Saturday, August 25, 2007

British White Beef Cattle - Environmental and Nutritional Effects on Beef Tenderness, Marbling and Overall Palatibility

J.West's Big Mac, British White bull calf sired by Elvis
Beef calves fed on 100% high concentrate grain from weaning to finish in a feedlot environment results in the least desirable beef eating experience for the American consumer, and the least desirable muscle to bone ratio in the final carcass, which directly impacts the end revenues of the beef industry. Conventional high concentrate grain feeding, from the zero pasture stocker phase on through to the continued high concentrate feedlot and finish of beef calves, is often perceived or touted as the only course of feeding that will result in tender, well-marbled beef in an animal genetically predisposed to marble well. The result of a 2002 study funded by Beef Checkoff dollars and conducted with the oversight of the Texas Beef Council suggests that is not the reality.

With the current corn ethanol craze and subsequent corn production targeted to fuel the new corn ethanol market, many cow/calf operations are re-evaluating the cost/benefit of their programs. The majority of cow/calf operations in the United States that provide beef to the American consumer are small shops bringing fifty or fewer beef calves to the local market annually. Browsing through this Texas Beef Council study conducted by Texas A&M one realizes that corn, or any grain, can be largely side-stepped for the majority of the beef calves life when there is ample grass and legume pasture available.

While this study has a bit of age on it, it remains the only study sponsored by the Texas Beef Council with the goal of evaluating various backgrounding scenarios and their impact on Tenderness, Marbling, Palatability, and other sensory factors involved in the enjoyment of a beef steak. The eight study groups were located in three distinct geographical areas of Texas in the interest of evaluating the impact of environment on the final carcass attributes. The East Texas studies conducted in Overton, Texas out-performed the other groups in many key areas: finish weight, ribeye area, and backfat thickness.   

This 2002 Texas A&M conducted study evaluated eight different pasturing and feeding regimens to try and understand nutritional and environmental factors that impact variability in Texas beef. While the stated focus was primarily carcass tenderness, the results provided insight into all the desirable primary attributes of beef. Of the eight study groups, the "McGregor-Calf Fed" (MCF) group receiving high concentrated grain rations from weaning to harvest scored the poorest in many key areas -- but perhaps most surprising was the detrimental impact on ribeye area, backfat, and finish weight. All of these attributes were noticeably deficient in the MCF group in comparison to the Overton/East Texas and Uvalde/South Texas study groups which were backgrounded on pasture and finished the final approximately 4 months on high grain concentrate -- with the East Texas study groups providing significantly superior results overall.
J.West's Elvis, British White Bull

There are two major factors in a consumers enjoyment of beef -- Tenderness and Marbling. The primary stated focus of this Texas Beef Council study was carcass Tenderness. While all study groups were within an immaterial range of one another for initial Tenderness scoring, the MCF high concentrate (post-weaning to finish)group had the actual least tender carcass upon initial harvest than any of the other study groups.
After 14 days of aging the Tenderness scores were comparable across all study groups.


What is significantly missing from this reported study is the sire parentage of the many groups. We are told that Half-blood Bos indicus (Brahman)-influenced steers raised at the Agricultural Research Center, Texas Agriculture Experiment Station in McGregor, Texas were used in this study to understand the impact of environment (south, east and central Texas) and nutrition (low versus high grain supplementation) immediately post-weaning and prior to feedlot feeding on the growth, composition and eating characteristics of beef, but we are not told if the steers in all study groups were half-siblings, sired by the same bull. This is critical information, inexplicably withheld, for purposes of evaluation of the final, very comparable, results across the board for Tenderness and Marbling.  

At the time of this 2002 study the calcium dependent protease inhibitor, calpistatin, had been identified as a key component present in a live animal that greatly increases that animals genetic potential to express Tenderness in the final carcass product. Today, a cattle rancher can pull a few tail hairs and send them off for genetic testing to determine whether his prize bull or cow has the genetics to potentially produce a tender as well as an optimal marbled carcass in their offspring. This genetic testing has become an invaluable tool for seedstock producers seeking to create key bulls and cows that will produce offspring that will excel in the commercial beef market for Tenderness and Marbling.

