The Northern beef industry is still milking the CashCow, 15 years on

Almost 15 years on, Australia’s northern beef industry is still gaining insights and recommendations from the largest single research activity, the CashCow project.

Launched in 2007 with $2 million from Meat and Livestock Australia – the largest research investment at the time – CashCow collected data from 78,000 cows managed in 142 breeding herds located in 72 northern trading facilities.

They were measured over four years for 83 different variables affecting reproductive performance, including property, environment, nutrition, management and infectious disease factors.

The mammoth initiative forever changed many of the accepted practices of herd management in the north, but the big picture of the producer champions in the early 2000s would not have been possible without their foresight and advocacy.

The final report results of the seminal project were presented during Beef 2012 in Rockhampton.

University of Queensland Professor Mike McGowan led the project and recalls an important role in driving the producers’ initiative, starting with a meeting of the North West Qld Regional Beef Research Committee, one of 11 regional committees that make up the North Australian Beef Research Council, which sets priorities. for grassfed beef industry R&D investments.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the project would not have gone ahead without NABRC’s support,” Prof McGowan said.

“When we started CashCow, there was no shortage of people saying, ‘You can’t do this, it’s impossible, it hasn’t been done and it’s going to fail.’ The RBRCs put their support behind it and said, “No, we have to do it.”

“People like the then chairman of NABRC, John Cox, knew the importance of this from his experience as CEO of the biggest pastoral company at the time, Stanbrock; and people like Zanda McDonald who saw what was required and what could be achieved.

“It has forever changed the way we approach research in northern Australia. It was the first systems-based research project on an industrial scale.”

CashCow was inspired by the impact of a similar project in the dairy industry in the late 1990s – Dairy Australia’s InCalf project, which investigated factors influencing how quickly cows conceive after calving.

“We lacked good quality rigorous data on the performance of commercial herds in northern Australia, and from this we realized that there was a critical need to determine what was actually happening in these herds and what the key factors contributing to reproductive performance were. , before we can say that’s what we need to focus on and that’s what we need to improve,” Prof McGowan said.

To prove the feasibility of a project of this scale, researchers collected high-quality data over four years using early model electronic crunch data systems and recently introduced NLIS tags without interfering with the operation of commercial facilities.

They found the main factors influencing performance were country type, previous calving time, phosphorus status during the weaning season, cow body condition, hip height, cow age class, cow reproductive history, severity of environmental conditions and occurrence of stocking events during that period. calving

The results were new measures of reproductive performance, including the percentage of dairy cows that became pregnant within four months of calving, and an estimate of live weight production from breeding herds was developed. Achievable performance levels by country type are also defined.

Ian Braithwaite

Veterinarian and current Chair of North West Qld RBRC Ian Braithwaite He said the data captured by CashCow allows producers to make decisions they couldn’t make with confidence before.

Katherine and Jay Mohr-Bell, chairman of the Top End Beef Research Committee, of Mathison Station, said this included reducing branding and weaning appointments from two to one, saving costs and improving herd productivity.

Professor McGowan said the method used to assign liveweight production measures to country types explained saw production in some areas, where many lactating cows lost a large amount of condition supporting their calves and did not conceive that year.

“Many of the people involved in CashCow were in RBRCs and they were key to expanding these findings through their networks, and they were great examples of ‘It can be done,'” he said.

“Commercial producers will often be more comfortable talking to their fellow producers about a problem they’re having than maybe talking to a researcher. I see the RBRC network as a series of important nodes for communication and adoption.

“A major demonstration of CashCow’s value has been the development of the NB2 project, which was relaunched by NABRC. As CashCow begins to identify what is happening and the key factors affecting performance, NB2 now addresses them and comes up with practical management interventions to control these effects and improve liveweight production.

CashCow Insights:

The time it takes for cows to become pregnant again is influenced by:

  • Body condition score (in turn affected by pasture management, P status, timing of calving and off-season calving)
  • Ox health
  • Disease state
  • Genotype
  • Age at maturity (heifers) and mating weight

Calf loss before and after birth is affected by:

  • Abortion (which in turn is affected by illness, stress and toxins)
  • Neonatal loss (in turn affected by stocking, disease, heat stress, feral dogs, P status, calving history)
  • Dehorning

Cow loss is affected by:

  • Body condition score (in turn affected by pasture management, P status, timing of calving and off-season calving)
  • A disease such as botulism
  • Cow age

Next steps to measure these key performance indicators:

  • Collection of records to calculate annual milk production and/or annual live weight production.
  • Comparison with production benchmarks for your country.
  • Comparison with performance benchmarks for your country.

Link to Beef Central’s original report following the launch of the CashCow report at Beef 2012 in Rockhampton:

CashCow’s full report can be downloaded here.

Source: NABRC

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