Improved carcass quality starts with genetics

When it comes to breeding choices, producers should always be striving to improve their animals.

This includes breeding for a higher-quality finished product that meets consumer demands. Through records and research, producers can be breeding for improved carcass quality and better beef.

Marbling is a sign of quality in beef.

“Intramuscular fat, better known as marbling, is one of the major criteria that gets discussed quite often, because it is the one that relates most to quality grading of the carcass,” Andy McCorkill, University of Missouri field specialist in livestock, explained. “Besides intramuscular fat, we want the animals to have a good yield grade, meaning that they don’t have excessive fat on the outside of the muscle and in the offal. A widely-recognized standard to shoot for is 70 percent choice or better, and 70 percent yield grades 1 and 2.”

Dark cutters (beef that does not bloom to a bright pink or red when exposed to air), poor marbling, etc., are undesirable.

The cattle’s productivity leading up to the finished product will be a determining factor in carcass quality.

“Besides the carcass traits themselves, feeder cattle must convert feed efficiently,” McCorkill said. “Look at EPDs with some accuracy to them when selecting bulls for breeding. Increased accuracy will come from DNA testing and carcass ultrasound data collection on younger sires; older sires might even have some progeny carcass data to tell the story of their potential.”

Genomic testing can help producers develop a high-quality finished product – but the tests are rendered useless if the results are not factored into the program.

Genetic testing has a place in the industry. In order for a producer to take advantage of this technology. The producer must be willing to act on the results to make breeding and culling decisions, according to the Nobel Research Institute in Oklahoma. Smaller producers can be nimble and change direction if they are using AI for breeding programs, as they can custom breed for a certain type of resulting calf.

Properly utilized genomic testing is a useful resource for any producer, regardless of size and herd goals.

“The information can help find the best animals and the holes in your current breeding program,” McCorkill explained. “It is important to know that having the information is only the beginning, utilizing the information to make improvement is the hard part of the battle.

Knowing what consumers want will help producers make appropriate breeding decisions. Today’s customer generally wants to know where and how their beef was raised, what it ate, etc.

“It’s all about marketing,” McCorkill said. “To be successful in a niche market, you have to find and develop the appropriate customer base to go along with your product. A lot of it boils down to individual preference for taste.”

Of course, price is always a factor in consumer preferences as well.

According to the Nobel Institute, those who have more disposable income are starting to look for grass-fed, locally produced beef. However, the main determinant of whether the average consumer purchases beef at the grocery store meat case is still price. 

Researching, investing in genomic testing, paying attention to carcass grades and reaching out to consumers, where possible, to determine their preferences will help develop a solid breeding program for high-quality beef.


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