The Australian Wagyu Association annual conference, WagyuEdge 2018 has been met with enthusiasm and approval by those who attended.
In what was a full timetable, WagyuEdge brought together workshops, keynote speakers, networking opportunities, social events, the charity auction, the record-breaking Elite Wagyu Sale and of course, many dishes of Wagyu.
To round out the week, a tour of producers in the central highlands region of Queensland provided an opportunity to see firsthand how Wagyu production is optimised, reinforcing the messages of the conference.
Held in Mackay at the Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre, the bonus day on Wednesday gave attendees workshops an in-depth knowledge of nutrition for the full scope of Wagyu production to feedlot entry.
Presented by Riverina Stock Feeds, the first presentation by John Doyle (Integrated Animal Production) covered the nutritional requirements of a cow from conception to calving. John described the needs of the mother in terms of trace elements, energy and carbohydrates and the effect it has on the health of the calf at birth.
Our second speaker, Dr Matthew George (Bovine Dynamics) presented strategies to improve calf weaning weight, lower mortality rates and reduced age of puberty and sale through analysis of quality data surrounding genetics and nutrition. Dr George pointed out that the ability to achieve high marbling is dependent on the health and management of the calf in its first 250 days.
To round out the progression from conception to feedlot, Phillip Dew (Integrated Animal Production) discussed the nutritional needs to achieve the best results for carcase traits, including balancing some of the finer inputs such as Vitamin A, C and D and trace minerals Zinc, Calcium and Magnesium.
The afternoon session was provided by Practical Systems to give an opportunity for members to learn more about herd data entry into StockBooks. Conducted in two halls, newcomers were given an introductory workshop while more experienced users had the opportunity to learn a more in-depth approach to manipulating data.
To the sound of Japanese drums and flute, the Welcome Dinner sponsored by Pardoo Meat Company, was a selection of Wagyu dishes designed to showcase the Plate to Paddock theme of the conference and highlight the eating quality attributes across the Wagyu carcase. Cube rolls, brisket, tenderloin, short rib all featured with a multicultural cross-section of flavours.
There is no doubt that Day 1 of the conference was a big one. With three sessions across the day and a welcome from the Mackay Mayor, Greg Williamson, the opening keynote speaker was Don Mackay, Red Meat Advisory Council who advised that the Wagyu industry should not be price takers but to take a branded beef supply chain approach to maximise integrity in our products.
We celebrated our champions of the industry by presenting the Hall of Fame award to Lachie Hart, Stockyard Beef’s chief executive. Greg Gibbons has also received his Life Membership award.
Did you know that it might be possible to earmark the gene that gives higher marbling?
Professor Aduli Malau-Aduli seems to think it might be possible. His extensive research into fatty acid composition reminded us of the benefits of intramuscular fat that is characteristic of Wagyu describing it as the ‘king of meat’.
Measuring those carcase traits formed the basis of MLA’s Sean Starling presentation as well as research projects currently underway that assist not only the processor but the producer including driverless all terrain vehicles to monitor cattle or deliver feed.
The afternoon sessions were provided by Scott deBruin of Mayura Wagyu and Steve Martin of Kerwee Feedlot. Scott outlined his approach to producing premium fullbloods with exceptional quality while Steve reminded us that the ground work of nutrition, genetics and backgrounding are vital to ensure success in the feedlot system.
To close the day, Dr Kevin Sullivan discussed the relationship between cow and calf and how correct handling, bonding and weaning techniques can make the difference between a healthy start for a calf as well as improving mother/calf relationships and herd behaviour. Dr Rob Banks, outlined the benefits of the Single Step program and the improved data analysis that can be achieved based on EBVs.
The Gala Dinner presented an opportunity to let our hair down and enjoy a fabulous evening of excellent Wagyu provided by Mort & Co. Hosted by Peter Lewis, the Branded Beef Competition winners were announced, with Mort & Co taking out the crown for Grand Champion. The Charity Auction was a resounding success, raising nearly $100,000 to be donated evenly between the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Association’s Fellowship program. With 14 lots, the bidding was exciting – with donations ranging from artwork to semen straws to accommodation and Wagyu steaks.
