Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Given the importance of meat quality, the Brahman Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa felt it necessary to debunk the myths pertaining to ‘the tough meat of humped cattle’, as feedlots and other institutions tend to discriminate against Brahman beef. In this regard, the Brahman Society received back the results of the data of four groups of cattle slaughtered and tested for meat quality at different facilities.
The first group constituted 203 samples accumulated during the Beef Genomics Project (BGP) and tested at the ARC Animal Production (API). The data of the second group, consisting of 51 samples, was generated from a phase C and D test at Bufland, with samples tested at the University of the Free State.
Data from the third group was generated from tests for RFI at the test station of Koos Kooy in KwaZulu-Natal. The last group’s data was generated at the private GrowSafe test facility of Thys Meyer in Lindley and tested for meat quality at the University of the Free State.
In this test group, 33,8% of the samples met at least retail requirements. The most tender sample had a shear force value of 2,1kg and the toughest sample had a value of 10,7kg. This group had been finished (before slaughter) at various ARC test centres, as well as the Sernick feedlot. Samples from Namibia were included in this group and tested as part of the first cycle of the BGP from 2015 to 2017.
In this group, 51 bulls were slaughtered at Vencor in Polokwane after having completed a phase C and D test at Bufland. The group included 30 sires, which offered quite a wide genetic range in the tests.
Prof Hugo’s observations
The Warner-Bratzler Shear Force (tenderness) of the seven-day aged meat samples were very good. It ranged from 1,45 to 3,94kg with an average shear force value of 2,5kg. For retail purposes, a shear force value below 4,6 is considered acceptable. All the samples adhered to this requirement. For food service use, a shear force value below 3,9 is considered acceptable (only one sample had a shear force value above 3,9kg). It is quite impressive that almost all the seven-day aged meat samples were acceptable for use in the restaurant industry.
The absence of dark cutting meat is a sign of excellent animal temperament, good transport conditions, and proper handling prior to slaughter. The absence of dark cutters is usually a clear indication that stress was limited.
The meat samples in this group were sourced from bulls tested for RFI at the facility of Koos Kooy, director of Livestock Alliance (Pty) Ltd in KwaZulu-Natal. Twenty-four bulls were slaughtered, and the samples sent to the University of the Free State for testing.
Prof Hugo’s observations
The Warner-Bratzler Shear Force of the seven-day aged meat samples ranged from 2,51 to 8,09kg with an average shear force value of 5,5kg. Nine of the 24 samples adhered to this requirement. This means that only two of the seven-day aged meat samples were acceptable for use in the restaurant industry. Fifteen of the 24 sirloin cuts were not suitable for retail or food service utilisation. Yet bear in mind that all cuts could have benefited from a longer ageing period.
A small group of Brahman bulls were slaughtered after being RFI tested at the private GrowSafe test facility of Thys Meyer in Lindley. The bulls were slaughtered at the Country Meat Abattoir in Kroonstad, and the samples sent to the University of the Free State for testing. In this group, all bulls conformed at least to retail requirements, with four acceptable for food services (shear force value equal or less than 3,9).
Two important messages
Producers need to take note of the fact that variation within the breed does exist, which implies that selection for tenderness can be done, and that, according to Prof Hugo, there was no indication of a significant correlation between hump height and tenderness.
Shear force is an indication of meat tenderness and as we know, Zebu-type cattle generally suffer under the misconception that the higher the hump, the tougher the meat. However, as the results from these studies have shown, Zebu-type/Brahman cattle can produce tender meat. The best shear force measurement was 2,1kg. Correlations between hump height and shear force were investigated during these studies and no significant correlations were found.
The Brahman Society would in future like to further investigate these two theories and make sure that these possible misconceptions are rectified.
Factors influencing tenderness
In all these results, the SOP for cut removal was adhered to. Keep in mind that the bulls were tested and finished in different locations across South Africa, as well as slaughtered at different abattoirs where handling and slaughter procedures may differ slightly. These differences might have led to some of the phenotypic differences observed in the respective studies.
Heritability of meat tenderness is stated as being medium to high, so relatively quick genetic progress is possible.
However, it will depend on factors such as slaughter procedure, addition of growth stimulants, ageing and the like. Based on comments by Dr Strydom and Prof Hugo, it is evident that the issue of meat quality, and specifically tenderness, is by no means straightforward. There are a number of actions pre- and postslaughter that will influence results, as well as general factors such as age, nutrition, environment and the like. Only once we have eliminated all these factors, can we truly see the genetic merit for our animals.
In the raw values of the four groups of bulls, the shear force values differ significantly in group 1, less so in groups 2 and 4, and slightly more in group 3. The said factors can indeed be responsible for some of the variation in the group averages.
Remember, however, that in the genetic analysis, environmental influences are removed by directly comparing only animals in the same contemporary groups.
Brahman Society goals and targets
The Brahman Society is committed to see through the actions initiated by the BGP, namely the creation of a reference population for all Brahman traits, serving as a starting point for the production of genomic estimated breeding values (GEBVs). Meat quality is so important that, while it will take longer to accumulate enough samples to initiate the calculation of an EBV, it remains a priority.
Positive message to producers
From the small studies done on Southern African Brahman meat quality, we can highlight the fact that there exists a healthy variation in tenderness of Brahman beef. This is important to keep in mind, as now we know that selection for tenderness is possible. Also keep in mind that genetic progress can be achieved relatively fast as the heritability of tenderness is estimated to be medium to high (Dr Philip Strydom, BGP results, July 2017).
The Brahman Cattle Breeders’ Society would like to thank our colleagues and fellow breeders in Namibia for their support, motivation and contribution to promote our breed in Southern Africa. For enquiries, contact us on 051 446 4619/446 3452 or visit www.brahman.co.za.