Behind the Beef – The Beef Supply Chain and who fits into it

This episode of Behind the Beef features two people positioned at two different parts of the beef supply chain.

We had the opportunity to speak to Libby Thompson from Whyalla Beef and celebrity chef Fast Ed, a proud brand partner of NH Foods Australia’s Angus Reserve. Both of our guests are involved heavily in the beef supply chain and the Angus breed in their roles, however are ultimately at two different ends of the supply chain, with Libby working towards the top end of the chain and Fast Ed further down in his role in preparing the product and feeding the ultimate end, our consumers.

Libby and Fast Ed shared with us the story about how they got to be where they are in the industry today and some background information in the role that they play within the beef supply chain. When we caught up with Libby and Fast Ed, they were joining Angus Australia at the 2022 NH Foods Australia Angus Youth National Roundup, where they spent time providing information sessions to the young attendees, exposing them to the various parts of the beef supply chain.

So Libby, thank you for joining us and having a chat with us today. Can you just introduce yourself and your role at Whyalla?

My name is Libby Thompson and I’m the Supply Chain Coordinator at Whyalla Beef. I’ve been at Whyalla for about 18 months.

So, what does your role encompass?

I am a jack of all trades, predominantly in the supply section of the business.

I help the buyers, but I also look after our backgrounding, which is the part of the business where we go and buy younger cattle, we background them until we bring them in mid-year.

So, you’re good with people then?

Yes, you have to be like that in the supply area.

You’re based up at Texas, QLD in the feedlot, how big is the feedlot?

We are licenced for 75,000 head capacity. At any given time we’ve got 50,000 to 60,000 head on feed. We are all Angus other than a small portion of Wagyu. So we’ve

been feeding all Angus for a few years now and it’s quite a big operation.

So why Angus?

100% would be consistency. Consistency of feeding, consistency of supply, but also for the whole reason that you feed cattle for, consistency in the end product. The consistency of the beef that you get is just like no other. So that’s why we are all Angus.

From a consumer perspective, where does Whyalla Beef fit into the supply chain to get to that end product?

Whyalla Beef is the feedlot, so we will buy in the cattle and we feed them for however many days required in the program for the products that we’re selling.

Then they will go into the processing part of a supply chain. So, we are the first step of feeding those cattle and caring for them for the first 100 to 200 days. We do a few different feeding regimes in days and what products that we do sell but the main product line for Whyalla or for NH Foods Australia is Angus Reserve.

And how long is the feeding regime for that program?

Angus Reserve feeding is 150 days.

How did you fall into this career?

I am a local girl to Texas. But I have been working away for a little while so prior to that I was in live export and it’s a very different part of the beef supply chain. It’s very niche and very tailored to the top end of Australia, rather than the breeding in the southern part of Australia.

I just wanted to do something different, and I wanted to do work in an area that’s more domestic supply and learn everything that’s got to do with that.

With feedlotting not only was it in the area that I’m from and I wanted to move home, but it’s also a massive part of the Australian beef industry. I really wanted to get into that and to learn about it and see what doors that opened, but also meet the people in it.

So, you’re here with us with NH Foods at the Angus Youth National Roundup. What’s the benefit of seeing events like this for the younger generation coming into the industry that you love?

It gives the kids purpose and the ability to see what happens in the bigger picture. From a supply chain point of view, it’s not just breeding and caring for those animals. It’s giving them a point of view that there is a purpose as to why we breed these animals and that, in the end, it is to feed people.

So, I think it’s very important that kids and everyone has that understanding and that when they’re making choices for breeding cattle that they understand at some point they’re going to have to be sold, and what is that person or what is that company looking for in that animal? What traits are they looking for? What are they going to be doing with them?

I think it’s very important to teach kids so they understand from the very get go that they are also consumers at the end of the day, so it gives that traceability back to them and their families.

I think it’s good to put a face to that part of the supply chain so kids can say, oh, yeah, there’s these other big companies out there that look after the cattle for the next step, and then they process them, and then we sell them and we feed people, and our beef goes all over the world.

How do you have your steak?

Medium. I used to be medium well, but I’ve got older, and I’ve just gone medium with plenty of salt.

Well, Libby, thank you very much for joining us and giving us a little bit of insight into yourself, your role in the industry and what you’re doing here today.