However, despite this stated fore-knowledge of the impact of Calpistatin, one of two key genetic attributes for Tenderness known today in the year 2007, the results of this study cloud the impact of Calpistatin on the study results. One is left with the sense that the genetic comparability of the steers evaluated, which is a stated parameter of the test, is the driving reason for the comparability of carcass Tenderness scores. While the study addresses and theoretically evaluates the Calpistatin in the resulting beef carcasses, it mysteriously couches the tested Calpistatin results in non-layman gibberish and declines to even address its existence or significance in the final narrative summation of results -- it is found only in the summation charting. As all carcasses resulting from this study had comparable Tenderness scores via Warner Bratzler Shear Force measures, it may be that the presence or absence of the identified Calpistatin gene had no material impact on actual carcass Tenderness.
J.West's Blossum, El Presidente sired British White Heifer

Perhaps of even greater interest are the Marbling scores of the study groups. Despite backgrounding via rotational or continuous grazing in either North, South, or East Texas -- or no grazing as is the case with the high grain concentrate from weaning to finish MCF group -- marbling scores in all study groups were not materially different. However, the MCF group had significantly higher percentage carcass fat scores over all other groups, which is undesirable in today’s market and had no additive impact on actual Marbling scores of the final beef product compared to the others, and thus no positive impact on the final value of the beef carcass -- the excess fat is waste.

Of major importance to the beef cattle producer would be the expense of the constant level of "high concentrate" grain feed from weaning to finish of the McGregor-Calf Fed (MCF) group -- which had the lightest finish weight, and as well the highest fat percentage of the harvested carcass weights. While the MCF group had comparable marbling to the other groups, the higher fat level/percentage to accomplish this feat is essentially money down the drain for packing shops such as Cargill or Smith & Company, as well as for the feeder and cow/calf producer who so costly and conscientiously kept that supplemental "high concentrate" grain at the ready in their post weaning/backgrounding phase of production that they perceive should result in their highest profit at the local auction barn or via a direct order buyer.

Today, beef cattle producers are faced with increasing costs of corn. If the corn ethanol craze continues unabated in the coming years, the ease and value of shoveling corn at a growing calf will be re-evaluated for the ultimate financial gain to the beef producer, stocker, and finisher. The use of genetic testing for inherent ability to produce a Tender and well Marbled carcass will become one of increasing importance as reflected in the results of this Texas Beef Council sponsored study.
The day is likely well in hand when the small beef producer, the primary entity that grows our beef in America, must evaluate the financial pros and cons of raising their calves on expensive corn or other sundry grain mixes, or the less costly raising of their calves on pasture grasses and pasture legumes that provide both the major beef packing houses and the American consumer with an end product that has less fat and comparable to greater muscle, marbling, and tenderness on a higher nutritional plane than that of 100% grain fed and finished beef. 

The small shop beef producer who raises a high end, healthy product has only one primary venue for realizing the value that should be derived from their superior beef product, and that is the direct marketing of wholes, halves, splits, or pre-packaged cuts of their beef. While this is measurably a quite profitable venue, there remains the fact that many beef consumers have neither the time, the space, or perhaps the funds to purchase healthy, clean beef in bulk in this manner. It will be the small shop grocery markets that will on the front end provide a venue for the sale on a larger scale of this superior healthy beef product.

Of perhaps even greater difficulty to the small shop grassfed beef producer, at least in this part of Southeast Texas, is finding an abattoir that is either State or USDA licensed. They are as few and far between as a cow having triplets. So a rancher producing healthy grassfed beef for the local Southeast Texas market has no retail venue to market that beef -- they are forced to sell it on the basis of hanging weight at a less than desirable slaughterhouse to their customers. Many times it matters not how much the need for aging, whether grain finished or grass finished, is important to the optimal result for the ranchers' customers. If the person in charge in the local butcher shop doesn't wish to age a carcass, or doesn't think/understand that it serves a purpose anyway, the customer gets the news when they arrive to pick up their beef --- and worse, the beef producer ultimately hears from an unhappy customer.

Maybe it is time for apartment architects, home architects, to begin to consider in their designs the presence of a large deep freeze as an integral part of home design. With this in place, more consumers who desire a healthier beef product will have the space readily at hand to store for a season the beef they wish for themselves and their family to consume as a staple in their diet.

2 comments:

  1. Hey wats up Aunt Jimmie im just hangin at school well wats up
    P.S Have you found that storie i told u to look up 4 me its called How Could You?

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  2. I dont get how to put my name in the thing so i had to do it anonymous
    if you havnt figured it out its taylor

    ReplyDelete