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Making Marbling Moves
We all know that better beef = more profit when cattle arrive at the packing plant. Beef is one of the most expensive meats that a consumer can purchase, and there’s an expectation for consistent quality. How can you raise quality beef that consumers desire? There are three factors that can make a difference and help you mooo-ve the needle on your bottom line.
Breed. Wagyu, Angus, Hereford. These are examples of breeds known for good meat quality – they have genetics working in the favor of their flavor. Beef from Wagyu has more oleic acid and marbling, providing tender and a buttery eating experience. Similarly, beef from Angus and Hereford cattle has greater marbling than many breeds. “Bos indicus” breeds, like the Nelore, have more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which makes their meat tougher. The vast majority of these meat quality differences come down to DNA. Know the breed and its traits before making a purchase. Here is a resource to help select the best cattle genetics for your operation.
Feed. While a breed’s traits are more or less fixed, the diet that cattle eat can make a big difference in the end product. Is it more lucrative to feed cattle grass or grain? Research shows it’s a bit complicated. Both are shown to increase marbling. However, cattle fed by grass develop a greater concentration of Omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. These fats can create a “gamey” or off-taste. Granted, beef flavor is a personal preference, but the market for grass-fed beef is limited. In general, consumers prefer the flavor of beef fed a grain-based diet. For guidance into grain feeding, this resource is a great start, and calling your local nutritionist is always recommended.
Stress. Various factors can stress cattle during transportation to a packing plant: weather inside the truck and trailer, driver care, space, and the anxiety of cattle comingling. When cattle are stressed, muscle glycogen stores are released. This creates “dark cutter” beef, making it unappealing to consumers and less tender — gaining the title: Dark. Firm. Dry. (DFD). Some of these factors can’t be controlled by the cattle producer. However, cattle producers can control animal temperament. The calmer an animal’s disposition is, the less of a chance that DFD and bruising will occur. Cattle docility can be controlled by purchasing and breeding calm cattle. Here are some trait definitions of docility from different breed associations: Angus, Simmental, and Brahman.
Granted, breeders don’t have control over every factor that can ensure rich, marbled meat. But doing the right homework can help you control even more factors and improve your calves' quality grade.
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