Alan Peterson is a local cattle producer based in Brierfield who prefers to take the ‘natural’ approach when raising his cattle. Alan tells us he’s “relatively new to raising cattle with only 50 years” under his belt. In addition, he is Chief Steward for the Cattle Section at the Bellingen Show, which he runs with commitment and proficiency. Call us crazy, but that was enough for us to want to learn about the beef cattle industry in our shire, from his perspective.
Australia’s beef consumption is relatively low and this allows our producers to export more than 60% of beef, making us the third largest beef exporter in the world. With an increasing worldwide demand for protein, we understand Australia’s beef cattle industry is in good stead. Even more so because of our reputation for ‘clean green’ produce.
Although the Cattle Council of Australia has Guidelines in place on best practice husbandry in beef cattle, they’re written with a pretty broad brush. Alan says this means animal husbandry is largely up to each producer.
Tell us about where your business fits in to the beef cattle chain.
I breed Angus beef cattle on my farm as grass-fed but don’t graze steers to full weight stage. I currently have around 50 cows and 2 bulls. Each bull can handle around 35 cows per season. I put my heifers into calf at around 20-22 months of age rather than 12-14 months, which is common practice by some of the larger breeders (not from around here though). I personally feel this is just too young. The calves stay here with their mothers until weaner age – 9mths.
Of all the breeds, why Angus?
Angus beef is a premium quality beef. It features a marbling effect created by their genetic intramuscular fat, considered good quality and great taste. This marbling quality relates to the perception by the consumer of tenderness. It’s called ‘marbling’ because the fat is found in thin ribbons that thread through the muscle (Wagyu is the most pronounced example of this). By contrast, meat from the Hereford breed has fat runs around the muscle. Think of a piece of rump steak with a thick strip of fat running down one length of the cut. While this is also popular amongst meat consumers it’s not as in demand as the marbled beef.
What are some of your Best Practices as a Beef Cattle Producer?
We raise our cattle in as natural a way as possible. Our cattle are grass fed only – mostly on kikuyu and clover pasture, not grain fed. They’re naturally raised with their mothers and with no growth hormone injected. We don’t have feed lots. I spend some part of every day with the animals so they’re all quiet in temperament and easy to handle, healthy, treated well and vaccinated. When the steers reach weaner stage and are in a growth spurt I sell them to graziers. They then fatten them up to around 500-600kg.
Why do you sell them at weaner stage?
Due to the nature of the pasture in this area I believe it better lends itself to cow and calf farming. That is, breeding and raising steers, rather than beef cattle grazing. Dorrigo is a good example of an area that provides much better grazing land.
Can your beef be found in our local butchers?
Yes! Our local butchers buy from our local producers.
Why do we export such a high percentage of our beef production?
There is an international market for our better beef here because we have quality, naturally raised, grass-fed animals. Also, we have a relatively low level of beef consumption compared to production, so the majority is exported. But we don’t ‘live export’ from this area.
What does ‘organic beef’ mean in layman’s terms?
Organic beef = grass fed, naturally raised, no growth hormone injected (which, if happens, will happen at feed-lots).
What changes have you seen over the years in beef cattle production?
The changes I’ve seen over the years are mainly consumer-driven. Previously the modus operandi was to “grow ‘em big, grow ‘em fat”. This was when the demand for the big T-Bone steak was high, which meant keeping cattle for up to 4 years to build size and weight.
Now the market demands quality not quantity.
Breed preferences have also changed. Angus is now the industry leader because of the marbling effect in the meat. And there are now ‘composite breeds’, an example of which is crossing an Angus (bull) with a Hereford (cow). The producer can then sell the beef with the Angus reputation of quality.
Some producers are also now crossing Wagyu (bull) and Angus (cows) to achieve that marbling effect but with less fatty quantities found in the pure Wagyu. Again, this is market driven.
Is there a cycle to your business? Can you explain this?
Yes there is. In August we put the bulls in with the cows for a couple of months. The ‘cycling period’ for cows is around 3 weeks so the bull has three cycles to get the herd ‘in calf’. Then I take them out.
Gestation is 9 months, which takes us to around June/July. The newborn calves are kept on the farm with their mothers for about 9 months coinciding with optimal pasture growing season, at which stage they are weaned and sold in about May.
The cows then get a rest of about 2-3 months without a calf feeding on them or growing in them.
With your mere 50 years of skin in the game, do you have anything more to learn?
(Laughs) You never feel like you know it all. It continues to be a learning process. There’s the seasonal fluctuation to consider. The market price has many variables including overseas buyer demand; and the fluctuation of the Australian dollar is another vagary. But with learning comes growth and improvement in our practice, which we’re happy to strive for.
Wagyu cattle originate from India
Yearling: an animal between 1 and 2 years of age
Weaner: A young animal that has been weaned at between 6-9month of age
Bellingen Shire is a secret Australian hamlet along the Waterfall Way on the NSW mid-north coast. This region is popular for its unique landscape where the Great Dividing Range almost touches the sea. It boasts a diverse history and proud indigenous culture, and is home to an eclectic and supportive community of farmers, alternative lifestylers, tree-changers, and families who have called this region home for generations. Interesting in so many ways and with so much to offer, it’s no wonder visitors return time & time again, while other never leave…