Beef farms change as science improves meat quality growth

By: 
Duane Dailey

Twitter tells me there’s a change in the beef business. A Revolution. Making quality beef changes all. It’s in the better genetics. Change is here.

But, this is nothing new. The beef business has been changing forever.

I’ve seen it in my life time. I’ve seen it in my professional writing career. I’ve seen it dramatically in the last 20 years of research coming from MU Thompson Farm, Spickard.

The last couple of decades have been learning and acceptance of fixed-time AI. There’d been artificial insemination before. But, it was a slow, cumbersome, labor intensive system of breeding cows. It took a month of watching to see when a cow was in heat, ready to breed.

That was a hit or miss proposition. Then it took a cow herd manager who knew how long to wait before inseminating, the scientific word for breeding — or doing work of a bull.

When Dave Patterson came to Mizzou, he brought a new idea. He came from Kentucky because MU had a herd ready for research.

He developed a system in which all beef females could be bred at one time, or at least in one morning. That saved labor. At the other end, it had huge effect on uniformity of calf crops.

AI allows using the best genetics in a breed. A cow herd owner doesn’t have to own the bull. A farmer buys stems of semen to fertilize all cows.

Few can afford to own the best bull in the breed. Now any owner can afford to buy a “straw” of semen. Even one straw for each cow in a herd. Semen selection brings genetic uniformity to a herd.

MU research led to creating Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifers. That comes with the MU protocol sheet, or recipe, for better beef calves.

Buyers of calves whether herd replacement or feeder calf going to the feedlot, quickly learned the value of uniformity. SMS heifers brought premium prices. Buyers of weaned calves paid extra for uniform calves of similar size, age and genetics. That was a revolution.

Two things became obvious. There’s value to herd owners who achieve calving ease in their herds. That was the first thing that led to higher prices at auctions. Calving ease cut work at calving. More important, it lowered death rates of calves and first-calf heifers.

Better breeding not only brought calving ease in cow herds but also carcass quality at the feedyard. It took a while to appreciate that value. Now, it is driving a change in the beef business.

Slaughterhouse buyers use a reward grid that pays above daily market prices. Big premiums go for calves that produce USDA Prime grade carcasses.

Most of us rarely eat Prime beef. That goes to elite buyers and eaters. When I started writing about this, only 3 percent of all calves slaughtered in all packing plants in a day would grade Prime. A few more graded Choice but most graded Select, the low grade.

That changed dramatically in recent years. Farmers now know to meet consumer needs.

Meeting eaters’ desires keeps beef prices from sinking fast as pork and poultry prices. Eating habits changed. Consumers willingly pay for taste, tenderness, juiciness of Prime and Choice.

Foreign buyers pay even more than domestic shoppers. Change in consumer desire backs that Twitter report on quality revolution.

Missouri has an edge. Buyers across the USA are learning.

All Extension farm practices I’ve written about over the last half century have this in common: Early adopters benefit most from ideas taught by Extension.

Why do herd owners delay? It takes more thought and work to make protocols work. It takes management. It also takes greater teaching effort by Extension.

Now I worry about downsizing in Extension teaching. Education remains a good investment in homegrown know how.

Ideas in this little story need a book to explain. But, the info is there waiting to be used.

Send ideas to duanedailey7@gmail.com.

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