Garfield County Cooperative Extension

Beef Quality begins with cow care

Rick Nelson Extension Educator, Ag/4-H

In this time of 'golden beef', the momma cow has three things to say about future beef returns in the cowherd and the feedlot.

A time of change does not quite fully describe what the beef industry has been experiencing. How about shock and awe? Once unimaginable prices have become the norm with the feel of a roller coaster ride for beef producers.

We are currently playing catch-up as we seek to expand the nation’s cowherd. But how the mother cow and her calf are fed and managed has long-term implications on the final quality of the beef on our plates. Consider the following three factors:

• Cow and calf nutrition and health: Long-term research suggests that final fed beef quality is heavily dependent on cow nutrition and even events the day her calf is born. A Virginia Tech study found that colostrum immunoglobulin concentrations will not change in cows fed 100% or 57% of recommended pre-calving nutritional levels. But colostrum volume and calf IgG absorption will be lower from the restricted cows.

MOM'S LIFE-LONG IMPACT: Beef quality begins with pre-calving feeding of the mother cow before her calf even hits the ground.

In a Penn State research study, calves born from dams with restricted pre-calving nutrition are more susceptible to disease from scours and have a higher mortality rate. And a sheep study indicates improper nutrition from mid to late pregnancy in ewe lambs altered colostrum quality and quantity and reduced offspring birth weight.

Numerous other research studies confirm that steers with restricted colostrum intake at birth had lower feedlot growth rates and lower carcass grades. The bottom line here is: Pre-calving feed quality and intake by mother cows has significant life-long impact on calf performance.

• Genes matter: Cow-calf producers put high priority on the pounds sold at weaning time. That is why we emphasize growth traits and milk production when selecting breeding stock.

Yet since final beef quality is heavily influenced by marbling ability, it is in the producer’s best interest to keep that trait in our selection criteria.

Maybe it is time to consider a selection index where you define the traits you are interested in. Then, give each one a weighting based on the economic value you give it plus the trait's heritability.

Marbling has a moderate level of heritability. And in this era of increased traceability, feedlot buyers know where to find calves that make the grade down the road.

• Assure your beef quality: Beef Quality Assurance programs such as OQBN enjoy tremendous success all across the country. This is no time to become lax in following program guidelines both for animal performance and beef producer’s livelihood.

Animal handling, lacking health protocols and careless injection procedures all affect the final quality of the finished calf – and the cull cow – at harvest time.

Beef quality enhancement starts with the cow herd, not at the feedlot gate. We all need to do our part to meet those expectations. It is an opportunity that a producer’s paycheck depends on.Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is implied.

Oklahoma State University, U. S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local governments cooperating.  Oklahoma State University in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies, practices, or procedures."


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