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Frequently Asked Questions

Looking for information on the Australian cattle and sheep industries? Target 100 has developed a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to help answer some of those tricky questions.

Industry Facts

How many cattle are there in Australia?

Australia's national cattle herd stands at 28.5 million head.

How many sheep are there in Australia?

The Australian national sheep flock is 74.7 million head.

How much beef is exported out of Australia?

In 2013-14, Australia exported 70% of its total beef and veal production to over 100 countries.

How much sheepmeat is exported out of Australia?

In 201-14, Australia exported 57% of all lamb and 96% of all mutton produced.

Where is beef produced in Australia?

Beef is produced in every state and territory in Australia, however nearly 50% of the national herd is in Queensland.

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How does beef get from paddock to plate in Australia?

This image is a simple depiction of the process from paddock to plate.

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How much of Australia’s landmass is used for cattle and sheep farming?

Australian cattle and sheep farmers are custodians of 47% of the continent.

Is livestock production the best use of land in Australia? Or would vegetables and crops be better suited?

Because of geological, topographic and climatic factors, less than 8 per cent of Australia’s land is suitable for crop production.  Cattle and sheep farming is the most efficient use of non-arable land for producing highly nutritious protein.

Why do farmers castrate cattle and sheep?

Castrating is an important husbandry technique to prevent unwanted breeding in livestock – allowing greater control over herd genetics through selective breeding

Castration also results in male animals that are:

  • Less aggressive and less likely to fight - reducing bruising, injuries and damage to farm infrastructure
  • Easier and safer to handle
  • Easier to keep in paddocks after the time that sexual maturity would be reached

For more information see: Livestock Husbandry

Why do farmers brand their cattle?

Branding is the placement of a permanent identifying mark on the hide of an animal by destroying the hair follicles and altering hair regrowth.

From a welfare perspective, branding is not the preferred method of identifying livestock. Other methods, in particular National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) devices such as an ear tag or rumen bolus (rumen bolus is a ceramic capsule that is administered orally to cattle), are preferred.

Why do sheep and cattle have ear tags?

Ear tagging and ear marking are used to identify livestock and are essential tools in ensuring food safety from paddock to plate and also in managing any potential outbreak of disease.

Ear tagging is an essential part of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) and ear marking or notching is a mandatory requirement in some states. It also has business benefits by enabling livestock to be identified on-farm, leading to improved herd management.

What is halal?

Halal describes what is lawful for Muslims to eat. Halal food laws are based on interpretation of the Quran, the Muslim scripture, and set out the range of beverages and foods (including meat) that are acceptable for Muslims to eat.

The main concern with halal slaughter is whether or not pre-slaughter stunning is used. In Australia, the national standard for meat production requires that all animals must be effectively stunned (unconscious) prior to slaughter. The vast majority of halal slaughter in Australia complies with this standard, that is, all animals are stunned prior to slaughter. The only difference is that a reversible stunning method is used, while conventional humane slaughter may use an irreversible stunning method. The time to regain consciousness following a reversible stun may vary depending on the intensity of the stun. At Australian abattoirs, the aim is to ensure that reversible stunning is done in a way that depth of unconsciousness is sufficient to allow for the animal to be slaughtered before there is a chance of regaining consciousness.

Sustainability

What does sustainable farming mean?

  • Conserves or enhances biodiversity, clean air and clean water, healthy soils and natural ecological processes
  • Provides affordable, safe and nutritious beef or lamb
  • Provides value and is profitable for all participants in the supply chain
  • Supports local and indigenous communities and their people
  • Delivers good animal welfare outcomes
  • Builds business resilience to climatic variability
  • Ensures that the diversity and productivity of the natural environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations.

Or to put it simply, for Australian cattle and sheep farmers, being sustainable means caring for their animals, for their land and the environment, giving back to their local communities and ensuring farming is economically viable.

Does cattle and sheep farming harm the environment?

Like all agriculture and in fact human activity, raising cattle and sheep has an impact on the environment. Today cattle and sheep farmers work hard to ensure that the impact is minimised and that farming techniques work in partnership with the natural environment. The livelihood of farmers is dependent on a healthy environment and today farmers recognise this.

How much methane do cattle and sheep produce?