Not a problem. Thank you for having me.

Hello, Ed, to start off, you’re obviously Fast Ed and that’s how many people know you. How did you get the name Fast Ed?

What it’s really about what my fundamental values are when it comes to cookery, which is that I’ve spent most of my career working in three chef hat restaurants here in Australia, owned a two hat restaurant and I worked in two and three Michelin Star restaurants overseas, but my real love is helping everyday families to cook better food within the limited time that we all have available. It was kind of a snappy way of just summarising all that.

So how did you become a chef? How did you take that career path?

Well, as far as the cookery was concerned, I was what they referred to in the business as a bit of a loose unit when I was a child, not really the best-behaved teenager. I went to a whole bunch of high schools because we felt it continually came to the conclusion that I would be better off not in their company, which is a long way of saying I got expelled a whole lot of times.

So, when I was 14 my father said to me, have you got a bike? I said yeah. He said, wonderful, go for a ride and don’t come home till you’ve got a job. That’s what I did. I got a job originally as a kitchen hand, but within a couple of months, I’d started being a chef’s assistant and started to cook and I fell in love with this thing.

I actually ended up doing quite well at school and I started a law degree at Sydney Uni, which I really hated. I didn’t hate the intellectual side of it, I loved the intellectual side, but I didn’t want to spend my life in a law office surrounded by lawyers when I loved being in the kitchen surrounded by chefs.

So, I threw in the towel there, so to speak, and picked up the tea towel and never looked back.

It’s always good to do something that you love.


Why does everybody love Angus Beef so much from a chef’s perspective?

Well, I can’t only put on my chef’s hat because I also have the unlosable hat of telling stories for a living.

The first thing I’ll say is that one thing that Angus Australia has done so very well is to build a brand. And for those of you who don’t think that brands matter, I would suggest that you haven’t really looked at the rulebook yet.

Brands do matter because the things that we pay attention to are the things we feel are reliable, things we think are trustworthy and the things that we think will meet our expectations.

When you look at when the first brands came to exist in the 1890s, brands like Kellogg’s and Heinz and McCain’s, these brands came into existence because at the time there was so much inconsistency in what people could buy to eat at home and there were real issues of food poisoning, particularly amongst the first manufacturers.

So, these brands had wonderful recognition because they were reliable and trustworthy. That’s precisely what Angus has pursued. Angus beef is predictable. They’ve got this wonderful set of producers around Australia who do a good job, but more importantly, the genetics has been carefully maintained so it’s been improved.

You couldn’t say it’s the same Angus you had in the early eighteen hundreds when the breed was first recognised, but what you have got here now is an extraordinary Angus breed and it’s very carefully maintained and protected, so I’ve got a huge amount of respect for that.

The other thing, of course, is the eating quality. I like marbling, but I don’t want too much. For starters, I don’t like paying for fat. I don’t mind to paying for a beer, but I don’t want to pay for a whole plate full of fat.

There is a point where you can say a little shaving of some really incredible marble score nine Wagyu is great, but that’s a special occasion cut. What you want on a daily basis, on a regular basis, is something that has that combination of extraordinary flavour developed through grass pasturing, but then also the tenderness and the intramuscular marbling you get from feedlot finishing.

Australia has a worldwide reputation for doing this brilliantly. There’s a lot of other places in the world who reckon that they do it well, but having seen feedlots and operations in North America, Canada, Europe and in the UK, no one matches Australia both for quality of operation, but also for quality of outcome, as well as quality of animal husbandry – our respect for animals is second to none.

You’re here as a brand partner with Angus Reserve. What is it that you’re doing here at the Roundup?

There are a few things. First and foremost, I really hope to be able to inspire some of these incredible young people to think about not only what the breeding, rearing, showing, judging management of cattle is all about, because that is really important, particularly if you’re going to a farming world. But you always need to remember that the end user is not the farmer, the end user is not the chef, the end user is the consumer, so it’s a matter of keeping in mind what are you doing and why you’re doing it.

So I want to talk to them a little bit about how their work on farm translates to happy customers, which hopefully inspires them. I want to share some information and some knowledge about the difference between your primary and secondary cuts of meat and how that makes such a fundamental difference to what we do. Why you can grill some, why you have to slow cook others.

