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Selection to Increase Saleable Meat Yield

  • By: "Prime" Ag News
  • Jun 17, 2019

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By Alastair Rayner - Rayner Ag

As cattle producers, we are focused on the production of red meat that can be used to feed people. I’m not sure that many people really know just how much red meat comes from their cattle. I think it is an important trait to consider and work on improving. After all increasing red meat yield per animal is a more efficient way to use your feed resources and be more profitable in the long term.

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When considering Red Meat Yield, its important not to be confused with Dressing Percentage. Dressing percentage is commonly talked about by people and confused with yield. In simplest terms, Dressing Percentage is simply the carcass weight of an animal as a percentage of its live-weight.

Dressing Percentage is a useful tool to measure and to understand, particularly for producers who are looking to market cattle direct to abattoirs. Knowing how your animal will dress and so fit a payment grid can make a big difference in receiving the grid price or suffering a discount for being over or under the weights.

It is important to remember that Dressing Percentage is influenced by factors associated with an animals live-weight. In particular the length of time off feed and water. A simple rule to remember is that as live-weight decreases, Dressing Percentage will increase. Other factors that can have an impact include pregnancy status (cows and heifers) as well as grain or grass finishing programs.  

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So Dressing Percentage is something that has to be considered and managed in order to achieve optimum returns when livestock are sold over a grid. However focusing on the yield of red meat should be a major focus for producers.  

In basic terms yield is generally described as Saleable Meat Yield (SMY). It is defined as the proportion of the carcase that can be processed and sold to the consumer. This includes all the bone-in or boneless cuts that we commonly see at retail level, plus manufacturing meat that has been trimmed to a desired fat coverage or level.

The level of Saleable Meat Yield (SMY) can vary dramatically among animals. A real issue for processors or butchers is this variation will impact the efficiency of processing or retailing. It basically costs the same to process a carcase into its primal and retail cuts.

Lower yields either as a result of less muscle or over fatness, quickly become financial issues for that portion of the supply chain. In the longer term it reflects back on the producer who may find their lower yielding cattle are purchased for lower prices or avoided all together.

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As producers the challenge is to increase the amount of saleable red meat each animal produces. There most effective methods are to focus on meeting specifications for fatness. Over fat animals require more trimming, and this impacts on the amount of product for sale after processing.  

The second and major way is to focus on selection for muscle volume within the herd. This can be done using both EBV’s that address meat yield, and to visually select animals for their muscle score.  

Over many years, NSW DPI has researched the impact muscle score has on saleable meat yield. One of the key findings from this research showed that selection for muscle score was a skill that could be used in all beef herds.  

More importantly the research highlighted that for each increase in muscle score at the same live weight and fat depth, dressing percentage increased by 1.7%.

Saleable meat yield as a percentage, increased by 1.5 to 1.7 % and lean meat yield (denuded of fatness) increased by over 2%. In lightweight steers, this equated to 10–15% increase in value.

The research looked at this over three steers that were all the same live-weight and fatness. The additional increase in yield of saleable meat through increased muscling was a significant contributor to the value of those animals to both producers and retailers.

In the last few weeks I’ve been working through these concepts with several producers to improve their herd’s suitability to several emerging markets. We have also been looking at the breakdown of a beef carcase and the proportion of red meat from each primal cut. Selection for muscle has a positive impact on increase the amount produced as well as improving the shape and appearance of these muscles when they are processed into retail cuts.