January 2009 Archives
For most cow/calf producers there isn’t much (if anything) they can do to improve the carcass quality of an animal once it leaves farm – that is pretty well in hands of the finishing feedlot. But, if you do finish cattle for your own use or maybe you are getting into direct meat sales, here is some information on marbling that may be useful in feeding management.
Long-time Alberta Agriculture beef specialist Russ Horvey (now retired) and a beef producer himself (Big Deal Galloway) talked to participants at a recent Canadian Beef School at Olds College about the dos and don’ts affecting marbling.
Marbling is intramuscular fat (within the muscle), while back fat is subcutaneous fat (outside the muscle). Marbling has much more impact on meat quality and taste than backfat, and there is very little relation between the amount of backfat and the amount of marbling. It is the intramuscular fat that gives meat its flavor. It was interesting to note that a AAA carcass is probably the best from a meat quality standpoint, although sometimes well-marbled meat is hard to sell because consumers are afraid of the fat. Go figure.
First, 90 percent of marbling is determined by genetics rather than feeding or other factors. That doesn’t mean that a poor feeding program won’t have a negative impact on marbling. But if you have an animal without the genetics for marbling little can be done to increase marbling. If you have an animal with marbling genetics, then management can increase marbling.
Not to get into a discussion about which is the best breed out there, but generally British breed cattle have more potential for marbling. Bos Indicus breed cattle, which are more common in warmer production zones (cattle with humps and long floppy ears) are generally regarded to produce lower quality meat – meat that is less tender.
You can’t talk this fact up much around Agribition, but one to the top breeds for meat quality and flavor –good marbling - is Holstein.
Even though your cattle have genetic potential for marbling it takes 100 days of feeding to increase a marbling score by one point. So you can’t step up the ration in the last two or three weeks, or month before slaughter and expect to improve marbling.
Ultrasound and EPDs are the best measure of marbling potential. DNA evaluation is less reliable.
If you are trying to optimize marbling, don’t put the calf through any period of feed stress. Sometimes in backgrounding, or for other economic reasons feed is restricted so a calf might gain only .5 pounds per day. That isn’t normal, that is stressful and will affect marbling. Through out its life the calf should be able to gain a minimum of three-quarters of a pound or ideally one to two pounds per day to maximize marbling potential.
Calves that are on a good creep feed marble more.
When it comes to growth promotants, to maximize marbling, don’t implant calves at weaning or as they enter the feedlot. Calves that are to be implanted need to be properly immunized, and should be on creep feed. Since entering the feedlot is a stressful period, calves should not be implanted at the feedlot until they have been on feed for 14 to 28 days.
From a temperament standpoint, quiet, docile cattle marble better, than those that are aggressive or ‘high headed’. And a study at North Dakota State University showed that calves raised in a lot with good bedding have improved marbling over those with little or no bedding.