Beef Quality Corner -- Cull Cows and Beef Quality
Livestock Update, October 1999
Bill McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, Virginia Tech
For the last few months, Virginia cow/calf producers have been sending cull cows to market at a higher than normal rate due to the drought conditions. Cow marketings will remain seasonally high throughout the remainder of the year. As nonfed cows and bulls enter the marketing chain, it is useful for producers to remember that in less than a week after leaving the farm, beef from those cattle will find itself on consumers' plates.
Beef from cull cows represents roughly 15% of the total of U.S. beef production. That means one of seven beef meals comes from cull cows and bulls. How we treat cows on the farm and through the marketing process can have a big impact upon the yield and quality of beef produced.
During packing plant reviews, the 1994 National Non-Fed Beef Quality Audit found that 80% of cow carcasses had significant bruising. A total of 51.5% of the carcasses had what was termed "major" bruising which required an average trim loss of 3.2 lbs. Two thirds of the bruising on cow carcasses was located on the rounds and loins. It does not take a great deal of imagination to figure how most of that bruising toward the rear end of cows occurred. It is estimated the bruising in non-feed cattle costs the industry $11.73 per head, of which one third is probably attributed to the producer.
Needle injection site lesions also cause problems with cow beef quality. Cow/calf producers should adopt the same policy on cows of injecting only in front of the shoulder as they do on their calves and feeder cattle. As more of the cow carcass is fabricated in whole muscle cuts, the problem of injection site lesions in the rump and round will plague the industry.
Many producers have a false sense of security regarding the damage they may be causing to muscle through their management. Most producers assume that cow carcasses are ground and are purchased by consumers as ground beef and other similarly fabricated products. Though much of our ground beef does come from cows and bulls, whole muscle products are also fabricated from cows. Primal cuts such as the rib, loin, and sirloin may find their way cut into steaks served in family steak houses, casino buffets, and airline meals. Muscles from the round and other cuts that produce "100% lean" are manufactured into roast beef sandwiches at fast food restaurants. Ribeye rolls can be shaved and used to make "Philly steak" sandwiches. The above illustrates the importance of the cull cow and her potential impact on the consumer's impression of beef quality.
Some producers fail to take their individual role in ensuring beef quality from cull breeding cattle seriously. They seem to feel that unless the price paid for slaughter cows is docked from bruising, injection sites and other damage why should they worry. No, not unless slaughter cattle are sold on a carcass basis will there be any immediate repercussions from a damaged carcass. Each beef cattle operator does bear a responsibility to other producers not to harm beef demand. In recent weeks, there was a widely publicized case of a consumer in the Richmond area discovering a hypodermic needle in a cut of beef he had purchased. It is hard to imagine how a beef producer could be so irresponsible as to leave a broken needle in his cattle. Imagine the detrimental impact upon beef demand in the Richmond area from one irresponsible act.
It always behooves the producer to remember that there is a food product that represents the beef industry under the hide of that old cow.