We’re going to talk about how muscle fibres. Yes, there’s going to be science for six-year-olds. And I’ll tell you something, I do this regularly with school kids. Kids are good with science. I think too many people don’t have enough respect for how much kids can learn and cope with.

I guess the other thing is to show them a delicious dish and give them some dinner.

A new survey from Meat and Livestock Australia shows that the majority of Australians feel good about the red meat industry and want to learn more. So, it’s probably a good time to start when they’re so young.

I would love to know what the question base for that was. I suspect it may have been a little leading, but I’m sure the answer is also correct.

The red meat industry here in Australia is doing incredible things. If you want to talk about the ups and downs over the last five years, the ups have been the continuation of incredible quality, the supply to market and people’s greater education about what the processes are, and not to mention building more of an export market.

The downside for consumers, of course, has been price, and we can’t hide that with ever increasing exports around the world. Yes, the price of beef has been rising. But what I would say to Australians more generally is that just because the price is higher doesn’t mean you should be worried about your beef consumption. What it means is that you should start to get more clever about which cuts you can use, and that means learning how to use them.

And equally importantly, look, I don’t know if this is going to get me in trouble or not, I hope not – If a 300g steak costs more than you want to spend on it, eat a 200g steak or a 150g. The point isn’t to make sure that your entire plate is covered in dead cow. It’s about ensuring you can eat really good Australian beef cooked properly at a price that works for you.

One of the sessions that you’re doing with the guys today is about cuts and carcase usage. Is that something that consumers are expecting in the space of sustainability these days? Has there been a pushback in the industry about that sort of thing?

I don’t know if there has been pushback because if anything, butchers are making more and more money out of it.

I am not aware of pushback from the consumers. I mean, the interesting thing, of course, if you look at a butcher shop in the olden days. Porterhouse, good. Ribeye, good. Rump, good. Fillet, good. Then mince, mince, mince, mince, mince, mince.

When you want secondary cuts like skirt steaks, inside skirt, hanger steaks, pillow steaks. There’s a lot more involved in the butchery there, which is time, which is cost, but consumers in most places are prepared to pay for that. What’s happened, though, is that these things that would normally be taken off as a job lot and put through a mincer now are being processed, and so that does yield a higher unit cost.

The butcher is doing really well out of this. I’m so happy for them. One thing I would say to Australians is, go and support your local butcher. In the mid-1980s, Australia had 36,000 butcher shops. As of a few years ago, there was just shy of 3,000. We’d lost 93% of all the butcher shops in Australia in 45 years. Now, if that doesn’t make you sad, I think your tear ducts are blocked and if it doesn’t make you angry your meds are working, because, quite frankly, you should be angry about that and you should be asking, who the hell is responsible for this situation?

And the answer is you are. And you’ll tell me no, I’m not but yes, you are. Because where you choose to spend your money is what determines what’s available on market. If you want to have butcher shops, that’s where you need to buy your meat and that’s where you’ll find the skill to be able to get things like hanger steaks butchered out, because for the most part, your large big box retailers are not going to bother.

Do I think there’s a place for that? Yes. Do I think consumers get more out of it? Yes. Do I think that some consumers

look at some of these cuts going, what the hell am I supposed to do with that? Sure they do. And that’s why it’s for people like myself to try and help make it a little bit more accessible. Please keep in mind, not everybody drives an Audi, not everybody owns a boat. Some people want to buy mince every week and that’s okay. You don’t have to live your life like you’re in an episode of MasterChef. No, that’s a different network! Better Homes and Gardens.

You’re allowed to be you. You’re allowed to feel good and respected about the choices that you make within what kind of beef you want to consume. There really is something for everyone.

You want to talk about end-to-end production and nose to tail consumption that’s what it’s about. It’s about providing options for everybody.

To wrap the questions, we ask most of our guests, how do you have your steak? But I feel like that might not be deep enough for someone who can actually cook so well. What’s your favourite cut and what’s the best way to cook it?

It’s an interesting question because it makes an assumption about people that you would have a favourite cut, and I’m sure there are people who do but if you’re someone who cooks for a living, that’s like asking which one is your favourite child. And it’s my son. I’m sorry, Luca, but it is my son. No! I love both my kids equally!

I like different cuts at different times. If you’re talking about what I eat on a semi regular basis, I’m a bit old fashioned in that way.

