Beef Cattle Browsing – December 2011

This newsletter is published by Texas AgriLife Extension – Animal Science. Media, feel free to use this information as needed and cite Texas A&M University Beef Cattle Browsing Newsletter, Dr. Steve Hammack.

Editor: Dr. Stephen Hammack, Professor & Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Emeritus




The Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) of USDA had proposed some changes in regulating livestock marketing, particularly regarding “competitive injury, unfair practices, and undue preference”. While supported by some in the industry as improving fairness and openness in livestock marketing, others, including the Texas Cattle Feeders Association and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, think the proposed changes to be vague and potentially costly to producers. At any rate, as part of passing the agriculture appropriations bill, Congress recently prevented USDA from using federal funds to proceed with these regulatory changes. (Texas Cattle Feeders Assoc, Newsletter, 11/18/11)

A recent study compared the environmental impact (defined as resource use and waste output per unit of beef) in 2007 compared to 1977. Included were the cropping system, feed system, animal system, and product system. To produce the same amount of beef, 2007 systems, compared to 1977, reduced the number of animals by 30%, feed by 19%, water by 12%, and land by 33%. Also, per pound of beef produced there was a reduction of 18% in manure, 18% in methane, and 12% in nitrous oxide. The author related the reductions to such things as higher energy density of finishing rations, more finishing of calf-feds (beef and dairy), less time from birth to slaughter, and less feed needed for body maintenance relative to weight gain. NOTE: These factors, to at least some extent, require greater use of grains and less of forages. The price of grains could well affect this situation. (J. Animal Sci. 89:4249; Washington State Univ.)

“Dark-cutting” beef is characterized by lean with high pH, very dark red to almost black color, and dry, firm, sticky texture. It occurs when glycogen stores in the muscle are depleted before slaughter, often due to stress. The condition is more common in excitable animals. Though it occurs in less than 2% of fed cattle, carcass discounts are typically in the range of $25-35/cwt. Attempts at prevention usually center on reducing pre-slaughter stress.

A study was designed to assess any possible effects of an acidifying agent on dark-cutting beef. Vacuum-packaged strip loins were opened, aged at 3 degrees Fahrenheit for seven days, and ribeye muscles were extracted and injected with a 0.15%, 0.35%, or 0.50% lactic acid (LA) solution or not treated as controls. The higher LA treatment reduced pH to levels similar to controls. All cuts were subjected to simulated retail display; after 3 days, color scores of controls were slightly better than treated cuts. After cooking, color scores of controls and the highest LA treatment did not differ. The authors concluded that treatment with the higher level of LA “may be suitable for food-service markets” and “suggested that the fresh color of dark-cutting beef can be improved to that of normal beef, leading to possible recoupment of most, if not all, of the lost value associated with dark-cutting beef.” (J. Animal Sci. 89:4207; Univ. of Arkansas)

The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, will now sell USDA Choice grade beef in all of its 3,800 U. S. stores. Since groceries comprise more than half of the value of Wal-Mart’s sales, this could amount to a significant increase in the potential market for Choice beef. Wal-Mart has generally sold only USDA Select grade beef. NOTE: It remains to be seen if this change increases Wal-Mart’s total beef sales, if some customers merely switch from Select to Choice, or if some combination of those actions occurs. Also not certain is how this change might affect, if at all, the price spread between Select and Choice. (Texas Cattle Feeders Assoc. Newsletter, 11/11/11)

There is some feeling among some producers that rectal palpation to determine early pregnancy could cause physical trauma, resulting in loss of pregnancy. A study was conducted to determine the effect of palpation on pregnancy loss. At approximately 31 days after estrus, dairy cows were diagnosed by ultrasound to be pregnant and were either palpated (n=452) or not palpated (n=476). In one-half of the palpated cows, fetal membranes were slipped once and in the other one-half fetal membranes were slipped twice. All cows were then ultrasounded at days 45 and 60 to determine viability of the embryo/fetus.

From day 31 to 60, total loss was 14.5% for control, 12.6% for once slipped, and 14.9% for twice slipped. Of the total loss, in the same order of treatment, embryonic loss (day 31 to 45) was 12.4%, 9.1%, and 9.5% and fetal loss (day 45 to 60) was 2.4%, 3.8%, and 5.9%. The authors concluded that rectal palpation did not increase pregnancy loss. (J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 239:668; Texas A&M Univ.)

Considerable research has shown that supplemental protein can increase utility of low-quality forages. In a recent study, researchers wanted to know if the type of forage affects protein supplementation. Rumen-cannulated steers were fed soybean meal at approximately 0.1% of body weight on either 6.3% CP bluegrass straw (BS, a cool-season plant) or 5.7% CP tallgrass prairie forage (TP, a warm-season plant). Results were as follows:

  • increase in forage passage rate – BS = 10%, TP = 46%
  • increase in forage intake – BS = 7%, TP = 47%
  • increase in dry matter digestibility – BS = 9%, TP = 21%

So, protein supplementation of both forages moved material through the digestive tract faster, allowing greater forage intake, and improved digestibility. All of these factors improve animal performance, but the effects were considerably higher on the warm-season forage. The authors concluded that “physiological response of ruminants to protein supplementation of low-quality forage is dependent on forage type.”

NOTE: Left unanswered in this study is whether the results could be applied to all cool-season and warm-season forages, or if they apply only to these two particular examples. However, cool season forages are, in general, higher in quality (being lower in fiber) than warm-season forages so these results might be rather broadly applicable. Also, even without any effects on forage utility, supplementation can rectify any dietary protein deficiency. (J. Animal Sci. 89:3707; Oregon St. Univ., Univ. of Kentucky, and USDA-ARS)

Some time ago, Canada and Mexico complained to the World Trade Organization that the U. S. requirement for Country of Origin Labeling violated global trade rules and harmed commerce. On November 18, the WTO ruled in support of those complaints. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and other groups and individuals, is urging against appeal by the U. S. government of this ruling. Some individuals and groups feel that producers and consumers benefit from COOL. The NCBA has challenged these feelings and stated that “producers have yet to see any financial benefit” and that “cattlemen have yet to discern any positive reaction from consumers regarding mandatory country of origin labeling.”

NOTE: Since COOL went into effect, I have occasionally asked friends, associates, and relatives (not cattle producers) if they look on meat packages to determine the origin of their purchases. I have yet to encounter anyone who does so or even knows that origin is printed on labels. Perhaps my experience is not typical. At any rate, the fate of COOL appears to now be in the hands of federal officials. If the federal government appeals the ruling and loses or does not appeal but chooses to retain COOL in either case, the WTO will likely impose financial penalty of some sort. ( news release, 11/18/11)

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