A Story on Struan

Mike Deland

The beef cattle program centred around Struan has been my life.  Ron McNeil who started as a meat inspector in the 50s, travelled the north of the state as a stock inspector in the early 60s, became Manager of Struan Research Centre in the 60s and 70s. Ron assembled a team of Research Officers at Struan who used to run the state beef carcass competitions in Adelaide, bringing a more scientific approach by dissecting carcasses into meat, fat and bone, and relating that to the value of an animal to the butcher and the consumer.

Struan used to be a training ground for beef cattle advisors who spent a year or so as Technical Officers working on research projects before they went to various extension activities. The extension programs involved "on farm" weighing of cattle to get beef producers to think objectively about improving their production from either purebred cattle or by introducing new breeds to use in crossbreeding programs.

In my case, I was a cadet with the Department of Agriculture and I was told I would be expected to work on producing beef from both the dairy and beef cattle.  At my introductory interviews with the heads of the branches, I was told that both the dairy and beef industries were expected to develop in the South East of South Australia with cattle being bred in the north and fattened on irrigated pastures in the South East. The dairy research was likely to be transferred from Northfield Research Centre to the South East as housing had encroached into the Northfield area and the Adelaide Hills and Murray swamps areas presented a pollution problem, whereas the South East had plenty of untapped underground water waiting to be developed for irrigation of pastures and fodder crops.

Struan had approximately 200 cattle and 500 sheep. It now has closer to 1000 cattle plus 5000 sheep. In the early 70s, we developed crossbreeding programs based on newly introduced cattle breeds.  To do so, required the development of artificial breeding techniques, supplies of liquid nitrogen for ourselves, private beef producers and development of a semen collection centre at Struan.  The projects involved cattle at Struan, Wandilo, Wanbi and Turretfield as well as many private co-operator herds throughout the state.

During this time, I was asked if I could help a chap called Doug Dewey, a retiree from CSIRO, who wanted some cattle to test his theory that simple copper oxide particles released into the rumen could alleviate copper deficiency.  We developed a dosing system and proved that it could be done without the risks of other techniques. Unfortunately, our results were taken up by many overseas countries before interest was shown in Australia.

The work on cattle genetics continues with programs designed to see how compliance with modern market requirements can be made more consistent and how beef production can become more efficient .The funding has changed from industry paid staff and facilities with state operating funds to state paid staff and industry operating to combined industry, state and federal funding through the Cooperative Research Centres.