Monday, 08 May 2017 15:46

Market for Wagyu-Holstein cross beef expanding

Written by  Gordon Collie
Vicki and Nick Sher Vicki and Nick Sher

Nick Sher believes there is a good long term future for Wagyu-Holstein cross beef – he just needs more dairy farmers to agree.

After 20 years pioneering a specialist production chain, he is still looking to grow his business to satisfy overseas demand for the high value meat.

His company, Beefcorp, based outside Ballarat, has purchased more than 50,000 calves since it was established in 1996 and will draw 3500 this year from farms across Victoria, into the Riverina and South Australia.

“It’s an attractive additional income stream for dairy farmers,” Mr Sher told a dedicated crossbreeding session at the Australian Wagyu Association annual congress in Albury last week.

Farmers have the option of supplying both heifer and bull calves at 7 days old for $220 a head or growing them on to around 180kg liveweight for $900 including GST.

The vertically integrated Beefcorp provides the genetics in the form of semen collected from their own bulls or bulls delivered to the property. Semen sales at $5.50 a straw make up about 70% of the business.

After background feeding, the cattle spend about 400 days in the Beefcorp feedlot near Wangaratta and are slaughtered and sold to Sher Wagyu customers around the world.

Mr Sher said his production model was built on farmers supplying calf rearing facilities located in dairy regions, but there had been a trend towards farmers taking the extra value adding step themselves.

“We draw from a number of calf raising facilities, but what is most important to us is good animal husbandry skills,” he said.

Giving calves access to colostrum in their first 24 hours was critical as was feeding to encourage early rumen development.

The company has developed detailed feeding and management protocols to ensure strong, healthy calves to maximise their beef potential

Years of accumulating carcase feedback data inform the selection of Wagyu bulls which will best perform in Holstein crossing.

“Not all bulls are suitable for use on heifers and there are some genetics that just click with Holsteins,” he said.

The company is also conscious of the need to provide good quality semen to ensure acceptable conception rates.

Mr Sher said he accepted that crossing with Wagyus would always be a sideline for dairy farmers, but there were real benefits.

“We have to compete.  Farmers need to breed replacement stock and the export trade for heifers is also attractive.”

Weather conditions also played a big factor, with more cows culled during dry seasons reducing the available breeding pool.

“We are interested in developing long term relationships with farmers for our mutual benefit.”

Mr Sher said the Wagyu-Holstein beef business was market driven.

“We set out to supply this market after visiting Japan a number of times in the 1990s.”

“The Japanese use Holsteins in their own breeding programs. They understand the product and said they would like to buy it from us, although our system is different with pasture-based rearing.

“People in Australia thought we were crazy at the time.  We copped a lot of criticism, but we are still growing and developing after 20 years,” Mr Sher said.

Richard Eldershaw has just left the big Rangers Valley feedlot in the NSW New England after a long career as a livestock buyer specialising in the procurement of Holstein and Angus cross cattle

He advised any farmers contemplating crossbreeding with Wagyu to do their research carefully

There were only six to eight major feedlots in the market, but they needed a consistent supply of cattle and were always interested in forward contracting if they could get sufficient numbers.

“Buyers want cattle which are going to perform, so you should take advice on which bulls to select,” he said.

“Check the breeding values of prospective sires and look for a record of proven success in cross breeding. Wagyu markets value marbling with high score carcases attracting big premiums.”

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