I think scotch fillet is one of those cuts that will rarely disappoint you.

If you’re going to cook scotch fillet, I would say cook it at least to the top end of medium rare. That big fat seam that runs through the middle, if you don’t cook it, it doesn’t render. If it doesn’t render, you are eating meat flavoured plasticine and, quite frankly, it ‘ain’t good. But I like that cooked to a medium and I think it’s fantastic.

What I’d say, rather than to eat scotch or whatever, I’d say eat a thicker cut bit of meat. For meat to retain its juiciness when you cook it, it’s a question of two things – surface area, because it’s through surface area that you get evaporation, and the amount of evaporation that takes place is what determines whether or not a steak is juicy.

That juiciness is literally just retained meat juices, which, by the way, is not blood for everyone.

So, a thicker cut piece of meat will always end up juicier. When it comes to something that always makes me feel well fed, that makes me feel like I’m actually cooking and makes me feel like I’m getting the sort of flavour that I want, I will almost always go for an inside skirt. The inside skirt is actually the diaphragm muscle from the steer, and it can be a little hard to get. When you get it, it’s pretty springy and you sort of go, oh, no, what is this? You want to cook it pretty rare. Make sure you’ve marinated it. It takes on flavour really well. Keep it on the rare to medium rare, no more than that. Slice it really finely.

A really good way to use that, actually, because you want it to be really paper thin, just go and get some regular corn tortillas and use a biscuit cutter, like ten centimetres or so, and cut little circles out of that and fry those.

That’s what’s called a tostada, as opposed to a tortilla. Then you get the beef, you get any kind of slaw or something, avocado, if you want sour cream, if you want cream corn. And lots of hot sauce. Really, it’s just a great cut. The other one, which you really should try at some point in your life, is skirt steak cooked the same way. Delicious.

Thank you for all those tips!

Can I just say one more thing before we go? Not only full credit to you guys for helping share some really great information about Angus as a breed, but to everyone listening who has taken the time either when shopping or thinking about shopping or starting to cook, just to consider all what breed is this? That is 80% of the journey guys, because from there you’re going to make your decision about what to do so all of you, next time you’re starting to cook, just think, what am I actually cooking here? It’s a good thing to do.

During a question time at Roundup a participant posed the following question to Fast Ed…

What made you different? How did you get on TV as opposed to the regular chef?

So, the question was how I ended up as a talking meat puppet? Very good question and I really want to answer this one properly, particularly for you kids who are twelve and up.

I was working at a two chefs hat restaurant in Sydney which I was really enjoying running and people said to me “Oh, you are just in the right place at the right time.” And maybe a bit, but I reckon that is missing the most important part of finding any kind of success in life, is that it’s right place, right time, right attitude.

Each and every one of you has opportunities put in front of you each and every day. The question is, are you able to see it, do you recognise it, or does it just pass you by?

If you see it, are you ready to do something about it? If you do something about it, are you prepared to do the hard bits as well as the easy bits? In the end, getting ahead in life is not about what you’re prepared to do, but it’s about what you’re prepared to give up.

Because you’ve usually got plenty of choices, but what are you prepared to really work hard for?

So, when I started working in television, for the first two years, I earned $0. I did it for free. In fact, the first year, I paid for the ingredients. I didn’t want to be on television. I had no interest in it at all. But I knew that it might open some doors for me.

I didn’t think it would last, but I was prepared to back myself.

I had to be able to see that it was an opportunity, one worth pursuing, and I had to be prepared to go after it eventually. The trick is not to make yourself the highest paid person in the room. The trick is to make yourself the most indispensable person in the room.

Make sure people really need to have you around and you’re never out of a job. That’s really what it comes down to.

I mean, all of you coming here for this event and each and every one of you are going to not only learn things, but you’re going to meet people. Those relationships could be the difference between your future success or even more success, and that’s why you’ve got to really latch onto what you can learn and make something of it.

I really whole heartedly believe in this, and I’m pretty sure that for any of you who’ve taken the time to come all the way down here to Wodonga in your school holidays rather than hang out at home playing video games, you’re seven eighths of the way there already. Congratulations from me to you guys, I think it’s pretty cool.

By Cheyne Twist, Senior Marketing and Communications Officer

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