The value of any beef animal lies in how much meat they can put on and what qualities that meat has. This remains true for dairy-beef cattle that develop meat characteristics a bit differently than native beef cattle.

Blake Foraker is an assistant professor of meat science at Washington State University, and he reminded cattle producers that meat from dairy-beef crossbreds is an improvement over that from straight Holstein steers. It also comes from a carcass that is a little different from what beef processors are used to with native cattle.

During an Oklahoma State University Extension beef-on-dairy webinar, Foraker discussed that the largest difference in carcass value between native beef cattle and dairy cattle is the ratio of muscle to bone. Dairy carcasses have a higher bone weight because of their frame size. Obviously, there is no meat value in bone. This frame difference is improved when beef genetics are introduced.

There are also significant variations in the values of the subprimals, which are the further divisions butchers make from the eight main, or primal, cuts of beef. Subprimals make up about 80% of the total cutout value of a carcass, he added, and the difference in that value between a native beef animal and a dairy animal can be nearly $11 per hundredweight of beef. That is also the gap between the value of a dairy animal and a dairy-beef animal. High-yielding dairy-beef animals have the highest percentage of subprimals, which helps offset having more bone weight, Foraker said.

A carcass’ value further depends on how much of the meat is unusable. Liver abscesses often contribute to meat being condemned, and they are a concern in native beef cattle as well as dairy-beef animals, which see significantly higher rates of liver abscesses.

Abscesses are an issue not so much because of the loss of the liver, Foraker said, but because of the loss of the nearby muscle. He illustrated that in animals without a liver abscess, one study found that about 4% had damage to the neighboring skirt meat. On the other hand, 29% of more than 600 animals they observed with a liver abscess had damaged skirt meat. Foraker said the skirt meat is the second most valuable part of the carcass, and when some of that has to be discarded, it can make a significant financial difference to the packer.

No phenotype relationship

When crossbreeding dairy and beef animals, some animals retain more phenotypically dairy characteristics while others take on more beef-like features. It may seem logical to assume that these different phenotypes affect how the animal’s meat performs or the characteristics it takes on. For example, would more dairy-like animals produce meat with more of dairy’s signature tenderness?

Foraker said that doesn’t appear to be the case. They studied a group of dairy-beef animals that were characterized phenotypically as fully beef, partially beef, partially dairy, or fully dairy and then examined their meat. There were no differences between the four groups in terms of meat quality, nor were there effects on the size of steaks from the animals. We can be confident that we can get high-quality meat from any phenotype of animal, Foraker said.

Naturally, there is a relationship between physical muscling appearance and round muscling in the meat, he added. Along with addressing liver abscesses, this is an area where dairy-beef production can improve to become more consistent and valuable to beef processors, Foraker stated.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
June 10, 2024
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