Dairy farmers sell beef

Beef quality audits indicate that dairy farmers have changed management methods to improve beef quality. Continued adoption of best management practices will continue to allow producers to capture the full value of their market cows.

In 1994, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association conducted the first quality audit of non-fed market beef and dairy cows and bulls to set industry benchmarks and identify quality defects to be addressed in the future. Quality audits were again conducted in 1999 and 2007 to measure quality changes and further identify new areas of improvement. One-third of domestic non-fed beef comes from dairy cows and is an important contributor to both domestic beef supply and export markets.

Information from USDA/FSIS Domestic Residue Data books indicated dairy cattle had violative drug residues ranging from 1.5-2.2 percent from 1990-1993. Drug residue violations continue to be a concern for the industry. Domestic Residue Data from 2007-2009 indicate that 0.5-1.3 percent of dairy cows had violative drug residue from inspector generated sampling. The reduction marks improvement in this area, but more producer diligence and education is needed to eliminate this problem.

The 1994 audit indicated visible abscesses on 13.4 percent of dairy cattle were most frequently found in the hind quarter of dairy cows. Lesions usually result in substantial quantities of meat needing to be trimmed and results in those subprimal cuts being sold as ground beef.

Packers identified bruising as the number one quality defect in 1999. Over 80 percent of all beef and dairy cows exhibited bruises. Most of this bruising was classified as minor. Major bruising actually decreased from 1994. Bruised muscle tissue cannot be sold as value added subprimal cuts and must either be ground or discarded. In 1994, it is estimated that bruising cost the non-fed beef industry about $75 million. Bruising losses were further reduced in 2007 to 64 percent.

Also in 1994, 5.8 percent of dairy cows were lame, 1.3 percent disabled and 4.6 percent had insufficient body condition. Cattle that are lame, disabled or are too thin, appear to be in poor health and are suspect to having received antibiotics for treatment. Consequently those cattle are tested through inspector generated selection for violative drug residues.

The 1999 non-fed beef quality audit packers listed their top four concerns: 1. carcass bruising; 2. antibiotic drug residues; 3. birdshot; and 4. arthritic joints and lameness. Value of trim loss increased from 1994 to 1999 due to injection site lesions and arthritic joints. Injection site lesions were found in 40 percent of dairy cows in 1999.

The 2007 audit found significantly fewer abscesses in the round; however abscess incidence increased sharply in the shoulder. Dairy producers need to be commended for decreasing the number of injects going into the round, but further education is needed on the importance of proper injection site placement and method. Giving subcutaneous injections in the neck as opposed to the chuck area will further improve the value of carcasses, allowing for more saleable meat at higher values. The 2007 audit also indicates improvement in the number of dairy cows with arthritic joints. Unfortunately lameness in dairy cows was at 49 percent in 2007, as compared to 39 percent in 1999 and 23 percent in 1994. The continued increase in lameness is of concern from an animal care and husbandry standpoint. Dairy cows had more injection site lesions than any other gender/cattle type category. The continued increase in number of lame dairy cows coming to market, with evidence of significantly more injections being given, is a concern the industry needs to address.

The current value of cull cows is record high. Implementing proper culling strategies can allow producers to sell cattle with better carcass quality and a higher value, which can offset replacement costs. Survey data from the quality audits indicates that packers are continually increasing the marketing of higher-value whole muscle cuts. Management practices that aid in producing higher quality carcasses with fewer defects, allows for opportunity to achieve higher market prices. Following Dairy Beef Quality Assurance Guidelines will assist in this process. The Dairy BQA Manual is an excellent resource. For more information on producing high quality beef, with minimal defects from market cows, contact Frank Wardynski, Ruminant Educator with Michigan State University Extension at wardynsk@anr.msu.edu.

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