Research

The beef research team conducts robust research into areas of relevance to the beef industry. Our findings are published in scientific literature and communicated to industry via extension activities and publications.

Current Projects

Cow efficiency project

Many farmers in New Zealand have selected cattle based on live weight to ensure an increase in carcass weight in steer offspring and hence increase the output from a beef cow operation. This strategy has resulted in an associated increase in mature cow size, at least partially offsetting the increase in calf weaning weight. Productivity and efficiency of beef cattle can be measured via kilograms of calf weaned per kilogram of cow or kg of feed intake, annually, and by number of calves reared in a cow’s lifetime. Efficiency can be increased through greater calf weaning weights or through achieving similar weaning weights using smaller cows. Productivity can be increased by increasing the number of calves produced over a lifetime by calving heifers for the first time at two years of age, and by achieving good pregnancy rates and calf survival in subsequent years. In this project, four groups representing large or small beef cows and high or low milk production potential (Angus, Angus-Friesian, Angus-Jersey, and Angus-Friesian-Jersey) are being evaluated over their lifetime. The study measures the effects of cow size and milking ability on onset of puberty in heifers, reproductive performance (including return to oestrus after first calving), calculated feed intake and efficiency of calf production, as well as lifetime productivity, longevity and cow wastage. The first three cohorts of progeny from these cows have been finished and assessed for growth rate, carcass conformation and meat quality. This project is funded by Beef + Lamb NZ, the C. Alma Baker Trust and the Massey University Research Fund.

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Environmental impact of beef cows on hill country

It is essential that our farming systems are sustainable, and beef breeding cows are no exception. This project aims to quantify the impact of beef breeding cows in hill country on the environment through measurements of run-off and soil damage, as well as measurements of cow activity, body condition score and production. This project is linked with the cow efficiency project so that the environmental impact of large and small cows can be compared. This project is funded by Beef + Lamb NZ

Body condition score of beef breeding cows

We have recently developed a body condition scoring guide for beef cattle, in collaboration with AgFirst Consultancy and Landcorp Farming Ltd. This guide will assist farmers in scoring their breeding cows and making management decisions accordingly. In conjunction with this project, commercial breeding cow herds in the environmental impact project have been assessed for liveweight, body condition score and production over several seasons to determine the relationship between body condition score at key times and subsequent production . The body condition score guide was funded by Beef + Lamb NZ Farmer Initiated Technology Transfer and will be available here in 2015.

Profitable and sustainable wintering systems for beef cattle

The wet winter months can be a challenging period for beef cattle farming, when the wet soils are at increased risk of treading damage and pasture availability is often limiting growth rate of cattle. This project evaluated alternative systems for winter management of growing rising-one-year-old beef cattle on wet soils. Systems included set stocking, rotational grazing on a daily break, rotational grazing with a stand-off pad for wet weather, and break-feeding an oats crop. Growth rate and welfare of the cattle was compared alongside the soil damage and pasture growth rates of the different systems. This project was funded by Beef + Lamb NZ.

Improved summer growth rates in a bull beef system

Friesian bull calves reared as beef animals comprise an integral part of the beef industry in New Zealand, with around 500,000 bulls processed annually. Currently, the weak point in the bull rearing and finishing system is the period immediately post-weaning when the young, 100 kg bull calf enters the beef farm from the calf rearer in early summer. At this time, growth of the young bulls can be limited due to insufficient quality and quantities of pasture that often occurs in summer conditions. Reductions in growth rates at this young age prolong the time before the animal reaches slaughter age and greatly impair the efficiency of the bull beef system. This project aims to investigate alternative forage/supplement feeds for the young bulls so that growth rates of 1 kg/day can be achieved in the first 150 days post-weaning. This project is funded by the Blake family.

Theileria orientalis (ikeda)

Theileria orientalis (ikeda) is a tick-borne haemoprotozoan parasite that causes regenerative anaemia in cattle. There have been reports of clinical cases of anaemia in both beef and dairy herds, and death of a small percentage of affected cattle. In addition to the clinical cases, many other cattle are likely to suffer subclinical infection. For many beef herds, the greatest risk period will be the first few months of life for each cohort of calves born. This project aims to quantify the effect of Theileria orientalis (ikeda) infection on growth rate of beef calves prior to weaning. This research is funded by the C. Alma Baker Trust.

Major Past Projects

Difficult calving in beef heifers

Calving heifers for the first time at two years of age has the potential to greatly increase the productivity and efficiency of beef breeding cow herds, but it can also come with added management complications and welfare concerns if the two-year-old heifers experience a high incidence of dystocia (calving difficulty). This project looked at the influence of feeding levels in early pregnancy on calf birth weight and the impact of assisted calving on subsequent cow-calf performance. Management of first-calving heifers and dystocia in industry was also explored through surveys. This work was funded by Beef + Lamb NZ, AGMARDT, McGeorge Research Fund, and the Lewis Fitch Veterinary Research Fund.

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Assessment of copper deficiency

Cattle with copper deficiency have reduced blood copper concentrations. This research has shown that in bovid ruminants (i.e. cattle, sheep and goats) but not deer, copper is lost during clotting, as copper, mostly, but not all, in the form of caeruloplasmin is incorporated into the clot. This loss is  variable and thus means that in cattle, the concentration of copper in the blood is best measured using plasma rather than serum.

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Placentome project

Aging pregnancies (and thus predicting when cows will calve) can significantly aid the management of calving. It can also provide extremely valuable information for calculating reproductive performance. Currently, accurate aging requires identifying and measuring fetal size, either the whole body or, as fetuses get larger, body parts such as leg length. Measurement of fetal size can be slow as detecting the fetus can be difficult particularly in later pregnancy. In contrast placentomes (the functional unit of the bovine placenta) are easy to locate and measure throughout pregnancy, and can be easily measured using a fast, standardised procedure. The aim of this research was to see whether the measurement of placentomes could be used to estimate fetal age in the live cow under farm conditions, and whether changes in placentome growth (and function) could be detected in research cows subjected to experimental conditions. This research has shown that placentome growth is relatively resistant to external stressors but variation in placentome growth rates between cows mean that it is relatively imprecise as an estimate of fetal age.

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Feed efficiency

Measuring feed intake in grazing beef cattle is costly and difficult, however, it can be achieved in a feedlot situation. This project compared the performance of cattle of known genetic merit for residual feed intake (RFI) in a feedlot environment in a New Zealand grazing environment. This project was funded by Beef + Lamb NZ.

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Once-bred heifers

Heifers that calve at two years of age can then be fattened and sold as prime heifers after weaning the calf early. This system allows both a quality carcass and a calf to be produced. This project explored various aspects of heifer and calf management and their impacts on performance.

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Bull beef

Massey University's Tuapaka farm was home to one of New Zealand's original bull beef herds. Bull beef systems involve rearing 4-day-old bull calves from the dairy industry (usually Holstein Friesian) for slaughter at 12-30 months of age. Many aspects of bull beef farming have been examined at Tuapaka.

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