Cull cows provide more than ground beef for burgers

The United States conducted a cow quality audit in 2007, and recent interviews with packing plants noted some of the same problems are still present: 


SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Cull cows have achieved record prices in the last few years and are an important part of the entire beef complex.

They end up at packing plants, where more than 40 percent of product is marketed as whole muscle cuts, depending on how valuable ground beef might be in the current market.

Cuts may include briskets for deli items such as corned beef, or tenderloins, ribs and rib eyes, which are sold to food service.

Canadian cattle are part of the mix. Last year, Canada exported 270,000 slaughter cows and 81,500 bulls to the United States.

“A lot of people think that the cow is a byproduct of our industry and that most of the carcass once it’s produced is ground into ground beef. In fact that is not actually correct,” Keith Belk, a meat scientist from Colorado State University, told the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention, which was held in San Antonio Feb. 3-7.

“If you have been in an Arby’s, you have eaten a product from a cow that was a subprimal that was completely denuded of all fat before it was cooked and injected with a brine and prepared for sale.… These products are extremely valuable to the industry.”

Some cuts from a cow have more value than those from a fed steer or heifer. The round from the hind limb of animal can have considerable value, said Dale Woerner, also from Colorado State.

Round cuts can be hard to sell in the fed business because they are tougher, but they are lean in the cow industry and carry value.

“Most fed beef plants will struggle selling outside rounds or bottom round flats,” he said.

“Their leanness is great, but they do not have the tenderness we need to transform them into steakable cuts.”

Cows are variable in quality, but value can be earned from the hide, organs, blood, tails, fat, meat and bone meal as well as the whole muscle cuts and trim.

About half a percent of beef cows and two percent of dairy cows are condemned because of sores, lesions, bruises, cancer eye and damaged livers. Sometimes only parts of the carcass are deemed unfit for human consumption rather than the entire carcass.

“As they get older, they are more prone to having things wrong with them than a younger animal, and you are going to see higher condemnation rates,” Belk said.

Dressing percentages are also highly variable and may be 38 to 60 percent.

Age does not have a major effect on dressing percentage. Older cows may have more connective tissue, which makes the meat tougher.

Packers do not want overly fat cows because the fat has to be removed.

Lean content is reduced by 2.5 percent for every tenth of an inch of fat over the 12th rib. Whiter fat is preferred.

Feeding a high plane of nutrition to beef type market cows is the most effective way to improve carcass red meat and fat yields as well as improve the overall quality and palatability of cow beef.

Steroidal implants can also im-prove fed cow traits, said Belk.

Cull cows coming off green grass are likely to have less desirable yellow fat.

“One of the most important things you can do as a cattleman, even before you get ready to sell cows, if it is not economically viable to feed them for any length of time, make sure you market them when they are in good condition,” Belk said.

Condition scores of three to five out of 10 for market cows are acceptable. They should also be given time after calving to rebuild muscling.

Packing problems

The United States conducted a cow quality audit in 2007, and recent interviews with packing plants noted some of the same problems are still present:

  • Cattle still come in bruised or may have “fiery fat,” in which capillaries in the fat burst when the cow was stressed.
  • About a half a percent of beef cows and two percent of dairy cows are condemned.
  • Livers, tongues and hearts may be condemned.
  • Brands need to move away from the ribs or middle of the animal to protect as much of the hide for the leather market as possible.
  • Withdrawals for medications must be strictly observed.

Measuring up

Dressing percentage is calculated by dividing the warm carcass weight by the shrunk live weight of the animal and expressing the result as a percentage.

  • For example, the hide, head, feet and gut are removed from an animal that arrives at a processor weighing 1,300 pounds. The warm carcass then weighs 767 lb. The dressing percent of this animal would be 767 divided by 1,300 multiplied by 100, or 59 percent.
  • The animal is weighed after transportation to the packing plant, which means that live weight is a shrunk weight. The carcass is weighed warm as opposed to cold. The dressing percentage for a cold carcass can be two percentage points lower than the warm carcass dressing percentage for the same carcass.
  • The dressing percentage of cattle marketed in Canada will differ from that of similar animals marketed in the United States. The U.S. carcass weight includes the weight of the kidney, pelvic and heart fat, which is not included in the Canadian carcass weight. As a result, dressing percentages for equivalent animals are 2.5 to three percent higher in the U.S. than Canada.

Source: Alberta Agriculture

Contact barbara.duckworth@producer.com

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