Optimising growth paths of beef cattle in northern Australia for increased profit

The Optimising growth paths of beef cattle in northern Australia for increased profit project aimed to provide cost-effective strategies to increase growth rates and achieve younger, heavier turn-off of beef cattle in northern Australia and thus provide access to the higher-value quality markets. In particular, it investigated the use of different growth paths between weaning and slaughter, achieved using various combinations of supplements and improved pasture that optimise profitability and use best practice grazing land management.


In a grazing trial at Swans Lagoon steers grazing native pasture were fed from weaning either at low-plane (urea only – Control) or with high-input molasses-based supplement (MUP) in either one or both dry seasons prior to slaughter.  A further group were finished on leucaena.

Steers fed in only one dry season reached similar slaughter weight to those fed in both with 22% less supplement intake.

Hormonal growth promotants (HGPs) given to half the steers continuously from weaning increased growth rate by 8% in most groups, and by 22% whilst steers grazed leucaena, and increased the net value added to steers despite impeding compliance with Meat Standards Australia Australia (MSA).

An economic analysis showed that leucaena, but not high-input supplements, increased profitability — the use of improved forages, combined with manipulation of body composition and associated compensatory gain offer the most cost-effective options for reducing slaughter age.

Associated pen-feeding studies established that young (8-12 mo) and older (30-33 mo) steers responded similarly (kg extra gain/kg supplement) to additional nutrients and that responses increased in order of MUP, barley/urea and cottonseed meal.

Studies indicated that the Australian feeding standards could not currently be relied upon to predict intake of grazing cattle in the tropics.

When: 1 September 2007 to 28 February 2012

Contact: Dr Stu McLennan

Collaborators: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Queensland Alliance for Agriculture & Food Innovation

More information

For more information, please read the final report summary and download the final report (B.NBP.0391) (PDF, 2.7MB) from Meat & Livestock Australia.