New Zealand’s red meat producers have a great story to tell and eating quality needs to underpin the marketing rhetoric.
Age, long-term stress, marbling, fat depth and colour are all influenced by an interdependent combination of genetics, feeding and management – all of which are controlled by management decisions and practices.
“In essence, breed them well, feed them well and handle them well and you will get good eating quality.”
He stressed that all breeds were capable of producing tender, juicy, flavoursome meat, it is a matter of managing those animals to ensure they do.
The pH of the meat influences eating quality and how animals are managed in the six weeks prior to slaughter will impact on pH levels.
Lactic acid is produced by muscles in response to stress, so management needs to be focused on minimising stressing and maximising glycogen levels in the muscles.
This includes not walking animals’ long distances, not mixing mobs within a month of slaughter and removing animals with a poor temperament. Archer says stock need to be handled quietly and this means minimising the use of dogs – particularly Huntaways.
Electric prodders should not be used when loading animals as studies have shown these will impact negatively on meat quality.
“If you are having problems loading animals invest in a good loading-out facility.”
“Grow them fast and kill them young."
The younger the animal the more tender the meat. Older animals have more connective tissue in their muscles which makes their meat tougher, so fast-finishing makes for more tender beef.
Archer says beef animals need to be growing every day and this means managing them to avoid feed pinches or pregnancy. While once-bred heifers are efficient in a beef system, pregnancy does effect meat quality.
When it comes to selling, Archer says animals should be drafted on their fat cover and not on weight.
“A lot of animals are killed that have not been finished properly and don’t have enough fat cover.”
This can happen when farmers run out of feed or they want to make room for other enterprises. When carcases don’t have enough fat cover “cold shortening” can occur. This is when the muscle cools and contracts too quickly after slaughter and the meat then becomes tough.
Physiologically, heifers age faster than steers and ossification- when the cartilage in the spine turns to bone – begins at a younger age. Heifers therefore need to be finished earlier than steers.
Marbling is a function of genetics, nutrition and carcase weight and all of these factors need to be in place to allow animals to express their marbling potential.
When selecting genetics, the Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) for Intramuscular Fat needs to be taken into account along with EBVs for 600-day weight or carcase weight and rib and rump fat. These need to be balanced with other traits such as mature cow weight.
Temperament is another factor that needs to be taken into account when selecting genetics as this impacts on meat eating quality.
Archer suggests commercial breeders ask their bull breeders about their culling policy around temperament- but also look at their own culling policy.
“Meat quality comes in a number of different genetic packages.”
The importance of getting it right
Archer sees the emergence of synthetic or plant-based meats such as the “Impossible Burger” as a real threat to the red meat industry.
The marketing of these products plays on consumers’ concerns around environmental degradation, animal welfare, health and food safety. While NZ is in a good position to counter these arguments, a good eating experience needs to underpin the grass-fed, ethically produced red meat story.