Australia's livestock industry produces approximately 10 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these emissions come from methane which is produced by the natural digestion process of cattle and sheep. Read more about the recent reduction in methane produced by Australian cattle here.

Why do livestock produce methane?

Cattle and sheep belong to a group of animals known as ruminants.

Ruminants have a digestive system that allows them to eat otherwise indigestible foods, such as grass, by regurgitating it as "cud" and rechewing it.

To aid digestion their stomachs are filled with bacteria that break down the cud, producing methane in the process.

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Feedlots & Grain Fed Beef

What is marbling?

Marbling is the last fat to be deposited and hence is the first fat to be used by the animal as an energy store. To maximise the marbling in beef, cattle must be on a highly nutritious diet – whether that be grass or grain. Different types of farming methods produce varying results.

Marbling can also be affected by genetics e.g. breeds such as Wagyu marble extensively.

What is grain fed beef?

Grain fed beef comes from cattle that have spent part of their lives being fed a ration of grain in order to achieve a more consistent product. On average, cattle that are grain fed spend between 50 – 120 days on grain after having spent the majority of their lives on grass.

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What is a cattle feedlot?

A cattle feedlot is a managed facility where livestock are provided a balanced and nutritious diet for the purpose of producing beef of a consistent quality.  In a feedlot cattle are placed in a yard of up to 6,000m2 in size (ie around the size of 14 basketball courts), which is enough space for all cattle to exhibit natural behaviour in terms of movement and interaction.

Why are cattle placed in feedlots?

Cattle are generally taken to feedlots for two main reasons. Firstly, Australia’s dry seasons and/ or dry years result in pastures that have insufficient nutritional value to allow cattle to reach customer requirements in a timely and sustainable manner. Notably, cattle require increasing nutrition as they get older and this places greater pressure on pastures and hence the environment. Secondly, customers in both Australia and our export markets actively demand grain fed beef due to the industry’s ability to consistently meet market requirements in terms of quality and quantity (irrespective of seasons or droughts).

Can sheep be grain fed?

Yes. Managed sheep and lamb finishing systems, or lamb lotfeeding, can be defined as any system that aims to optimise lamb growth. The National procedures and guidelines for intensive sheep and lamb feeding systems and associated planning and management checklists are available to assist producers who are interested in implementing lamb lot feeding on their property. All Australian sheep are raised on pasture, with the significant majority finished on pasture and a very small proportion finished on grain. ABARES data indicates that: 5% of producers grain finished lambs & 6% of slaughtered lambs were grain finished.*This answer was updated on 24 April 2015

Can grain fed beef or lamb be organic?

Yes, so long as the grain is certified organic.

What does grain assisted mean?

There is no agreed definition for grain assisting yet; however some producers supplement the grass diet of their cattle with grain which they distribute to them in the paddocks. 

Free range

Are all Australian cattle free range?

All Australian cattle spend the majority of their lives in an open range grass fed environment. If cattle do go to a feedlot, the average period of time spent there is between 50-120 days or around 10-15% of their lifespan.

Does free range mean it’s organic?

Free range does not mean it is organic. Organic is a certified system ensuring no chemical or pesticide use – you can identify organic products by the certified organic label.

Grass

What does grass fed mean?

For an animal to be classified as grass fed it means that they have spent their entire life grazing pastures. Due to seasonal conditions, many farmers supplementary feed their cattle on a range of feedstocks like hay or silage and in some cases even grain.  Cattle registered under the Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System (PCAS) have more specific regulations around supplementary feeding.

What is the Pasture Fed Assurance Scheme?

Introduced in 2013, the Pasture Fed Assurance Scheme (PCAS) is a voluntary certification arrangement that enables the grassfed beef production supply chain to provide “Certified Pasturefed” and provides certainty to consumers that they are buying certified grassfed beef.

Is grass fed meat organic?

Grass fed does not guarantee it is organic – you can identify organic products by the certified organic label.

Is grass fed meat better for you?

Both grass and grain fed beef are excellent nutritional products which provide a wide range of essential nutrients including: iron, zinc, omega-3s, protein, B vitamins, selenium and vitamin D.

Organic

What does organic mean?

Organic means that the beef or lamb was raised in an environment that was free of synthetic chemicals, herbicides and pesticides. Under Organic Certification the use of antibiotics, hormones, preservatives, growth promotants and genetically modified organisms are banned.

