Feed Efficiency and Beef Quality

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Cattle breeders are often cautioned to avoid selecting too heavily for a single trait. Avoiding extremes is the obvious reason; selecting for small frame size in the 1950’s accidentally resulted in a dwarfism problem in a few breeds. Another reason is that a lot of traits are genetically correlated, meaning that selecting for one trait can have effects on other seemingly unrelated traits, like how selecting for increased growth rate or leanness eventually results in later puberty in heifers and larger mature cows. No matter what trait you’re selecting for, there will always be unintended consequences on other genetic traits. Breeding your way into a corner can happen quite quickly, but breeding your way out can take a lot longer.

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Improving tenderness in beef cuts



There are a number of commercially available DNA tests for beef tenderness that effectively identify differences in ribeye tenderness related to post-mortem aging. Unfortunately, the beef cuts that need the most improvement are those that are tough due to connective tissue, which does not respond to aging. Additionally, there are theoretical concerns that selecting for feed efficiency may reduce beef tenderness.

Research currently underway and funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster is working to gain a better understanding of the genetic factors underlying differences in tenderness among different muscles.

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Understanding dark cutters to reduce prevalence



Dark cutting is a stress-associated condition that causes beef to have an unacceptable colour and shorter shelf life. Dark cutting, which is most common during the hottest months of the year, significantly reduces carcass value. It has become more prevalent in recent years.

Research currently underway, funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster, is working to determine whether dark-cutting carcasses are produced by animal management factors, and whether the ribeye muscle metabolism of dark-cutting carcasses is different than that of normal carcasses. This research builds on work funded under the first Cluster. Continue reading