A half day of presentations, Friday saw presentations from Dr Simon Coates, a pioneer in the industry, lent his insight into the development of the Wagyu industry from its early days in Australia when it was viewed as another ‘ostrich or deer – doomed to fail’ to the successful results in carcase traits and genetics we see today. Barbara Roberts-Thomson gave us further insight into Red Wagyu – a minority breed in the Wagyu stable, but with substantial potential.
Samantha Connolly, the current recipient of the Fellowship program gave an overview of her research into reproductive technologies in the US and as part of her PhD studies. Charlie Perry, the 2017 Young Breed Leader attended the inaugural Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association which focused on improving Australia’s beef industry into the global protein market.
Mark Morton, CEO at Practical Systems gave an overview of StockBooks and the benefits breeders can gain to improve herd genetics – some of his clients have been using the program for more than 15 years and have seen real improvements in Wagyu production.
The morning session was rounded out with a presentation by AWA CEO, Matt McDonagh who addressed some of the issues that members are facing such as delays in DNA testing, the transition to SNPs as well as the appointment of two member services officers and a marketing and communications manager.
If you want to catch up on the sessions from the conference, click here to view the videos.
Following the lunch of Branded Beef Competition Wagyu BBQ, the Elite Wagyu Sale was the final event for the conference and a first for a live and online auction environment. With around 70 lots, bidding created a number of firsts, including a record sale price for a Poll Wagyu bull at $185,000 and $8,000 for 10 semen straws from Macquarie Wagyu. In all, the sale topped $1,185,000, more than doubling last year’s results. A big thank you to AuctionsPlus and GDL RuralCo for hosting the event.
“Events such as the WagyuEdge conference highlight just how important it is for members and overseas visitors to come together to network and learn from their peers,” said AWA CEO, Matt McDonagh. “I would especially like to thank the Mackay community for their hospitality in making it a memorable event. The staff at MECC are to be applauded for their efforts to cater for our needs with pre-conference organisation of presentations, equipment and support as well as the exceptional food provided under the guidance of Executive Chef, Carly James.”
On the Wagyu station
The central highlands of Queensland are home to a number of large holdings for Wagyu producers, not the least is Wally Rae and industry leader, Darren Hamblin.
First port of call was Hamblin’s Strathdale Campdraft grounds before moving groups to Bo and Lisa Hatfield’s Vickivale and the Pandanus Poll Wagyu properties. In a rare appearance, Wally Rae spoke with Bo about his Wagyu endeavours on The Overflow as well as the work undertaken at Vickivale.
At Pandanus, Sam Connolly spoke about the reproductive systems used on the property. In the interests of providing nutritional balance for our tour members, lunch at Strathdale was lamb – not Wagyu – and the team provided some beautiful salads and desserts to match.
Saturday evening was at Nebo – now a mining town principally – but with a strong history in cattle. A presentation of campdraft cutting, great food and entertainment plus a sojurn at the Nebo Hotel gave a few headaches in the morning but thoroughly enjoyed.
The bus trip to Ten Mile Station, home to Paul and Clare Harris, was a long one, but the narration by Peter Hughes, Georgina Pastoral Co, describing his operations through the undulating landscape southwest of Nebo, gave a wonderful insight into how well Wagyu can forage and thrive. In Peter’s words, ‘if there is a blade of grass up a log, there will be a Wagyu going after it’.
The Cooper Creek district of the Queensland highlands still has evidence of the devastation of Cyclone Debbie more than 12 months ago, but Sunland Cattle Co at Ten Mile Station is continuing to grow. With nearly 17,000 acres of grazing freehold and frontage to the Mackenzie River, the Harris family run approximately 11,000 fullblood and purebred steers across two properties achieving on average 430kg – 450kg live weight and well above average marbling score and cwt.
A late dash to Beef Breeding Services outside Rockhampton, gave an insight into how artificial reproduction systems can benefit not only genetic improvements but also give an opportunity to gain export certification for semen and embryos. Winding up a sensational tour, guests returned back to Rockhampton to return home or stay on for Beef2018.
“In all, the WagyuEdge conference and tours provided those who have been in the industry for many years and those new, with excellent insight and knowledge to improve their own businesses,” said AWA President, Peter Gilmour.“I congratulate all those who were involved in pulling this event together and thank all our sponsors for their support, we could not have achieved such a terrific result without your inputs. We look forward to seeing all our members at the 2019 annual conference.”