The latest results of the 2016 Fed Beef Quality Audit were presented at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) meeting this summer. Data collected at fed beef plants from all over the country indicated that 71 percent of the steers and heifers graded choice or prime. This is a 10 percent improvement compared to the 2011 audit. Carcasses are getting heavier with 7.4 percent weighing over 1,000 lbs. The percentage of Holsteins increased from 5 percent to 20 percent of the total cattle. Fifty-eight percent of the cattle were black hided. Ranchers have worked to reduce the percentage of animals with horns. Eighty-three percent were hornless and 77 percent had minimal bruises. Some tall cattle are getting small bruises on their backs from hitting their backs on internal truck ramps. Changes in ramp design may reduce this problem.
The good news coming out of the audit was partly attributable to lameness scoring being added to the 2016 version. This was a new item that had not been assessed in previous audits. In 17 plants, 8,000 cattle unloading from 10 percent of the trucks were observed. They were scored for lameness as they walked off the trucks. Ninety-seven percent of the cattle walked normally. Problems that had occurred in past years appear to be solved. I think it is like having the police monitoring speeding on the highway. When people know they are being watched, they change their practices and behavior. They used the 2015 North American Meat Institute scoring system, where lameness is assessed in moving groups of cattle.
1. Normal walks easily – no apparent lameness.
2. Exhibits minor stiffness, shortness of stride, slight limp, keeps up with normal cattle.
3. Exhibits obvious stiffness, difficult taking steps, obvious limp, lagging behind normal cattle.
4. Extremely reluctant to move, even when encouraged; statue-like.
It is easy to distinguish between a score of 2 or 3 because the lame animal either keeps up with normal cattle or lags behind.
The bad news in the 2016 Beef Audit was the increase in liver abscesses. Thirty-one percent of the livers were condemned. In the previous audit, 21 percent of the livers failed inspection. One possible contribution to this increase is the higher percentage of Holsteins being processed. Other scientific research has shown that Holsteins have more liver abscesses compared to the beef breeds.
In the face-to-face interviews, the big No. 1 issue is food safety, followed by eating satisfaction. Many companies were willing to pay a premium for guaranteed quality attributes. Animal welfare is now on the radar. In 2016, it was the fifth-most important issue.
Overall, the 2016 audit had many positive results. The main areas of future concerns are excessively large carcasses and liver abscesses.