What does certified organic mean?

Certified Organic means that the producer has undertaken an organic certification to ensure buyers that their product is organic.

Grass Vs. Grain

Is grain fed beef bad for the environment?

Grain feeding cattle is one production option and is often used in times of drought or poor grass supply which enables the land to rest and regenerate. Grain feeding cattle for part of their life also reduces the total methane production of the animal over its lifetime, due to faster weight gain. This is a clear environmental benefit for the grain fed industry. The feedlot sector in Australia is regulated and also has a voluntary management system, the National Feedlot Accreditation System which ensures the best environmental management possible.

What is the difference between grain fed and grass fed beef?

Grass fed beef and grain fed beef offer different attributes that are simply a matter of taste and personal preference. In Australia the majority of cattle are raised on grass however variations in seasonal and geographic factors influence the style and quality of beef produced. Grass fed beef is often said to have a robust flavour and grain fed to have increased marbling, and a tender, mild taste.

Is grass fed beef healthier than grain fed beef?

Both grass and grain fed beef are excellent nutritional products which provide a wide range of essential nutrients including: iron, zinc, omega-3s, protein, B vitamins, selenium and vitamin D.

Wagyu

What is Wagyu beef?

Wagyu is a Japanese beef cattle breed derived from native Asian cattle. The name ‘Wagyu’ refers to all Japanese beef cattle, where ‘Wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means cow. Wagyu beef is generally associated with higher rates of marbling, or intramuscular fat which creates a very tender cut.

Is Wagyu beef grass or grain fed?

It can be both.

While Wagyu will develop considerable marbling from quality grass feeding, most Wagyu are grain fed on carefully designed rations of straw for roughage and grain for protein and carbohydrates in certified feedlots.

In Australia, Fullblood Wagyu are fed for 400 – 650 days with the aim of producing a Marble Score of 8+. Crossbred Wagyu are fed for 350 – 450 days with the objective of producing Marble Score 5 – 7+. See more at: http://www.wagyu.org.au/marbling/#sthash.Wk6TWUAX.dpuf

Is Wagyu beef fatty?

Due to its higher marbling, Wagyu beef possesses a higher proportion of monounsaturated fat when compared to other beef. According to Tim Crowe, Ph.D., senior lecturer of nutrition at the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University in Australia, the Monounsaturated Fatty Acid to Saturated Fatty Acid ratio runs up to three times higher in Wagyu beef than other beef. Crowe says half of all marbling in a Wagyu carcass is comprised of monounsaturated fats. See more at: http://www.wagyu.org.au/marbling/#sthash.Wk6TWUAX.dpuf

What is a marble score?

A marble score is used to give an indication of the amount of marbling in a piece of meat. Marbling is the visible form of intramuscular fat (IMF) which appears as fine white flecks within the muscle.

Marble scores are based on the amount and distribution of marbling through the eye muscle that makes up a striploin. In Australia marble scores are measured from 0 - 9+.   The higher the number, the more marbling there is. See more at: http://www.beefandlamb.com.au/How_to/Marbling#sthash.2M2NAoPL.dpuf

Nutrition

Should I eat beef?

Red meat such as beef is recommended 3 to 4 times a week in the Australian Dietary Guidelines because it is an excellent source of iron and zinc.

Should I eat lamb?

Red meat such as lamb is recommended 3 to 4 times a week in the Australian Dietary Guidelines because it is an excellent source of iron and zinc.

Is beef fatty?

When trimmed of fat, beef has on average 3.6g/100g fat and 1.4g/100g saturated fat which is consistent with the Heart Foundation’s Tick criteria. It has only 514kJ/100g and when served with vegetables, makes a healthy and nutritious meal.

Is lamb fatty?

When trimmed of fat, lamb has on average 6g/100g fat and 2g/100g saturated fat which is consistent with the Heart Foundation’s Tick criteria. It has only 600kJ/100g.

What are the key nutritional elements of beef?

A 150g serve of beef is a source of 10 essential nutrients that we need for good health and wellbeing. It is an excellent protein source of good quality iron and zinc and contains twice the iron and zinc of chicken, pork and fish and four times more iron absorbed than spinach.

