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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Beef Quality Corner = New Non-fed Quality Audit

Livestock Update, April 2001

Bill R. McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist Marketing, VA Tech

The results of the latest National Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit have just been released. The 1999 audit compared to a similar audit in 1994 suggests that in some areas we are making progress, while in others, we are getting worse. As with the first non-fed quality audit, the 1999 study was conducted in three phases: 1) face to face interviews with packers, auction market owners/operators, and affiliated associations, 2) surveys of packing plant holding pens, harvest floor and coolers, and 3) follow-up strategy workshop.

Information gathered from the forty-nine face to face interviews was assembled and aggregated at the strategy workshop. The workshop participants developed a list of top ten quality challenges for both beef market cows/ bulls and dairy market cow/bulls. The two lists of challenges and their rankings reflect the differences in management between the two industries.

Top Ten Quality Challenges
Beef Market Cows and Bulls

  1. Too frequent incidence of lead shot
  2. Too frequent and severe bruises
  3. Too frequent rib and/or multiple brands
  4. Too frequent injection site lesions/knots
  5. Too advanced arthritis/structural defects
  6. Too advanced cancer eye damage
  7. Too severe emaciation
  8. Too frequent downers
  9. Inadequate muscling
  10. Too frequent antibiotic residues
It is interesting to note that lead shot and injection site damage are now in the top five concerns while they were not even in the top ten list of concerns in the 1994 audit. Bruising, excessive condemnation, and brands were the top three issues in 1994 and bruising and brands are among the top three most recent concerns.

The issues of concern about dairy cows and bulls were somewhat different from the beef cattle.

Top Ten Quality Challenges
Dairy Market Cows and Bulls

From all groups surveyed in the face to face interviews, the three leading concerns were 1) frequency of antibiotic residue, 2) frequency of lead shot in carcasses, and 3) potential need to modify pricing of, and prompt payment for market cows and bulls.

Surveys of the nearly 4000 cattle in holding pens at packing plants revealed that 31.4% of the cattle exhibited some form of lameness. Overly fat cows carrying body condition score "8" or "9" amounted to 4.5% of the total while excessively thin cows with a body condition score of "1" or "2" totaled 2.3%. Both the fat and thin cattle typically sell at a lower price per pound on a liveweight basis since a lower percent of their carcasses have characteristics suitable for fabrication into boneless subprimal cuts. The incidence of advanced bovine ocular neoplasia ("cancer eye") was thankfully down to .6% from 2.4% in 1994 audit. Cows need to be monitored more closely to either treat the early stages of the disease or cull them before damage becomes obviously advanced.

The study also pointed out the lack of uniform nomenclature describing slaughter cows or their carcasses. Packers do not use USDA graders to evaluate cow/bull carcasses. Packers typically use their own grades to describe the differences in cow and bull carcass cutability and quality. This language barrier prevents effective market reporting and producer decision making.

The most recent market cow and bull audit continues to point to the need for producers to manage to improve the overall quality of market cows and bulls. Producers can improve the market value of cull cows and bulls by properly managing and monitoring them and them marketing them in a timely manner.

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