Management topics

Opinion
Mar 15, 2013

Advantage of inherent marbling

It has always been a finetuning process to balance quality and cutability, but with an improving economy and retail giants like Walmart moving to Choice product, the advantages of inherent marbling is becoming clear. The Choice/ Select spread becoming ever widening is a clear indication of the need to have at least one superior marbling breed within a crossbreeding system.

Ability to marble within a breeding system adds extra market flexibility to cattle in a feed yard. The typical seasons when the Choice/Select spread is wide (early spring, summer barbeque season and filling the pipeline for the Christmas holidays) allows feeders to take the cattle to a very high percentage Choice and Prime. When the spread naturally narrows during other times of the year, cattle can be shorter fed to take advantage of higher feed efficiency and better closeouts. Only cattle with acceptable marbling give the feeder this flexibility because cattle without inherent marbling ability simply will not or may never make a high percentage Choice without excessive fat.

It has been shown that typical British breeds, especially (red and black) Angus, have a clear advantage in breed average marbling potential, so they offer a bigger genetic pool to select carcass quality genetics from. However, most all breeds have genetic differences within their population that represent high and low marbling.

With the market realities above, it is becoming more and more universal that the vast majority of well-planned crossbreeding systems will have an Angus component with the capability to provide carcass quality in the system.

Even in localized crossbreeding systems for high environmental adaptability such as Brahman/Hereford F1 cows in hot humid environments, utilizing Angus as a terminal cross is becoming a more attractive option. Black Angus now has growth that will rival any Continental breed, plus their natural inherent carcass quality makes them work well for this situation given the right selection criteria. On a breed average, U.S. Meat Animal Research Center data has shown that Red Angus growth is not as high as their black cousins, but they will add the same carcass quality with the added benefit of a heat adapted red coat.

Other than Angus, does this mean the other breeds do not have a place? Absolutely they do. When looking at a breeding system, all traits and attributes must be considered. This includes breed complementarity, such as cutability and heterosis. Each breed brings something to the table that can be useful if top end genetics are selected from the breed, and the good news is it’s getting easier to identify these genetics.

Let’s stay with marbling as an example. Today, cattle can have their pedigree information, individual performance (ultrasound data) and genomics feeding into their marbling expected progeny differences (EPDs). All this data will add up to unprecedented accuracy on a young bull or female that is equivalent to an animal that has had many progeny. Especially with genomics, we are entering a new era of commercial producers making far more reliable genetic decisions. Although black Angus and Simmental have the most experience with genomically enhanced EP- Ds, almost all major breeds are falling in line with their own genomic programs, and have either already implemented genomics or will shortly.

It is always important to remember that there is not only variation in genotypes between breeds, but also tremendous variation within a breed. Without using genetic predictions, you can sure buy an Angus with very poor propensity to marble, and by the same token, buy an animal from a breed not known for grading that has high marbling potential. You simply must rely on the genetic predictions to make the most informed decision possible; otherwise, you may be sorely disappointed in the results of your breeding program.

Although marbling is very important, it is also critical not to go on a one-trait selection bandwagon. Your profitability will result from the right combination of traits that match your environment, management and marketing system. In the end, though, all segments of the industry must take an equal share of responsibility for producing a product that consumers want to buy.

We are moving into a new time in our cattle cycle where carcass quality is becoming ever more important. The economy has improved enough that demand has returned for middle meats, and retailers such are Walmart have moved to a Choice product. The export market is also making up a more significant portion of the value of a carcass, and our competitive advantage in the world export market is carcass quality that comes from grain-fed beef. We must compete for exports based on quality because we can never compete on price with grass-fed beef giants like South America. — Dr. Bob Hough

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