Genetics and other factors play a role in producing a calf that will grade well at slaughter
For cattle producers, a good reputation is paramount when it comes to longevity. This is why the merits of their product must be addressed and proper adjustments made if necessary.
There are more than a dozen breed associations with EPDs for traits affecting carcass merit. Some have EPDs for what is known as $Value Index. $Values are multi-trait selection indexes expressed in dollars per head, to assist commercial beef producers by adding simplicity to genetic selection decisions. A $Value has meaning only when used in comparison to the $Value of another animal. For example, just as with EPDs, variation in $Values between animals indicates average expected differences in the relative value of progeny if random mating is assumed and the calves are exposed to the same environment.
But how do cattle producers improve on the carcass of the calves they market?
According to Dr. Patrick Davis of the University of Missouri Extension, producers should select specific traits in the herd sires they introduced into their herd according to EPDs, indexes and genetic testing.
One way to introduce high-quality sires to a herd is introducing an AI program. AI sires typically have more accurate EPDs, and much of the data is readily available. However, the cost of and AI program maybe out of reach for some cattlemen. For those producers, Davis recommend genetic testing for natural sires to improve the accuracy of the EPDs.
While the introduction of a proven sire in the equation can help a producer make the desired improvements, the maternal side should also be a consideration.
Davis said it’s important to remember that producers can make improvements in carcass merits by incorporating genetic testing into replacement heifer selection protocols. Davis explained that with this tool, producers can select females that have a improved chance of producing progeny that will have improved carcass merit.
However, Davis said it’s important that cattle producers not focus on a single trait.
Producers are encouraged to select production-oriented animals, not just animals with a high carcass values. Animals retained for a breeding program should be evaluated for overall performance.
While the genetic make up of an animal is the base, there are other factors that should be considered, factors that the producer can and should control and monitor.
Calves need to be vaccinated to have the proper immunity through their life, reducing the incidence of sickness. Sickness leads to the calves use of energy for fighting off the illness and reduces energy usage for marbling, resulting in a lower quality grade at slaughter.
Another element for carcass quality is feeding. It is important to incorporate starch into the calves diet, which usually means corn, as soon as possible to increase marbling.
Producers are also encouraged to use low-stress handling techniques, which leads to less energy going to dealing with the stress and more energy to go to marbling deposition.
Knowing how cattle grade at the processor is a great marketing tool for producers, and lets them know if their strategies are paying off in the end.
Individual carcass data collection may or may not be part of the package a commercial feed yard offers its customers. Producers are encouraged to ask about getting carcass data and about any fees.
Producers have the option of retaining ownership of their cattle at the feed yard and selling directly to the packing plant to obtain carcass data, or skipping the feed yard and finishing their livestock themselves and marking to the packing plant.