A paddock to plate approach to beef production coupled with frustration from fluctuating cattle prices prompted beef producers George and Anna Hetherington to create their Mitchell Grass Meats brands in 2007.
The Hetheringtons say their overall focus has always been to provide quality grass fed, chemical-free and flavoursome meat direct to their customers across Queensland.
They have re-established the relationship between producer and customer, which allows for the sharing of information about meat production.
“Red meat consumers are becoming increasingly discerning about the breeding and care of animals, the chemicals used and the processing standards involved in the meat supply chain,” Mrs Hetherington said. “We have also noticed a marked increase in consumer concern about the animal welfare at all stages of meat production. We have quite number of ex-vegetarians among our customers who have returned to eating meat due to our approach.
The couple generally run up to 400 breeders on their 9600ha property Muyong, near Longreach, which is predominantly undulating Mitchell grass downs country with fairly open black soil.
The western queensland couple have found crossing Angus bulls over a Grey Brahman female base is the right mix to suit their market and climate conditions.
They turn off two or three-year-old cattle and aim to produce 250 to 300kg (dressed weight) carcases, which are processed in Longreach at the Australian Agricultural College.
“There are many factors involved in the eating quality of meat,” Mrs Hetherington said.
“The breed, the feed, the seasonal conditions, temperament, the processing practices, factors affecting the pH of the meat such as temperament, animal age and much more.”
The Hetheringtons source their Angus bulls from the Dance family of Dance Angus Stud at Millmerran, and regularly purchase bulls at their annual September sale.
Each year they look for early maturing two-year-old bulls with good meat cover and temperament-traits they seek for the offspring.
“We look for bulls with fairly high EBVs (estimated breeding values) with marbling and the fat. Although Angus bulls can be challenged by the heat and harsher conditions in our western Queensland climate, Dance bulls throw good calves and an even line of progeny.
“The poll gene I the Angus breed is very dominant, which means we seldom have to dehorn the calves.”
The Hetheringtons use Brahman cows for their breeding base due to their ability to handle the country and heat, as well as being good mothers.
“The first-cross Brangus produces a solid, strong and even calf with a quiet temperament and thrives in our conditions.”
The coupe use Easy Wean weaner rings, which are screwed on to the calf’s nose at weaning time to stop it drinking milk. Calves are then returned to the paddock for a month or so with the cows.
“It’s a gentler process on both the cow and the calf,” Mr Hetherington said. “This is in line with our belief that good genetics and well treated animals produce a better meat.”
We feel we are getting the best traits from both breeds, which is ideal for the style of carcase we are looking for. “We have learnt, and are still learning, much from being involved with the whole MGM process. “From bull and cow selection, weaning, through to selection for slaughter, to seeing the carcases hanging, to bagging and packing the MGM meat products, to delivery and then to receive feedback from our loyal customers.”
In order to supply meat year-round the Hetheringtons do not have a set joining period. Mr Hetherington said it gave them a change and always had cattle coming on and had a joining rate of 2 per cent.
After processing, a team of butchers at the college prepares the meat and Hetheringtons oversee the packing of orders for dispatch.
Mr Hetherington then travels thousands of kilometres to deliver meat across Queensland – with a number of stops such as Mackay, Rockhampton, Brisbane, Toowoomba, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.