HOW MUCH DO CONSUMERS CARE ABOUT HOW BEEF IS PRODUCED?
A survey was conducted of beef consumers on purchases of ground beef and steak. At least 2-3 times a month, 82% of consumers bought ground beef and 60% bought steak. Consumers were asked if they had bought ground beef or steak based on product with label claims for being organic, natural, animal welfare assured, locally produced, sustainably produced, guaranteed tender, antibiotic-free, or hormone-free. Depending on the claim, 25-47% didn’t know if any of these applied to their purchase.
Consumers were asked what they were willing to pay for the various label claims. There was higher willingness-to-pay-extra for claims for steak than ground beef. Depending on the claim, 12-25% would not be willing to pay any extra. Willingness-to-pay-extra was higher for “natural”, “locally produced”, and “guaranteed tender” product. “Animal welfare assured” and “sustainably produced” ranked lowest.
Consumers also were asked if they would pay a premium based on various production practices. Willingness-to-pay-extra was highest if cattle were “provided access to fresh, clean feed and water” and “provided adequate comfort through the use of shade, windbreaks, and ventilation assuring clean, dry, sanitary environmental conditions;” lowest willingness was expressed for “dehorning before horn tissue adheres to skull or with pain control”, “castrate either within first three months or with pain control”, and “plan transport to minimize travelling and waiting time.”
Willingness-to-pay-extra tended to decrease as the cost of required premium was more expensive. Still, depending on the product and particular production practice, from 17-40% were willing to pay $3.00/lb or more. (The authors noted that previous research shows what consumers say they are willing to pay is generally about two to three times more than what they are actually willing to pay.)
(www.agmanager.info/livestock/marketing; Kansas St. Univ., Michigan St. Univ)
GENETIC EFFECTS ON BEHAVIOR AND STRUCTURE
Data were analyzed from 6,649 Charolais cows in 380 herds visually scored for the following traits:
- aggressiveness at gestation, aggressiveness at parturition, maternal care;
- udder volume, attachment, and balance;
- teat thinness, length, and shape;
- front and rear leg orientation and angle;
- foot angle and depth;
Difference among herds accounted for 23% of variation in behavior traits. Heritability of aggressiveness at parturition was 0.19 but was only 0.06 for aggressiveness at gestation and 0.02 for maternal care. Heritability for the three udder traits ranged from 0.14-0.20, for the three teat traits from 0.17-0.35, for leg traits from 0.07-0.19, for foot traits from 0.07-0.11, and for locomotion 0.02. Based on genetic correlations, the authors concluded that 1)genetic selection could effectively improve udder/teat traits and aggressiveness at parturition, 2) selection would be less successful in changing leg/foot traits and locomotion, and 3) it would difficult to concurrently improve maternal care and reduce aggressiveness.
[J. Animal Sci. 93:4277; Genes Diffusion (France), Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre (Netherlands)]
USING HALF-SISTERS TO INCREASE UNIFORMITY
Uniformity can increase value of stocker/feeder cattle, especially when sold in multiple-head groups. Two groups of 200 Angus females in each group were compared: 1) all by a single sire, so they were at least half sisters and 2) purchased from 11 commercial herds, of unknown pedigree and selected for visual uniformity based on moderate frame, moderate muscle, and apparent Angus ancestry. Breeding over five calf crops was by AI to an Angus or Limousin sire, followed by cleanup to the AI sire or full brothers of the sire. The two cow groups were maintained in separate pastures during breeding and together thereafter. Calves were born in Spring, weaned in Fall, preconditioned for 45 days, and then fed until individual animal future incremental weight gain was predicted to exceed value of that gain.
Variation of progeny from the two cow groups (as measured by statistical standard deviation) did not differ statistically (P<0.05) for the following traits:
- yearly 205-day weaning weight
- lifetime 205-day weaning weight
- finishing ADG
- days on feed
- initial fat cover
- feeding mid-point fat cover
- hot carcass weight
- ribeye area
- ribeye area/cwt carcass weight
The authors concluded that “variation of production traits of calves from increasingly related matings are not likely to be of significant economic value to many commercial producers” and increasing uniformity through genetic selection “should likely focus on selecting animals with optimal values for desired traits (i.e., similar Expected Progeny Difference, genomic markers, or both ), regardless of their genetic relationships”. NOTE: This study evaluated objectively measured traits. No effort was made to evaluate visible uniformity, which is generally a factor in many live marketing transactions.
(Prof. Anim. Sci. 30:37; Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation)
PRODUCE BEEF WITHOUT ANY MATURE COWS?
