BEEF 2021. Blondes Have More Fun.


Blondes have more fun, in record-setting National Beef Carcase Competition
Jon Condon, 05/05/2021

Terry Nolan receives his trophies and sashes for champion and reserve champion carcase from ANZ’s Greg Black.

Cattle carrying the magic combination of superior weight-for-age, meat quality and carcase yield dominated results in the National Beef Carcase Competition – results from which were announced at a glittering dinner at Beef 2021 last night.

Reflecting the truly national scale of the competition, class winners in the seven grainfed, grassfed and open feeding classes from trade to export weights came from Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and NSW.

In total, more than 800 entries were assessed for this year’s competition, with judging stretching over the past six months using the novel new MasterBeef Samsung phone-based grading camera (click here to view earlier story). Judging took place at 18 plants in six states.

While Blonde d‘aquitaine cattle are not statistically significant within the Australian cattle herd, they continue to defy the odds as one of the nation’s best-performing carcase competition breeds.

Gympie (Queensland) beef processor and ‘part-time’ cattle breeder Terry Nolan has carried a candle for Blonde cattle for the past 25 years, winning numerous Royal Brisbane Show hook and Gympie Carcase Competition titles over that time.

The cream floated to the top again at Beef 2021, when two milk-tooth purebred Blonde steer entries from the Nolan family’s 200-cow Cooloola Blondes herd near Gympie were judged champion and reserve champion carcase, after their pens of three were placed third, fourth and fifth in the 180-260kg class. Two other heavier entries placed first and second in the 260-340kg class.

The competition-topping carcase was from the lightweight grainfed class, 251kg carcase weight, oss 100, MSA marbling 290, MSA index 63.16, 5/5mm fat, eye muscle area 104sq cm, estimated lean meat yield of 65.63pc – easily the highest in the class.

This year’s result corrected a run of championship carcase wins by exhibitors from Western Australia over the previous three Beef Australia Expos.

Having lost his dear father Pat only a few weeks ago, it was no surprise that Terry Nolan found the acceptance of this year’s award an emotional moment.

Together with his dear friends Bill Bishop and Trevor Cottee, Pat Nolan had blazed a trail as a European breeds developer in Australia, having imported the first live Charolais cattle into this country from New Zealand, in 1967. The family later sold their Charolais herd to finance the purchase and development of the Wide Bay feedlot. Terry in turn bought his first four Blonde heifers in 1993.

Mr Nolan said the family’s small cattle business was about producing ideal meat for the Australian domestic market.

Cooloola Blondes has won one of the grainfed trade classes four times over the 30-year history of the Rockhampton Beef Expos – but has never previously claimed a championship or reserve.

This year’s grand champion (and his virtually identical half-sib brother judged reserve), was a purebred Blonde, home-bred, weaned off their mothers straight into the Nolan’s Wide Bay feedlot for a 130-day program. Some might find that feed period excessive, but remember these calves were still growing, and indeed were slaughtered at only 11 months of age. Cooloola’s competition entries this year ranged from around 250kg carcase weight in the lightweight class, to 318kg in the mediumweights – all less than 12 months of age.

The prodigious growth seen in the Cooloola Blonde cattle means that every year, the previous year’s calves are through the meatworks before their next-generation siblings hit the ground.

“I’m no environmentalist, but if you want to tread lightly on the globe, if you can get those big weights out, quickly, you are obviously reducing the environmental footprint,” Mr Nolan said.

“On top of that, it’s good eating quality, and high retail yielding.”

So given these results, why aren’t Blonde cattle more popular in Australia?

“Small gene pool to select from, small stud herd,” was Mr Nolan’s simple reply.

“The interesting thing is that I’ve never paid more than $5000 for a replacement Blonde bull. That’s cheap, in this day and age. I think you can pick a phenotype that will do the job, at a reasonable price.”

Echoing a trend that has been seen in countless seminars and gatherings across Beef 2021 this week, the Nolan’s this year for the first time headed south to buy some Polled Blonde bulls. Polls are a rare resource in the Blonde breeding world.

“All we do is select for growth and fertility – although people say we should prioritise fertility over growth,” Mr Nolan said. “But in a very short joining period of six weeks, we sent 112 cows to the abattoir the other day, and only two empties. There is a natural fertility in these Blonde cattle.”

