Comment: Focus on end product would pay off

Having recently returned from the latest of my Nuffield Scholarship study tours, I wanted to give an update on the Scholarship so far.

Richard Pennock on his Nuffield Scholarship to the USA.
Richard Pennock on his Nuffield Scholarship to the USA.

For this latest trip, I spent five weeks in the USA and Canada, visited seven US states, covered 5,000 miles and viewed close to 250,000 cattle. I visited six research institutes, six cattle breeders, eight feedlots, an abattoir, a veterinary consulting business, a genetics technology company, a livestock research and technology company and two beef industry conferences. I spent time with the Beefmaster breeders in Texas and visited Steve Radakovich, a composite seedstock cattle breeder based near Des Moines in Iowa.

The Beefmaster breed is relatively recently established, and was developed to produce a meat animal capable of thriving in the dry, arid climate of southern Texas. This was a real insight into the development of new cattle breeds, mixing traits of established breeds to suit a specific purpose.

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Although aimed at breeding a completely different type of cattle, this principle of taking the best traits of established breeds and mixing them to generate a particular cattle ‘type’ was again in practice with Steve Radakovich in Iowa.

Awarded the Beef Improvement Federation producer of the year award for 2014, Steve’s philosophy that breeding is a matter of balance, and that one introduces new bloodlines/breeds to maintain this balance, has resulted in the breeding of a ‘type’ of cattle, which meet a standard of performance in both breeding and meat production, without the need for a detailed pedigree. Meeting Steve and his wife Penny was a real education in beef cattle breeding for type not pedigree.

I also visited one of the biggest beef feeding and processing companies in the USA, when touring the JBS Five Rivers Feedlot and abattoir in Greeley, Colorado. JBS feed around 900,000 cattle at 13 feedlots, with 100,000 cattle at Greeley. This company runs an integrated supply chain, killing their own cattle at a company-owned abattoir, which kills 6,500 cattle every day. It was an incredible experience to visit a feedlot of this size, which employed 60 full-time staff, covered 500 acres, and fed around 1,000 tonne of feed per day.

In Kansas I saw a highly effective cattle grading system at Decatur County Feeders, which utilised ultrasound scanning technology and camera grading to accurately predict cattle performance and end markets, providing useful data for the continued improvement of the breeding stock used to produce cattle destined for feedlot fattening.

Throughout my tour, one underlying principle shone through. All USA and Canadian producers are primarily focused on breeding and feeding cattle which produce high quality, tasty beef. The grading system is starkly different to that operated in the UK, with a focus wholly on the eating quality of the end product, and not on cattle conformation. In my opinion the UK beef industry would benefit from increased focus in this area.

My third scholarship study tour, later this year, will take me to Brazil and Argentina.

Richard Pennock is deputy manager at Sir Ken Morrison’s Myton Hall Farms estate in Myton on Swale near Boroughbridge and is the recipient of a Nuffield Scholarship which is presented to a farmer each year by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to support their development.