As beef-on-dairy breeding has ramped up in the last decade, research into the trend has helped us better understand these crossbred animals as well as exposed new questions for how native beef cattle develop, believes meat scientist Blake Foraker. Everything we are learning about how cattle raised for beef grow, develop, and create meat helps producers provide a better experience for the consumer. The production of dairy calves has always resulted in animals for beef, but we have just recently started focusing on how to make that beef more desirable.

And while challenges to fitting dairy-beef animals into beef production systems remain, these animals provide many improvements over meat from straight Holstein steers, said Foraker during an Oklahoma State University Extension beef-on-dairy webinar.

Foraker described a study he and colleagues at Washington State University worked on where they evaluated strip loin steaks from native beef, dairy-beef, and Holstein animals. Differences between the products may even be visible to consumers scanning the meat case at their grocery store. That’s because of how dairy meat discolors.

To get consumers to buy beef, it must have a cherry red color, said the assistant professor in meat science. Shoppers will start to discriminate against products when they reach about 20% discoloration, he added. Steaks from native beef animals can last an average of 84 hours in a meat case before reaching that level.

By contrast, dairy steaks can achieve 20% discoloration in more like 60 hours. That’s a full 24-hour difference in consumer acceptability.

However, Foraker described that steaks from dairy-beef steers leaned on the beef influence and lasted 84 hours before reaching the 20% discoloration threshold. The crossbreeding practice solves the problem of not being able to market dairy and beef steaks next to each other because of the discoloration concerns, and that is a great sustainability and food waste story for our industry, he added.

On the dinner plate

Foraker noted that dairy steaks may discolor quicker because they appear to be the most oxidative in their muscle fiber. While this is disadvantageous for physical appearance, that oxidation could be why straight dairy steaks often rate higher on tenderness than beef steaks.

In this case, dairy-beef animals capitalize on the dairy influence and scored higher on tenderness than native beef steaks in Foraker’s study. Even with consistent marbling, there were no statistical differences in flavor or overall preference of the steaks from the three types of animals among a group of trained panelists.

More dairy-beef steaks likely make it to consumer plates to begin with because the influence of beef genetics also helps with steak size and shape. Foraker described dairy steaks as more triangular since they are typically longer and narrower. This is less desirable than the roundness of beef steaks, and consistent size and shape is important in retail and food service sectors. “What I would tell you after measuring hundreds and hundreds of strip loin steaks is that the beef influence fixes the triangularity of dairy steers,” Foraker assured.

So, while beef feeders and processors are still learning how to best fit these plentiful dairy-beef animals into their systems, the efforts are worth it when customers are more satisfied with their beef choice.

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May 13, 2024
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