Beef Cattle Browsing – January 2012

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




Three factors determine palatability of beef, these being tenderness, flavor, and juiciness. Of these, tenderness is the most variable and the most influential in consumer satisfaction. An initial survey of beef tenderness was conducted in 1990, with subsequent surveys done in 1999 and 2005/06. Results have been reported for a 2010/11 survey.

The 1999 survey had shown an increase in tenderness of 20% over 1990. This was attributed to a higher percentage of beef being graded by USDA and longer, more gradual chilling of carcasses. The 2005/06 survey showed an additional 18% increase over 1999. However, cuts such as the round were often still lacking in tenderness. In the three earlier surveys, all cuts were cooked using electric grilling. For the 2010/11 survey moist-heat cooking was employed for some of the cuts from the round, more closely following how these cuts are prepared by both restaurants and home cooks.

Top and Bottom Round steaks averaged lower tenderness and Top Blade (Chuck) steaks were highest. However, the percentage of round steaks considered to be tough was lower than in 2005/06. Regarding USDA grade, Prime steaks were highest in tenderness, as well as juiciness and flavor. Overall, tenderness had not changed since 2005/06. This was attributed to an increased prevalence in 2010/11 of cuts from the round, shorter average aging time, and more variation in aging. It was concluded that further work is needed to develop methods of improving tenderness of cuts from the round. The full report can be seen at

A recent summary of research looked at measuring feed efficiency in beef cattle. Efficiency in all sectors is important; cost of feed can represent as much of 70% of total fixed costs in growing and finishing cattle. Efficiency has typically been measured as feed conversion (feed:gain) or the inverse, gain:feed (which has the advantage of higher numerical values equaling higher efficiency). Both of these are positively related to growth, so genetic selection for higher efficiency based on either value tends to increase body size, possibly resulting in larger brood cows that require more feed.

Over the last 15 years or so, residual feed intake (RFI) has been advanced as a more useful measure of efficiency. RFI is based on individual feed intake compared to that predicted from an animal’s weight and ADG. Thus, animals with lower RFI are more efficient. RFI has been found to be mostly independent of ADG. However, just as with feed:gain and gain:feed, RFI requires measuring feed intake by individual animals. Also, some factors have been found to confound measurement of RFI, including season of the year and diet (growing versus finishing).

In recent years, genetic markers (DNA) have been studied, and some developed, to predict RFI. As is true of all such markers, prediction is more accurate in the group of animals used to develop the markers than in different or larger groups. Several markers are currently available from commercial concerns. The author concluded,”Recent advances in DNA marker technology give cause for optimism that useful marker panels that will have wider applicability across breeds are becoming available.” (2011 Beef Improvement Federation Proceedings, p. 42)

Use of veterinarians was surveyed in 2007-08 by the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System. The survey reached operations in the 24 states comprising 80% of US beef cow operations containing 88% of the nation’s cows. Some of the findings were:

  • For all purposes, use of veterinarians increased as herd size increased; 43% of producers with <50 head consulted a veterinarian for any purpose compared to 82% of those with >200 head with an average of 51% across all herd sizes
  • From 25-30 % of small herds owners consulted a veterinarian for disease diagnosis or treatment or advice on disease prevention, compared to 65-70% of large herds
  • 10% of small herd owners consulted veterinarians for information on nutrition compared to 31% of large herd owners
  • Regardless of herd size, <5% of producers consulted any source on production or financial analysis
  • For general information or information on breeding and genetics, producers rated veterinarians as the best source, followed by other producers and Extension/Vo-Ag instructors/university
  • For information on nutrition, producers rated feed salespersons/retailers as the best source of information, followed by veterinarians and other producers



