By: Lance Bauer, Director of Breed Improvement
This has been a year of new experiences for everyone and has really shown the resilience of the agriculture industry. The year started calm and then COVID-19 happened, and we saw shortages of all sorts of products from toilet paper to meat. One thing that never had a shortage was fake meat, which proved that consumers want good old-fashioned beef. As cattle producers it is our job to make sure that we help put the highest quality safest product on the table of consumers. In the US beef industry, there are different quality grades of meat and those higher quality grades demand a premium price. The grades are Prime, Choice, Select and Standard, with Prime being the highest quality grade. These grades are based on marbling and age, marbling is the intramuscular fat. Because of this premium and demand for higher quality beef, it is important that Beefmaster breeders keep this in mind while making breeding decisions.
As a breed we have come a long way in the past few years in terms of carcass quality. More and more breeders are scanning cattle and using that information to help in breeding and culling decisions. As a breed we have increased the average rib-eye area (REA) by a good amount, however we have not made near as much improvement on intramuscular fat (IMF). This means that there needs to be some focus on IMF moving forward and we should focus on increasing it. While our focus should be making the best females in the industry, we can not neglect the final product and sacrifice quality. Continuing to use the IMF EPD, as well as scan data, it is easy to make quick progress in this area because it is a highly heritable trait. We need to make sure that the steers that our customers produce will grade and demand a premium.
Over the past few years there has been data collected on finished Beefmaster cross steers and it looks good for our breed. Many of the cattle are grading choice or better and have good yield grades too. One set of steers recently did extremely well. Seventy-one steers sired by Beefmaster bulls were harvested and graded 96% Choice or better and 6% graded Prime. The average yield grade was 3.37, which means on average there was no deduction for a higher yield grade. These steers did extremely well and brought a $48 premium per head. This is promising data for the breed and shows that we are moving in the right direction, but we need to keep pushing forward and making improvements.
As a breed we are taking steps in the right direction in terms of carcass quality, but we still have improvements to be made. It is an extremely important aspect because it is the final product that consumers have on their plate, so it must always be on our mind as a breed. Being able to produce a high-quality carcass allows customers to have the opportunity to put more money in their pockets by making a premium on their cattle. We are a maternal breed first, but we must not lose sight of the rest of the industry and we need to constantly make improvements on Beefmaster carcass quality.