Angus producers work to protect breed quality

Black cattle are segregated at packing plants, but few end up in a premium Angus beef program

Plenty of black cattle graze across North America, but hide colour does not mean they are going to produce high quality beef.

Black cattle are segregated at packing plants and could end up in a premium Angus beef program.

However, the number that actually make the grade is not that high.

“We do have to pay attention,” said Fred Taylor of the Canadian Beef Grading Agency.

“Just because they are black cattle, it doesn’t mean they are going to be AAA. We have lots of black cattle with an A stamp on the loin that don’t make AAA.”

Canadian producers are encouraged to attach green ear tags to their cattle if they have one purebred Red or Black Angus parent. Black cattle or animals with the green tag can be segregated at the plant, at which time a red dot goes on the shank and an “A” stamp is placed on the loin when the hide comes off.

These carcasses could be potential candidates for breed based programs such as Certified Angus Beef, Angus Reserve and Angus Pride when they arrive at the grading station.

The cattle are checked manually to make sure they are Angus, and carcasses in the fabrication area are separated with a fibreglass board so other beef does not commingle. Trim and other parts headed for grinding are also kept separate.

“These are all programs in the plant, and we don’t have enough cattle to fill those programs. It is always a problem to fill those orders,” Taylor said at the Canadian Angus Association’s June 5 convention in Calgary.

“We are not getting Red Angus tagged in the plant. We might get five percent.”

Graders see a variety of quality types. For example, animals may have thick back fat covers but grade only AA, which does not provide any financial benefit.

Taylor said beef producers need to take advantage of trace back programs. He once saw 193 head enter the plant, and all of them received the highest quality grade of Prime and went to an Angus program.

Producers need to know this, he added.

“If you can trace back your results, it certainly is worth it to know where those calves came from,” he said.

Corrine Gibson, president of the Angus association, said the industry has a five year plan to identify more Angus cattle going to market. The information is important for everyone from the seed stock producer to the cattle buyers who are looking to fill programs.

“There is a program we are looking at that we feel will dramatically increase the amount of tags going out and in turn be able to increase the number going to the kill floor,” she said.

The green ear tags are not part of Certified Angus Beef, but they may help identify Black or Red Angus enrolled in that program, said spokesperson Steve Suther.

The U.S.-based program’s first criteria is a black hide. About 750,000 head per year show up at Canadian plants and are then screened for 10 carcass specifications. Many fail to move on because they do not grade AAA.

“Our licensed partners in packing and processing typically have an array of other Angus programs to fit cattle identified as Angus but unable to meet Certified Angus Beef brand specifications,” he said in an email.

“To the extent that they have generated demand for those programs, it is logical that supply cannot keep up with potential sales.”

The branded program sold 41 million pounds in Canada last year, but the country produced only 26 million lb. The rest had to come from the U.S.,where 882 million lb. were produced in 2014.

The number of black-hided Canadian cattle accepted for the brand is 18 percent better than it was five or six years ago, but it lags significantly behind the U.S., where nearly 30 percent of black-hided cattle received the CAB brand in April with an annual average of 26 percent.

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