Half of Today's Dairy Beef is Sold as Whole Muscle Cuts

Dairy beef does well in meeting consumers' expectations for tenderness, flavor and juiciness.

Published on: Sep 11, 2006

Today's Holstein or Jersey cull cow and Holstein market steer are just as likely to reach the consumer in the form of steak or roast as an Angus, Hereford, or other beef breed cow or steer.

"That may be surprising news to the industry," says Gary Smith, professor of animal science at Colorado State University (CSU). "Contrary to what many dairy and beef producers think, beef from dairy steers and dairy cows is quite desirable because of its consistency in leanness, taste and tenderness. While many believe dairy beef is processed and sold only as ground beef, nearly 50% of today's dairy beef is actually sold as whole muscle cuts."

According to the Beef Checkoff Program's 2005 National Beef Quality Audit, 56.2% of cattle slaughtered have black hides, some of which might be Holstein genetics, and approximately 8% are Holsteins. On average, one out of every 12 head of cattle slaughtered is a Holstein. However, Smith noted that when Jersey, Brown Swiss and other dairy breeds are included, that number could increase to as high as one out of every eight head. "There should be no question that dairy beef makes up a considerable amount of the U.S. beef supply and that dairy beef has a significant economic impact on the beef industry," says Smith.

Smith, along with other researchers and scientists from CSU, Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University and West Texas A&M, were involved in the 2005 audit. Results from the program offer U.S. cattlemen insight into beef quality successes and future challenges over which they have some or all control. The 2005 evaluation is the fourth checkoff-funded audit.

According to Smith, there are several reasons why dairy beef does so well in meeting consumers' expectations for tenderness, flavor and juiciness. These include:

  • Holstein and Brown Swiss steers produce carcasses with high-quality grades, with the desirable yield grades and at desired weights.
  • Jersey and Guernsey steers produce carcasses with exceptionally high quality grades, with average yield grades at very light weights.
  • Carcasses for all four of these dairy breeds are thinly muscled.
  • Holstein and Brown Swiss have lower muscle-to-bone ratios compared to British and European breeds. This is not true for Jersey and Guernsey cattle.

Preliminary results of the 2005 audit found that to better deliver the product attributes that consumers want in their beef, the industry needs to reduce the number of carcasses that are Yield Grade 4 or Yield Grade 5. Smith says that's good news for dairymen since Holstein carcasses rarely fall into the Yield Grade 4 or Yield Grade 5 categories.

The 2005 audit found that when comparing dairy beef and beef from native breeds, 2% of beef from native breeds graded prime and 17% graded choice. This compares to 15% of dairy beef grading prime and 25% grading choice or 13 and 8 percentage points higher, respectively.

"Without dairy beef, the industry would have a difficult time supplying enough prime and choice cuts to restaurants and other food service operations," says Smith.

Smith notes that limited variability in genetics is another reason why Holstein steers provide such consistent, high-quality beef. Overall, 75% of active sires in the Holstein breed have one, or both, of two famous bulls in the last three generations of their pedigree. In addition, 90% of active Holstein bulls are descendants of five bulls.