“I’d take my (recently deceased) father out into the paddock and he’d go crook at me because there was a bit of fly bite on a few. I’d tell him we are looking for natural parasite resistance, and that’s why we took the less resistant portion to the meatworks recently.”

Some of the Cooloola entries from the lightweight class carried only 5-6mm of fat, meaning there was zero waste, but just enough to meeting the competition’s fat spec, while adding to their yield potential.

“Whether you are supplying Woolworths, Coles or butchers, they all like a 10mm larder trim anyway, so anything over that is waste. If they are only 6-7mm naturally, and you don’t have to put a knife to them – there’s your yield advantage.”

“In an industry like this, you need those outlier types (like Blondes), otherwise you do not get innovation,” Mr Nolan said.

“When Wagyu first came to Australia, they were considered outliers. We think we are at the other extreme – high muscle, fast and efficient growth and lean meat – but it’s still an outlier.”

“Innovation comes from the outliers – it does not come from the conformists. Innovation will keep us alive, as an industry,” he said.

MSA index results continue to surge higher
Meat scientist and carcase completion dinner MC Dr Alex Ball said MSA index results since 2012 had seen a three-point index change in ten years – lifting the national average by 15pc.

“About 55pc of entries in this year’s carcase competition sat within the top 25pc of all MSA carcases graded last year across Australia – some 3.5 million head. On top of that, 18pc of this year’s entries were in the top 5pc nationally – that’s a huge achievement,” Dr Ball said.

Surprisingly, that was not because there was more grainfed entries than grassfed this year.

“In fact there was no significant difference between grain and grass on index – nor was there for heifers versus steers,” Dr Ball said.

“The variation in index scores within classes was in fact bigger than it was between classes.”

The grand champion carcase and reserve from the Nolan family’s Cooloola Blondes exhibited fantastic oss, really good marbling, and an exceptional ability to balance yield with eating quality, Dr Ball said.

“Terry’s pair of carcases just proved that you can break those relationships, in the one package,” he said.

The ‘special’ eye muscles always stand out
Head judge Janine Lau – MSA’s ‘gun’ carcase grader in Australia – said without the privilege of being able to judge entries in person in plants this year due to COVID travel restrictions, the MasterBeef camera grading solution provided a great alternative.

“The important point is that a ‘special’ eye muscle stands out in the competition – regardless of whether it is being graded live, or via the camera image,” she said.

She said while entry numbers were down in some grassfed classes due to drought last year and the year before, there was little or no drought impact seen in ossification or carcase quality.

So is it realistic to expect the MSA index performance to continue to climb, the way it has over the past three beef expo’s?

“Who knows,” Janine said. “Statistically, we know what the upper limit if the index can be, but these cattle continue to challenge it.”

The top individual MSA eating quality index performer this year, for example was 68.95, from an Angus steer carcase exhibited by Barry Hollands from Sale in Victoria – placing the carcase within the top 0.1pc in the country, across about 3.5 million MSA carcases graded Australia-wide last year.

Top pen of three for MSA index scoring an average of 66.35 was a trio of carcases exhibited by Baringa Pastoral Co, Walcha.

“Overall, it was a great effort between the producers and processors involved, under very difficult circumstances due to COVID, to have a successful competition like this,” she said.

Beef Central has requested an eye muscle image of this year’s championship winning carcase. It will be added here when it arrives.
Class winners:
Pasture fed medium trade chiller steers or heifers 180-260kg – Nick Paton, Flinders Vic.
Pasture fed heavy trade chiller steers or heifers 260.1-340kg – G&B Bendotti, Pemberton WA
Pasture fed export chiller bullocks 300-420kg – Leon & Diana Gee, Penguin TAS
Grain fed medium trade chiller steers or heifers 180-260kg – John Galati Family Trust, Brunswick WA
Grain fed heavy trade chiller steers or heifers 260.1-340kg – Coolooa Blondes, Gympie Qld
Grain fed export chiller bullocks 300-420kg – Trojon Shorthorns, Lyndhurst NSW
Open Class (unrestricted feeding) heavy trade chiller steers or heifers 260.1 – 360kg – Wallawong Premium Beef, H Birchall, B&N Grogan & St Mary’s College – Gunnedah NSW