The reality of grass finished and grain finished beef in Australia
It is estimated that up to 50% of Australian beef is finished on grain. With the remaining 50% being finished on grass.
What does mean?
Cattle finished on grain simply means their final days/weeks are spent in certified feedlots. The time spent in feedlots can vary depending on breed and desired outcomes in relation to the finished product (marbling and fat coverage). Time spent in feedlots can range from 35 days to 400 days (typically 50-120 days). The animals in feedlots are (unsurprisingly) fed grains typically a mixture of wheat, barley, sorghum, lupin and millet but not limited to these. Their feed and hydration is monitored in order to achieve an optimal weight for market, in the most efficient time.
The benefit to this practice is centred on controlling the feeding process and ultimately the weight-gain process of the animal. Feedlots mitigate the variables that exist in nature that could potentially thwart when the animal gets to optimal weight. Often are a number of steps addressed prior to leaving the paddock in a process called ‘back-grounding’ which ultimately helps their transition from paddock to feedlots. Elements considers are the social hierarchy of the beast and the shift in their diet. Back-grounding is often a time when cattle are vaccinated against the increased risk of bacterial cross-contamination in the feedlot environment. The inability for the beast to move freely together with the lack of vegetation under hoof means that the faeces and urine are now potential hazards rather than an asset as seen in the regenerative model.
During induction the identification, weighing and vaccinations are carried out as well as drenching and tipping of horns if required. Some feedlots will use a hormone growth promotant depending upon company policy and market specifications.
The tighter control on variables means that grain-fed cattle are generally more consistent in supply, as well as more consistent with their marbling, fat coverage, weight and quantity of cuts. This is good news for most consumers who are accustomed to a particular look, taste and feel of their beef, both domestically and internationally.
Given that most of our homegrown beef ends up in international markets (USA, UK, JAPAN, CHINA etc) it’ll take more than a shift of expectations by Joe Blow, it’ll be a global shift. This won’t occur overnight or in my lifetime, feedlots are here to stay, for now. But what I do forecast occurring in my lifetime is the intrigue/curiosity in regenerative farming heating up in Australia ultimately influencing producers to learn into more holistic land and cattle management.
The result of this is improved animal welfare (more natural paddock time) increased carbon sequestration and better soil ecology.
For more information on regenerative agriculture head to www.thegoodfarm.shop
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