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The value of beef



The value of beef

Today’s farming environment may be throwing up challenges for New Zealand’s beef farmers, but it’s not all doom and gloom.

The long-term future of the beef industry looks very positive for New Zealand pasture-fed beef according to Meat & Wool New Zealand Economic Service.

Predictions remain that the US, New Zealand’s biggest beef market, will continue to demand beef at its current record high level, fuelled by a domestic policy that has caused an ethanol boom and subsequent food price inflation.  

There are also positive implications in New Zealand’s Free Trade Agreement with China, which is now importing a growing amount of our beef.

The world price of food rose 10 per cent in 2006, driven mainly by surging prices of corn, wheat and soybean oil and New Zealand Shorthorn Association president Judy Austin believes this will have a positive long-term effect on beef demand, which is good news for New Zealand farmers.

Bull sales were up at the recent New Zealand Beef Expo, and Mrs Austin said that demonstrates confidence in the future of the industry.

Mrs Austin said these results suggest farmers are looking beyond the current downturn.

“Despite the current environment, it’s clear farmers are still investing, with an eye to positioning themselves with the type of stock that will be able to deliver when farmers need it most.

Interest in Shorthorn cattle was keen in the recent national sales.  The Shorthorn sale netted $79,000, around $7000 up on last year, a very credible feat given low returns across the sheep and beef industries over the last year.  The top Shorthorn bull Austin Legacy, owned by the Austin family, reaching a very pleasing $18,000, with the average price $6583. 

She puts the renewed interest in the Shorthorn breed down to the benefits of cross-breeding, and the breed’s overall versatility.  New Zealand cattle farmers are exploiting the Shorthorn’s hybrid vigour, in a cross bred either with Angus, or a three way cross with Angus/Hereford. 

“The beauty of this is that the hybrid vigour, combined with the breed’s natural ability to grow out well, produce good slaughter weights at 18 months, something we now know from our survey that farmers appreciate.”

The boost in Beef Expo sales backs up results from a survey conducted by the New Zealand Shorthorn Association, which showed Shorthorn are specifically adding profitability to cattle farmers by their early maturing and good growth rates.  Feedback suggests they are easy to fatten, there is good calf survivability and the breed are very good at cleaning up pasture.


The association carried out the survey  to identify the key breed characteristics the beef farmers of today require. Not only did that provide some valuable insights into how farmers view the Shorthorn’s function in the beef industry, it has also reinforced what the breed is known for.

 “Shorthorn has traditionally been thought of as the hardy breed, but farmers the length and breadth of New Zealand are adding force to that, extolling the ability of the cattle to grow out well on conditions that range from 400 metres above sea level, to drought-prone pastures, bush, and rough gullies,” Mrs Austin said.  “Their ‘do-ability’ was particularly noticeable in the recent dry.”

The most important Shorthorn attributes the survey found were maternal traits, and temperament/handling, and formed the basis for most farmers choosing to farm the Shorthorn breed.  Hardiness rated very well and farmers were particularly satisfied with the breed’s early maturing and good growth characteristics, as well as good calving due to a medium size animal, and fertility.  Meat too played an important part, with farmers noting good muscling, low fat and good marbling.

“We’ve concluded these traits together represent a very versatile animal, one that is handling the range of New Zealand conditions well, and producing good profits for the farmers using them,” she said.

Research findings summary

Profitability through early maturing and good finishing.
Overwhelmingly, farmers indicated Shorthorns offer flexibility in marketing and finishing steers by getting prime quickly.
Temperament and maternal are key characteristics.
There is a cross-breeding advantage and better growth from hybrid vigour in using Shorthorns.
Shorthorns are incredibly hardy over a huge range of conditions.
They have handled drought conditions extremely well.
The cows' ability to clean up pasture is underestimated.
Shorthorns are killing out well.
Most farmers thought Shorthorns were very important for their meat production, and had desirable meat characteristics such as good marbling.




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