Nutrition improves cull cow quality
Diet, injections can improve profitability of many dairies
By TIM HEARDEN
Feeding a high-nutrition diet before harvest is the most effective way to improve the carcass red meat and fat yields in cull cows, a researcher has found.
Other ways to enhance the quality of the cattle include using growth-promoting implants or postmortem aging and calcium chloride injection for better tenderness and sensory characteristics of whole-muscle cow products.
The advice comes in a Beef Checkoff-commissioned white paper by Dale R. Woerner, a researcher at Colorado State University, who noted that culled cattle often play a key role in a cattle or dairy operation's profitability, but vary widely in quality.
"Many think that beef from these animals just goes into ground beef," said Bridget Wasser, director of product enhancement research for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "Most of the processing cows are also producing whole muscle cuts."
Cows are routinely culled from the herds of cow-calf and seedstock producers as well as dairy operations because of a loss of productivity or efficiency and are typically sold in live-auction markets.
These market cows have consistently accounted for 17 percent to 19 percent of all cattle harvested in the U.S. each year, according to the Cattlemen's Beef Board. For most beef and dairy producers, marketing culled cows translates to 15 percent to 25 percent of their annual income, the beef board asserts.
However, the older market cows typically lack the tenderness, juiciness and flavor of the conventionally produced beef from grain-finished steers and heifers, Woerner notes. As a result, a majority of market-cow beef is processed as ground beef, he stated.
But processors are finding ways to improve the palatability of the meat and are marketing muscle cuts at a premium, according to Woerner.
Aggressively feeding high-energy, high-concentrate diets to the cows before harvest increases carcass fat content, red meat yield and marbling, producing whiter fat while improving lean color and cooked meat palatability, Woerner stated.
"There is definite value in taking that time and spending that little extra cost to feed that cattle just before harvest," said Wasser, who supervised the research.
Cattlemen's Beef Board: www.beefboard.org
Beef from Market Cows: www.beefresearch.org