  • In 2010 the Australian beef herd numbered 24.3 million head (peak numbers were 30 million in 1976, the same period that numbers peaked in the U. S.).
  • Average herd size is about 600 head (government reports list the smallest category as <200 head and the largest at >5400 head).
  • Herd size is much larger in the north.
  • The hot, humid region of northern Australia is dominated by cattle of Bos indicus derivation, whereas Bos taurus cattle are more prevalent in the south.
  • Beef production in Australia is heavily dependent on exporting, with about two-thirds of production being exported.
  • Australia ranks eighth in the world in beef and veal production but second, after Brazil, in exports, with the leading countries being to Japan, the U.S. and Korea.
  • About a million head were exported live to Asia and the Middle East in 2009, with 80% going to Indonesia. However, adverse publicity from a public affairs television program showing images of “cruel and inept” slaughtering practices in some Indonesian packing plants lead to suspension of live export to Indonesia in response to demands by Australian animal welfare/rights groups. As a result, more packing plants in northern Australia may be built in order to export beef rather than live animals.
  • There are almost 700 feedyards but a substantial amount of production is grass fed.
  • Australia is relatively free of many of the diseases affecting some of the rest of the world, such as foot-and-mouth disease and BSE.
  • As is true in much of the U.S., phosphorous deficiency in forages is widespread for much of the year.
  • Australia has a mandatory animal ID and traceback system.
  • Opportunity for expansion appears to be greatest in northern Australia.

(Animal Frontiers October 2011

Over two successive years, British X Continental cows grazing dormant pasture were supplemented from November through February with 32% supplement at a rate of either 2 lb/day (HS, fed daily) or 0.8 lb/day (LS, fed three times/week at 2/lb/feeding). As calving began in March, all cows were provided hay and differing levels of supplement depending on the year. Calves were weaned in early- to mid-September and backgrounded on grazing with approximately 2 ½ lb/day of 32% supplement until shipping to a feedyard in mid-November.

Arrival weight at the feedyard was not different for the two groups. In the feedyard, steers from HS cows had higher feed consumption, ADG, and feed:gain in the first year but not in the second. Marbling and quality grade were higher for HS in both years. Through backgrounding, HS had $8.84 less net profit/calf in the first year but $9.05 more net profit in the second year. After merchandising carcasses, HS had $40.63 higher profit/steer in the first year and $16.88 less profit in the second year. The authors concluded that a higher level of supplementation to cows in late gestation resulted in higher levels of marbling in their finished steer progeny. (Prof. Anim. Sci. 27:2011; Univ. of Nebraska)

The National Pedigreed Livestock Council has released the most recent annual registry numbers of their member beef breed associations. (Note: Some associations are not members of NPLC). Angus continues to dominate registrations nationally. Numbers are as follows:

Angus – 282,911 Gelbvieh-34,963 Salers – 5,536
Beefmaster – 16,000 Hereford – 64,907 Santa Gertrudis – 5,000
Brangus – 24,843 Limousin – 23,716 Shorthorn – 14,653
Brahman – 9,300 Maine-Anjou – 8,359 Simmental – 49,000
Chianina -6,374 Red Angus – 46,094 Texas Longhorn – 8,400

(National Pedigreed Livestock Council 2011-12 Annual Report;

Over three successive years, 331 crossbred steers were used to study relationships of feeding behavior and efficiency, measured as Residual Feed Intake (RFI), on different rations. Steers were fed grower rations and then switched to finisher rations. Feeding time on each ration was at least 10 weeks, depending on year. Individual feed intake, feeding duration, head-down time at the feeder, and feeding frequency were measured. After feeding was concluded, feeding rate (ratio of daily dry matter intake to daily feeding duration) and RFI were calculated and steers were ranked as low, medium, or high in efficiency.

Steers had greater feeding duration, head-down time, and feeding frequency on the grower ration. Feeding rate was higher on the finishing ration. Compared to low-efficiency steers, high-efficiency steers went to the feeder more often, had their head down longer at the feeder, and spent more total time eating. Medium-efficiency steers were intermediate. Feeding rate and ADG did not differ among efficiency groups. (J. Animal Sci. 89:3401; Univ. of Alberta, Alberta Ag. and Rural Devel. Centre-Lacombe)

Brands must be re-registered at the county courthouse every 10 years in the state of Texas. The deadline for re-registering is February 29, 2012. If registration expires it is unlawful to continue its use, and an expired brand can be registered for use by another producer. Also, for operations in multiple counties, the brand must be registered in each county. Information on registering brands can be found at

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