Beef cattle are grown in every Australian state and territory. Different breeds of cattle are suited to different environmental conditions and climate is the main factor in breed selection.
Northern beef production utilises tropical breeds, southern beef production utilises temperate breeds, while areas of south eastern Queensland and north eastern New South Wales utilise both temperate and tropical breeds. Meat and Livestock Australia provides a map showing the regions where cattle are produced in Australia.
Beef cattle can be grown and produced in both dry sub tropical and temperate regions of Australia, -as well as arid central Australia. They are not produced in the desert areas such as the Great Sandy Desert, the Gibson Desert, the Tanami Desert and Simpson’s Desert. Different breeds are suited to different environments.
Under Australian conditions, beef cattle are almost never housed. However, in summer months, access to shade is very important, especially in hotter regions. Equally, in colder regions, access to shelter (e.g. tree wind breaks) is important in winter months.
Beef cattle in Australia are primarily grass fed for the majority of their life and so managing feed requirements is about the efficient production of pasture, and then the conversion of that pasture into meat. About one third of Australian cattle are eventually ‘finished’ in feedlots where they are fed a largely grain-based diet from 70 up to 360 days until they meet the specifications for a particular market.
As a simple guide, a cow needs between 2.0 per cent and 3.0 per cent of its liveweight as dry matter (DM) intake per day, but this varies depending on a range of factors such as liveweight and whether growing or maintaining weight, energy concentration of the feed, whether pregnant or lactating and weather conditions. Information on methods to increase stocking rates and how to adopt a plant growth-based approach to grazing management can be found in Meat and Livestock Australia’s More Beef from Pastures (MBfP) module on pasture utilisation. In the dry season when pasture quality declines, dry matter intake can be increased by providing additional protein or urea based supplements.
Water is also critical and again daily water requirements depend on a variety of factors, especially moisture content of pastures, size of the beast, environmental conditions and status (e.g. lactating). The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries suggests the following indicative requirements (litres/day):
|Young stock|| 25–50|
|Dry stock (400 kg)|| 35–80|
For further detailed information on feed requirements and pasture management for beef cattle refer to Meat & Livestock Australia’s Grazing and Pasture Management; Feeding, Finishing and Nutrition; Animal Health Welfare and Biosecurity; and state departments of agriculture websites such as Victoria and New South Wales.
Breeds and breeding
In Australia there are more than 30 different breeds of cattle suitable for beef production and breed selection depends largely on the climate of the region in which the cattle will be grown.
In the tropical regions of Northern Australia the Bos indicus breeds are used as they are resistant to cattle ticks and are better adapted to the high temperatures. Brahman cattle, one of the most common of the Bos indicus, have short, light coloured coats to reflect the sun and black skin that protects them from sunburn. They have loose skin and extra sweat glands to keep cool. The tropical breeds first came from Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean region of southern Europe.
In Southern Australia the Bos taurus breeds are used in the temperate climate as they mature quickly and have a rapid growth rate. The Angus and Hereford are two of the most common of the temperate breeds produced in Australia. The temperate breeds originally came from the cool climate areas of Europe, in particular Britain.
There are also some breeds that are bred to produce a special type of meat for a particular market, such as Wagyu beef which is highly regarded in the Japanese market and, increasingly, domestically.
Some of the main Bos indicus breeds are:
- Belmont Red – developed in Queensland, Australia in 1968.
- Brahman – originate from the USA they calve easily, milk well and are very protective of their young.
- Brangus – developed from Brahman and Angus. They have reasonable heat and tick tolerance, are medium sized, average to late maturity and yield a carcase without excess fat.
- Braford – a Hereford and Brahman cross that are heat resistant, relatively tick tolerant and slightly later maturing than the British breeds. Produce good yearling and steer carcasees.
- Charbray – A Charolais and Brahman cross animal that produces a high muscled lean carcase.
- Droughtmaster – developed in Queensland and are a combination of Brahman, Shorthorn, with some mixture of Red Poll and Hereford.
- Santa Gertrudis – originate from the USA, have a maternal/rotational/terminal place in cross breeding.
Some of the main Bos taurus breeds are:
- Angus – suited to vealer, steer and bullock production or maternal/rotational place in cross breeding.
- Hereford – suited to vealer, steer and bullock production or maternal/rotation place in cross breeding.
- Murray Grey – suited to vealer, steer and bullock production or maternal/rotational place in cross breeding.
- Shorthorn – suited to vealer, steer and bullock production or maternal/rotational place in crossbreeding.
- Charolais – suited to bullock production or as a terminal sire in cross breeding programs.
- Limousin – smaller and earlier maturing than other European breeds but later maturing than British breeds, so suitable for cross breeding programs.
- Simmental – suited to vealer, steer and bullock production maternal/rotational/terminal place in cross breeding.
For further detailed information on breeds for beef production refer to breed societies and state department resources such as the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Prime facts note Cattle Breed Types.
Beef production on-farm can be undertaken in many ways, the primary two being:
- By breeding and then on-selling the progeny to either other farmers or feedlots for further fattening (called finishing), or if the cattle are suitable sell to an abattoir
- By buying in cattle and then finishing them prior to selling to an abattoir