Atherton Grass Fed provides ultimate paddock-to-plate experience

MA
By Meg Anderson
December 13 2021 - 8:00pm
James and Deana Nasser, owners of Atherton Grass Fed, with their son Lewis.

A lot of big ideas are brainstormed at a pub and for the Nasser family it was the birthplace of their paddock to plate experience set in the deep red volcanic soils of the Atherton Tablelands.

James and Deana Nasser decided to develop their own brand of grass-fed beef when James' father and the local publican became tired of ordering boxes of grain-fed beef from down south.

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After convincing him to try their grass-fed beef through the local abattoir, he decided to organise a trial dinner at the hotel with a number of invited friends and esteemed critics.

Twelve weeks later, Atherton Grass Fed is now the only beef on the menu at the Barron Valley Hotel.

"We've had a lot of guidance from family and friends in the industry, and have been very lucky with the support from everyone to get [our business] to this stage," Mrs Nasser said.

"Since we started at the hotel the steak sales have gone up, with 100 more steaks a month sold in September and October, so for a small town it's pretty good.

"Some people are interested in knowing where their steak comes from, and now they can go in and sit down and our story is on the table."

James and Deana both grew up working in various aspects of the agriculture industry, and in 2009 they managed to secure their first 12 hectare (30 acre) grazing block, south of Atherton.

"There was no infrastructure on it initially," Mr Nasser said.

"We lived in the shed out back for five years while the house was being built and leased property across the road, increased our numbers and then picked up other little lease blocks around the tableland."

Now, a decade later, the Nassers have gradually grown their small grazing business, with 450 steers rotated between 162 ha (400 acres) of free hold land, and multiple lease blocks.

"We've got nearly all Brahman/Brahman cross cattle just because of the climate up here in the tropics, and they do well with the parasite resistance and they're good converters," Mr Nasser said.

Nasser's wave the grass-fed flag at Barron Valley Hotel

The couple currently balance their time between managing their cattle operation and running their construction business.

Eventually hoping to transition from building to full time graziers, most of their property work is conducted on weekends, after hours, or between builds.

"It doesn't always work on weekends though with boys and cricket, but we find the time when we can," Mrs Nasser said.

When it comes to producing a quality article, Mr Nasser believes grazing management and temperament play a major role.

"Eating quality has a lot to do with the temperament of the cattle, and how they've been handled before they're killed and processed," he said.

"It shows up in their weight gains too, you get something that's half mad it does not put weight on.

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"We try and weigh every four to six weeks just to monitor how they're going and on average our daily weight gain is 0.7- 0.8kg/day which is unreal for grass fed cattle."

Nasser's wave the grass-fed flag at Barron Valley Hotel

The steers they produce are fattened and marketed directly to the local Rocky Creek abattoir, where it is aged to specification.

"We purchase store steers from private paddock sales at a 250kg entry weight, and grow them out into bullocks, dressing between 290-300 kg.

"Every fortnight we send a body load of 14 head, and all the primal cuts are sent to the Barron Valley Hotel.

"We're pretty unique here that we can turn off grass fed, finished cattle all year round, we don't just wait for the season to sell fat cattle, we can sell fat cattle every fortnight all year round because of the high rainfall and how we manage our pastures."

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Nasser's wave the grass-fed flag at Barron Valley Hotel

With a mixture of improved tropic pastures, and a variety of legumes, the cattle are typically run as one mob, and moved from every three days up to two weeks depending on paddock sizes.

"The legumes need rest to keep them established because the cattle go for them first. You can just see when they come back to the paddock there's a nice shoot of fresh feed ready for them," Mr Nasser said.

The Nasser family now source a majority of their weaners from one vendor at Watson River, south of Weipa.

"We look for good, quiet temperament, easy doing cattle, which is what we've found with the Quartermaine's cattle from Watson River. They can handle stress and pressure," Mr Nasser said.

"They've got a property down at Millaa Millaa where they background weaners to entry weight and we buy them from there.

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"So they've already acclimatised once they get to us and are on a rising plain of nutrition all their life basically, from weaning right through to slaughter."

Their steers are finished on a low intake loose lick supplement with protein meal, phosphorus, urea, salt and a basic vitamin and mineral mix.

"It just helps to put the last finish on them and they're only on that for 90 to 100 days before they're slaughtered," he said.

For Mr Nasser, watching a young weaner grow into a well-rounded, muscled up bullock is the ultimate reward.

"When you shift cattle into a fresh paddock and watch them drop their heads and graze, you just sit there with a beer in your hand, and you know you're producing something that's worthwhile. You're doing something worthwhile.

"It's a good lifestyle, where we live is beautiful, and it's a good way to bring kids up too, they get to see the whole process as well and know what it takes to make a good piece of steak."

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