It’s no secret — high-energy, low-protein diet builds a better carcass

Expert says the science for creating a better carcass is well known, and producers who employ it will prosper

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Feeding to build a better beef carcass is simply better for your bottom line, says a carcass and meat science researcher from the University of Alberta.

“You’re going to increase the return on every carcass if you can minimize your inputs and maximize or match the outputs that are required,” Heather Bruce said at the Feed Coalition workshop in February.

“What we want to be doing is essentially feeding in a manner that we’re balancing energy and protein for growth and for carcass composition. We want to control carcass composition.”

Research conducted three decades ago found how the balance of energy and protein affects carcass quality, and those results still hold true today, she said. In that study, the animals were fed either high or low levels of both energy and protein to determine how feed affected quality.

“The low-protein, low-energy diets that were fed essentially ended up with a carcass composition that was relatively equal in terms of fat,” said Bruce.

“Once you start to increase the energy, however, you start to see an increase in the amount of body fat.”

The low-energy, high-protein diet increased leanness, and there “didn’t seem to be any advantage to feeding a high-energy, high-protein diet in terms of carcass composition,” though the rate of growth could be affected.

“We would expect the average daily gain on each of these animals to be very different, with the low-energy, low-protein animals gaining much less than the animals that are receiving more in terms of their energy or their protein.”

Feeding for quality

Grain finishing can be one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve both gain and carcass quality, said Bruce.

“Grain-based diets are heavily supported in the cattle industry for good reason,” she said. “They improve the quality of the product, they improve the taste of the product, and they certainly add to the efficiency of the production of the animal.”

And for beef cattle, “barley is king.”

“It’s the grain of choice here in the West. It has been clearly shown in many trials that cattle gain much faster and accrue fat much quicker on barley than cattle that have been fed non-grain forage or pasture,” said Bruce, adding that dried distillers grains and triticale can also be used successfully.

Restricting feed is also an “underutilized” way to increase carcass fat with less feed.

“When an animal is restricted feed, you can get an incredible increase in the amount of subcutaneous fat and marbling simply because the muscle itself has become so efficient because it hasn’t had a lot of energy,” said Bruce. “It’s adapted to a low-energy supply, and it stores that fat.”

Meeting market demands

Most producers will be targeting increased marbling and subcutaneous fat, as the tenderness of the product tends to increase as the amount of fat within the muscle increases, said Bruce.

But it all depends on which market is getting the meat.

“The definition of a quality carcass can change dramatically depending on which retailer or which buyer you’re talking to,” she said. “If you’re talking to a buyer who wants to buy for restaurants or for overseas Japanese markets, they’re looking for a very different carcass than the one that wants to take the biggest, leanest carcass and grind it up to sell it to people as hamburgers.

“Both are very lucrative markets, but they require very different carcasses.”

And ultimately, that’s what’s going to benefit the bottom line, said Bruce.

“If you meet your market demands, you’ll have a greater return on investment by getting a higher price for each carcass.”

About the author


Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.



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