WOOSTER, Ohio – Dr. Glen Dolezal of Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill Meat Solutions, recently cautioned beef ranchers and feeders to take care in their efforts to maintain and enhance beef quality.

“Beef quality has been up each of the last three years, but we do have some concerns,” he said during the recently held Feeding Quality Forum. The company’s assistant vice president of business development and field sales leader outlined both the bright spots and challenges at the meetings in Omaha, Neb., and Garden City, Kan., in late August. The Feeding Quality Forums were co-sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, Certified Angus Beef LLC, Feedlot Magazine and Purina Land O’Lakes.

“Beef demand is linked to the great taste of beef,” Dolezal said. “We like to think of it as a three-legged stool made of tenderness, juiciness and flavor. If any one of them is broken, the eating experience doesn’t work.”

Three out of every four carcasses in Cargill’s plants are destined for branded programs, and the increased quality of the past few years has helped them fill those orders.

“We think a lot of that is related to changes in genetics,” he said. “We’re seeing a high percentage of black-hided cattle entering our facilities.”

Dolezal discussed one Colorado State Univ. study that evaluated eating experiences at several different marbling levels. As the researchers selected carcasses with trace amounts of marbling or Standards, only 49 percent were “A-stamped,” denoting “Angus-type” at the plant, he said, compared to 92 percent of all moderately abundant (Prime) that received the same classification.

Cattle feeders are also using more ethanol co-products to economically extend days on feed. “We think all of this is positive to beef quality,” he said.

However, the increased intensity of implants along with the use of strong beta-agonist feed additives is concerning.

“At Cargill, we won’t buy cattle that knowingly have been fed zilpaterol [beta-2 agonist],” Dolezal said. “Our point of view is that if we get too aggressive [with regard to growth] throughout the animal’s lifetime it can have an impact on the consumer attributes of size, quality and tenderness. So we need to find a balance. The message there is that we ask you to be careful.”

As cattlemen make genetic and management decisions, he suggested they have good data to compare year-to-year.

“If you were trying to make genetic change or changing an implant program or feeding ration and you drew a grader that required more marbling to call it Choice, you’d think your cattle aren’t very good,” he said. “But on a different day you could draw a grade that required less, and you’d think you had really good cattle.”

The USDA and packers have worked together for many years calibrating and testing camera systems before implementing them to call marbling scores. About 10 plants in the US currently use the technology to determine quality grade.

“The cameras have been a big win, a big success story,” Dolezal said. “Our customers have been very pleased with the consistency they’re getting box to box, based on marbling levels and other traits.”

Data for grid payments and pre-harvest decisions are more accurate, consistent and repeatable, he added.