Beef & Dairy News
Get more value out of cull cows
By DOROTHY NOBLE
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — “You folks are in the meat business,” Dr. Edward Mills told the gathering of dairy producers at the latest Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania Dairy Forum.
According to the state Beef Council, half the beef supply in Pennsylvania comes from dairy cows.
Referring to difficulties in milk prices, Mills, a professor of dairy and animal science at Penn State, noted, “The milk side is nothing to brag about.”
The PDMP dairy forum focused on how dairy producers could obtain greater value from their cull cows.
The price — and ultimately the profit — received by dairymen depends on the condition of those dairy market cows.
The care, handling and marketing decisions of the animals influences that condition.
Plus, the entire industry and of course, consumers, all benefit from better quality of beef harvested from the cull cows.
Professor Mills showed examples of defects that lower the packer grades, and thus depress the prices realized by producers.
He compared two cows which can represent the middle price of the slaughter cows.
One with live weight of 1,304 pounds had a high-yield boner packer grade; the second cow with a live weight of 1,075 pounds had a low-yield boner packer grade.
The live price of the first was $89 per cwt; the second $82 per cwt.
Consequently, the producer received $1,161 for the first cow, but $881 for the second cow.
The carcass weight of the first was 652 pounds, compared with 516 pounds for the second cow.
The bone weight of the first was 73.5 pounds.; the second 75.5 pounds. The weight of lean meat for the first cow was 222.8 pounds, compared to 167 pounds for the second. In contrast, the first yielded 18.2 pounds fat; the second 8.2 pounds. In addition, the second had 2.5 pounds. inedible trim, the first had none.
Carcasses are not typically graded by USDA, but packer grades are common.
The packer grades include cutter/canner, boner (utility), breaker (commercial/utility), white cow, standard, select and choice.
Professor Mills noted that the packer grades are not the USDA beef grades of which consumers are aware—the packer grades are assigned by the packers. The USDA quality grades relate to the palatability, and the USDA yield grades predict the amount of lean meat from the carcass.
The body condition score on an ascending scale of 1 to 5 shows a relationship to carcass grade. For example, for a canner grade with a BCS of 1 and live weight of 1,050 pounds., the dressing percentage can be 42 percent. A commercial grade, with a BCS of 5 and live weight of 1,550 pounds, the dressing percentage rises to 58 percent.
Professor Mills pointed out that labor costs just as much with a lower percentage; cow pricing is based on lean meat, and the focus is on fat carcasses.
Most of the meat from the cull cows is ground, Mills noted.
But some whole muscle and visible lean steaks are found — their challenges include dark color, yellow fat, injection site blemishes and residues.
Dark color detracts from retail sales; in addition it has a shorter shelf life and has flavor issues.
Stress before slaughter can cause dark meat; control measures include reducing stress, increasing the body condition, improving transporting and handling and allowing rest before slaughter.
Yellow fat too is undesirable and more prevalent in high forage diets. Restructured products and ground beef can mitigate this defect somewhat.
But injection site blemishes are permanently scarred tissue. These are trimmed, resulting in losses.
While microbial contamination can occur in the packing plant, most bacteria are transferred from the hide, which can happen during transport.
Regarding residues, Mills indicated that more sensitive tests are coming and more scrutiny will be underway.