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Feedlot DNA Testing - Should Producers Change their Strategy?
A recent research piece titled " Can DNA Marker Technology Improve Feedlot Growth Promotion Management Decisions to Ultimately Improve the Consumer's Beef Eating Experience?" by Colorado State University's Wagner, Thompson, O'Quin, Engle, Ahola, Woodward & Streeter and funded by the The Beef Checkoff brought some interesting new ideas up for both producers and feedlots to take into future consideration.
The end game of this research was whether or not DNA testing could be used to predict tenderness and marbling characteristics in the feedlot prior to harvesting. We all know that purebred producers spend a small fortune every year trying to improve bovine lineage and quality but what about the non pure bred feeder stock - how does a feedlot know what they are getting? Also, if a feedlot knows that a portion of the feedlot group will have higher marbling and tenderness characteristics - should they be fed / treated differently?
The research completed indicated that they could predict the marbling, tenderness and most importantly the quality of the beef (Choice over select or Premium Choice vs. Choice) fairly accurately (study sample was of 1,100 cattle). If you think about it this could have huge ramifications throughout the industry. If a producer knows which of his cattle are going to be premium choice cattle at harvest- shouldn't he get a price premium? And if a feedlot is buying cattle at a flat price per pound - would they be willing to start paying more for cattle that would fetch a higher % of Choice meat if they knew going in what they were getting after a DNA test, rather than just breed/ranch the product is coming from?
The study found that DNA marker testing can be used to successfully sort cattle into different marbling or tenderness groups. It also found that tenderness could be improved by a moderate growth promotion strategy but the marbling or USDA quality grade did not impact it. Overall (although this testing does seem to be in early stages) end beef quality can be predicted and will likely be factored into genetic breeding, likely more so than it is today. On the flip side could this adversely affect genetic diversity of the cattle genome and is this desirable long term? Some research has indicated that we're creating cattle that can only survive within certain variables (see African importation of Holsteins) and that a changing climate requires more biodiversity rather than less.
This research is worth keeping track of as it could potentially change the producer industry on a number of different fronts as well as Feedlots. In the end analysis consumers will likely win with higher quality beef that has better marbling and tenderness.
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