About 80% of the nutrients fed to mature beef cows goes to their body maintenance, and that maintenance requires about half of the total nutrients used across all phases of beef production. So, reduction of mature cow maintenance would improve efficiency, and the ultimate would be to eliminate mature cows from the system entirely. Proposals have been made before to accomplish this by finishing all heifers for slaughter after producing their first calf. While perhaps theoretically possible, there have been practical downsides to this plan, especially the fact that for every heifer calf born there is a male calf. This cuts in half the number of potential producing females. However, the advent of sexed semen changes this picture.
Using sexed semen, most calves born could be potential mothers. If they are bred, calved, calves weaned early, and the dams immediately finished there would be no mature animals around eating but not gaining any saleable weight. In such a system, consideration should be given to the following: AI is required, calves must be weaned early, additional attention is required during calving, conception rates average lower from sexed semen, and heifers grow less efficiently than steers. In addition, most of the nation’s beef cow herd is based on land that has little other economic use, or on byproducts that have little economic value if not fed to beef cows. Might this system be implemented on a large scale? I wouldn’t hold my breath until it is.
(J. Anim. Sci. 93:4244, 2014 Beef Species Symposium, Am. Soc. of Anim. Sci. Annual Meeting; Colorado St. Univ, Univ. of Nebraska)
BQA ADVISORY STATEMENT ON USE OF PNEUMATIC DARTS
The stated purpose of Beef Quality Assurance is to ensure a safe, wholesome, and healthy beef supply. The advent of pneumatic darts or other remote injection methods has prompted evaluation of how these techniques fit BQA principles. Currently there are no BQA guidelines for administration of injectable drugs/products by use of pneumatic darts or other similar methods designed to administer injectable products into cattle from a distance. The BQA Advisory Board notes “several challenges associated with use” of these technologies:
- accurate assessment of body weight for proper dosing is not possible;
- some appropriate dose volumes are not possible with current dart technology;
- product might be delivered in non-approved sites;
- bruising or collateral injection site lesions can occur;
- individual animal identification is more difficult, possibly leading to inaccurate withdrawal times or potential for illegal residues;
- potential of needles penetrating ligaments, joints, etc., reducing animal well-being and/or resulting in ineffective therapy;
- could result in extra-label use because of wrong method of administration;
- needles or entire darts might remain in animal tissue;
- darts could be misaimed, into gut, head, etc.;
- illegal compounding of drugs is probable;
- accidental injection into humans of some antibiotic compounds could cause death;
- the cylinder of the dart can be contaminated by bacteria, promoting antimicrobial resistance or infections and abscesses at the injection site.
Based on these challenges, the BQA Advisory Board currently states “until such time as critical data becomes available these methods do not meet BQA injectable product administration guidelines “.
EFFECT OF BREED TYPE ON SALE PRICE IN VIDEO AUCTIONS
Data were analyzed from 116 video auctions conducted during 2010-2014 involving 3,345,826 animals sold in 33,811 lots, almost 100 head/lot. Adjustment was made in the analysis for factors statistically significantly affecting price other than breed. Breed category and price averages were:
- British and British cross, $163.20/cwt;
- British-Continental cross, $162.89/cwt;
- Black Angus sired out of dams with no Brahman influence, $164.58/cwt;
- Red Angus sired out of dams with no Brahman influence, $166.51/cwt;
- Brahman influenced, $159.16/cwt.
Red Angus price was statistically significantly higher than other groups. Black Angus price was significantly higher than British-British cross, British-Continental cross, and Brahman influenced. The comparison between British-British cross and British-Continental cross did not differ significantly but both were significantly higher than Brahman influence. NOTE: Most other work has shown a different relationship between Black and Red Angus. Also, extremely large samples such as these can increase likelihood of statistically significant differences, but the magnitude of economic differences might be slight. Both statistical significance and economic importance should always be considered in evaluating research results. Statistical significance tells how much confidence should be placed on results. Economic importance tells how much value can be attached to results.
(2015 Western Sec. Am. Soc. of Anim. Sci. meeting, abstract 64; Kansas St. Univ., Merck Anim. Health, Grassy Ridge Consulting)
TRENDS IN LIVESTOCK AUCTIONS IN TEXAS
From 1965 to 1998 the number of livestock auctions in Texas held within a fairly narrow range, from about 140 to 160. After some unexplained jump in the late ‘90s to almost 190 auctions, there has been a gradual decline to about 90. Annual cattle auction receipts have declined from about 7-8 million in the late ‘60s-‘70s to 3-4 million since 2010. In the late ‘60s-‘70s average annual number marketed per auction was in the range of 40-50 thousand head. In recent years that number has declined to 20-30 thousand head. Drought in recent years has certainly had some effect so some of the declines are probably due to lower cattle numbers. Other marketing methods, especially direct sales and the advent of video auctions, may also be a factor.
(Proceedings of 2015 Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course, p. E-26; Texas A&M Univ.)