What are the key nutritional elements of lamb?

A 150g serve of lamb is a source of 10 essential nutrients that we need for good health and wellbeing. It is an excellent protein source of good quality iron and zinc has and contains twice the iron and zinc of chicken, pork and fish and four times more iron absorbed than spinach.

Is there a nutritional difference between grass and grain fed beef?

When trimmed of fat, the nutritional profile of beef available for purchase in Australia is similar whether grass or grain fed. The fat content will vary depending on the amount of visible fat. For a lower fat content, remove visible fat with a sharp knife.

Can I eat red meat as part of a low-fat diet?

Red meat such as beef and lamb is a nutrient-rich food which is recommended 3 to 4 times a week in the Australian Dietary Guidelines (or 455g cooked red meat per week). Eaten with plenty of vegetables and high fibre grains such as brown rice and legumes it makes a healthy and delicious balanced meal.

Is it safe to eat raw meat?

There are two aspects to the answer for this question: the meat and the consumer

Meat - cattle and sheep must be healthy at the time of slaughter, but they may still have bacteria present that may cause disease in humans. Some of these bacteria don't cause illness in the animals, so they are not affected, and are healthy. Even with meat processors taking a lot of care, some of these bacteria can be transferred to the meat processed from these animals. Some bacteria (such as E. coli O157) may cause disease even if only a few are consumed. The number of many disease causing bacteria won't increase at refrigeration temperatures, but the older the product is, and the further it has been transported, the more opportunity there is for the bacteria to grow.

Consumer - people who are older than 70 years, young (under 5 years), pregnant, or have immune deficiencies (cancer treatment, some drugs, certain diseases) are more susceptible to foodborne illness than the rest of the population. About 1 in 5 Australians are in one of these more susceptible groups of people.

So, there will always be a risk in eating raw meat. No meat processor can guarantee the absence of bacteria that could cause illness is the meat is eaten raw. And some consumers are at higher risk than others. Some authorities have given suggestions on how to reduce the risk of illness (http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/consumers/keeping-food-safe/special-care-foods/raw-meat-safe-eating or http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Food_safety_when_eating_out?open)

Does eating red meat cause bowel cancer?

There is no evidence that red meat causes cancer. To reduce risk of cancer, eat red meat in amounts recommended in the Australian dietary guidelines along with foods rich in a variety of dietary fibre such as vegetables, legumes and wholegrains and maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle.

Veal

What is veal?

In Australia, veal is the meat produced from cattle weighing up to 150kg.

Generally in Australia veal is produced from vealers or weaners that have had a diet that can consist of milk, fresh grass and grain. Because of this diet and age of the animal, the veal will be light pink to light red colour.

Lamb

What is lamb?

Lamb is a sheep less than a year old, typically slaughtered between the ages of 4 and 12 months.

Mutton

What is mutton?

Mutton is meat from a sheep that is older than a year, ideally 3 years of age. It is an intense red colour and typically has a stronger flavour than lamb.

Breeds

What is Angus beef?

Just like dogs there are many different breeds of cattle. Angus is a breed of cattle that originated in Scotland and is typically produced in southern Australia.  Angus has become a popular and recognised breed in recent times due to marketing from Angus Australia.

What breeds of cattle do we have in Australia?

Beef cattle were introduced to Australia in 1788, with the first herds based on British breeds, particularly the Shorthorn. Australia now has a large range of cattle breeds that are suited to different areas of Australia. You can read more on cattle breeds in Australia here.

What breeds of sheep do we have in Australia?

Australia has a range of sheep breeds, including ones specialised for growing wool or bred specifically for meat. For more info on what sheep breeds there are in Australia click here.

Wool

What is the difference between a wool sheep and a meat sheep?

Sheep are multi-purpose animals, raised for their meat, milk, wool and hides. Sheep grown for their wool are typically a strain of the merino breed, which have good genetics for growing wool. Merinos can also be used for meat, but typically meat sheep are not merinos. Meat sheep range in breed, but generally shed their wool (unlike merinos) putting more energy into weight gain.

Where can I find out about wool and wool production?

For information on Australian wool please visit the Australia Wool Innovation (AWI) website. AWI is a not-for-profit company that invests in R&D and marketing to increase the long-term profitability of Australian woolgrowers.