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Ways to Improve Carcass Merit

Livestock Update, July 1996

Ike Eller, Animal & Poultry Sciences

There has been considerable effort and dollar expenditure over the last thirty years to improve carcass merit of beef cattle. Most of this effort in the past has been for naught since producers have not been paid a differential price based on carcass merit. It appears that this may be changing. Value based marketing is happening and will be even more of a factor in the future. We're finally going to see carcass merit make a difference. Carcass merit is basically made up of two components. One of these is cutability or yield grade and the other is marbling or quality grade. Both are important. With the heavy use of the exotic breeds, we have learned how to improve leanness or yield grade, but very little progress has been made on improving marbling or quality grade. There are two ways to select to improve carcass merit. One is through the breed or breeds used in a commercial herd. In most situations, it is currently and will be in the future, important that the program contain breeds that contribute appropriately to carcass merit. Breeds that will add to marbling will include Angus, Red Angus, Shorthorn, South Devon and perhaps, a few others. Breeds that will add cutability will include Limousin, Charolais, Simmental, Gelbvieh, Maine Anjou, Chianina and perhaps others. Commercial feeder cattle for high carcass quality programs should be all or mostly British breeding. For those programs that require a balance between carcass quality and cutability will include at least half of a high marbling British breed and half of a moderate size meat or duel-purpose breed. In a few breeds, there is enough data today to select bulls for marbling and get results. There is today, more data on Angus cattle perhaps, than most other breeds. Sire's that have a marbling EPD of plus .2 or above will make marked improvement in their progeny. Those that are plus .4 on marbling or above, with fairly high accuracy will really make a difference. There are some of these bulls available. They're being underutilized. The commercial producer should not give up reproduction and growth traits nor convenience and adaptability traits but within sires that fit the specifications, in these regards, those with high carcass merit, particularly marbling, should get a preference. If you haven't studied sire summaries lately from the standpoint of carcass traits, do so.

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