Comparing Holstein and beef breed cattle cutouts

Beef from finished Holstein finished steers has many desirable characteristics and provides a consistent product

The finished Holstein cattle market has experienced severe discounts in recent months compared to the historical $7- to $12-per-hundredweight relationship to finished cattle of beef breeds. In recent months, there has been a $20- to $40-discount per hundredweight for finished Holstein cattle. A major cattle Midwest slaughterer announced in December 2016 that they would no longer slaughter finished Holstein steers. There is also an increased supply of beef breed fed cattle after several years of decreased inventory. Finished Holstein beef accounts for nearly 15 percent of the overall beef supply. The cutout and quality of beef from Holsteins related to value has not changed recently but is important to review.

Beef from finished Holstein finished steers has many desirable characteristics and provides a consistent product. Genetic similarity among Holsteins contributes greatly to the consistency of the quality of beef provided by Holsteins. Additionally, great improvements have been made in the past several decades of managing and feeding Holstein steers resulting in improved efficiencies and a high percentage grading U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Choice for quality grade. Several research studies have shown that the taste and tenderness of Holstein beef is at least equal to beef from Angus steers.

Researchers from Cornell University found Holstein steers had 5.28 percent less meat yield compared to small-frame Angus steers at the same shrunk weight. They attributed this to Holsteins having an increased gut proportion, reduced muscling score, reduced subcutaneous fat, and increased liver size and intra-abdominal fat compared to Angus steers. It has also been shown that calf fed Holsteins have a lower muscle to bone ratio compared to Angus steers. There is a slight advantage in trimmed, boneless primal cuts for Holsteins and most of this is likely due to having less fat between the muscles.

There are several factors that impact dressing percentage and are different for Holstein cattle. The hide from Holsteins is a lower percentage of live weight and positively impacts dressing percentage. Holsteins have more kidney, pelvic and heart fat. Furthermore, there is no difference in cooler shrink for Holstein carcasses compared to carcasses from beef breeds. Reports show that dressing percentage accounts for most of the historical price difference on live weight basis up to 1,300 pounds for Holsteins.

Another difference in beef from Holstein finished cattle compared to beef breeds is muscle shape and dimension. Holstein ribeye and loin muscles have been described as more triangular in shape, tapering toward the tail end of the rib or loin and/or thinner in dimension. When comparing steaks from Holsteins vs. beef breeds, there are fewer differences in the ribeye than there are in the strip loin. A 1991 Cornell University research study blind tested retail meat managers with ribeye steaks from Holstein or Simmental Angus crossed steers. The results indicated meat managers correctly identified the steaks 51 percent of the time, which was not statistically different from chance.

Beta-agonists have been shown to increase loin or ribeye muscle area in calf-fed Holsteins. Research from West Texas A&M University and Colorado State University has shown that feeding Zilpaterol hydrochloride resulted in ribeye steaks with more similar dimension and muscle area to conventional beef steaks. Ractopamine hydrochloride supplemented calf-fed Holsteins also increased steak muscle area and depth at various locations but not as much of an increase as steaks from Zilpaterol hydrochloride supplemented compared to control calf-fed Holsteins.

The Beef Cutout Calculator, funded by the Beef Checkoff and developed by Colorado State University, is available to compare subprimal yields and cutout values for beef or Holstein cattle with different carcass weights and yield grades. The table is the results for an 800 pound carcass, yield grade 3.0 – 3.25 from beef or Holstein cattle. There are yield differences between subprimals from beef and Holstein cattle. Some of these differences are perceived to be less accepted by consumers (ex. strip loin steak area and shape). The wholesale prices of beef subprimals are published by USDA daily and weekly using mandatory price reporting. The price reporting from USDA must protect the identity of the processors reporting prices. The limited number of companies slaughtering Holsteins does not allow USDA to report wholesale prices for comparisons. The Beef Cutout Calculator uses USDA reported prices and does not differentiate beef breed or Holstein for calculating value of the cuts (it is unclear why the calculator uses a lower price for ground beef (80/20 mixture) from Holstein versus beef breeds.

Finding marketing opportunities to capture the value of Holstein beef is a challenge for farmers. There are many consistencies and quality attributes of beef from Holstein cattle. Differences in yield and steak shape and size are apparent in steaks from Holstein steers compared to those from beef breeds for some meat cuts. Additional marketing opportunities are needed to alleviate current market discounts. 

This article was first published in "The Michigan Cattleman" - the official publication of the Michigan Cattlemen's Association. 

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