching and selection. It continues through to the final plating of product, managing director Scott Richardson said.
"We're on a path of continuous improvement in refining all areas of production, including herd health, fertility, average daily weight gains, available nutrition through pasture improvement programs and feed conversion," he said.
"Calving programs include reviewing optimal joining and calving periods relative to environmental factors and overall animal welfare.
"Then, of course, at the processing level, we are reviewing yields, including hot standard carcase weight, boning room yields, carcase temperatures, offal recovery, packaging and production presentation."
Mr Richardson said the in-house team works with specialist consultants to monitor the actual performance against the genetic potential in order to select genetic traits that deliver.
He said the practices required a massive financial investment but were a long-term commitment to the brand.
According to Mr Richardson, the quality of the Stone Axe genetics and how that potential is expressed in terms of meat quality, fertility and herd health is only as good as the care and welfare afforded to the animals.
Animal management practices also start before birth, with programs in place to monitor available nutrition against the requirements of pregnant breeders. Weaning is carried out in a low-stress environment. Feedlot nutrition is constantly monitored.
"Our investment in infrastructure ensures the herd movements across the properties and through cattle yards are as efficient and low-stress as possible," Mr Richardson explained.
"Our staff work our cattle on foot, on horses and in side-by-side buggies, using well-trained working dogs.
"Stone Axe takes a very considered and holistic approach to what we believe is the science and art of premium Wagyu production. We focus on four key areas: animal health and welfare, the environment, people and practices.
"It is an exciting time to be in the cattle business and even more so the Wagyu Cattle business."
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