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Spend some time at the local sale barn and you'll figure out pretty quickly that a little ear is seen as a good reason to knock down the price for a feeder steer. This seems to hold true even in a market where buyers are all but fighting over calves.
If that doesn't convince you there's prejudice in cattle circles when it comes to Brahman blood, take a look at the specs for many branded beef programs. Brahman crosses are explicitly not welcome.
Do Brahman cattle really deserve the discounts? Or, has the newer generation of producers overcome quality challenges of the past?
It is true a higher percentage of Brahman cattle are less likely to marble as well as Angus cattle, explained Dwain Johnson, University of Florida (UF) meat scientist. He added the meat from these cattle is statistically less tender, and there is more variability in that tenderness.
Johnson and fellow UF researcher Mauricio Elzo reached these conclusions after feeding out and harvesting 1,367 head of Brahman, Angus and Brahman/Angus crosses from 1989 to 2009. However, the news was far from all bad for devotees to the Brahman breed.
Johnson explained they found there is a difference in tenderness, based on percentage of Brahman genetics in an animal. Less than 50% Brahman, and meat quality does not suffer significantly in either quality grade or tenderness. There is also a nice trade up on weights.
"In an F1 Brahman/Angus cross, there is a 60-pound increase in live weight over a straight Brahman or straight Angus calf. That weight gain and efficiency make up for most discounts you'll likely get in today's market. Bos indicus is a real positive," he said.
ON THE GRID
Brothers George and Henry Kempfer give Johnson's statement a strong "Amen." These fifth-generation ranchers, from St. Cloud, Fla., have been retaining ownership on their family's Brahman-sired steers since 1993. The brothers sell on a grid, where meat quality definitely matters. Their steers have graded as high as 79% Choice.
Dan Dorn has seen his share of feedlot cattle after working 18 years for Decatur County Feed Yard. He estimated he's fed between 75 and 100 loads of Brahman-cross cattle at the Oberlin, Kan., facility. Every load was sold on the grid.
"I wouldn't say the quality grades were much different. I don't know if it was genetics or the weather, but their feed conversions were about a pound higher than average. With today's corn prices, that would be a $50- to $60-a-head disadvantage." These cattle, Dorn added, were fed in the winter.
In their experience, the Kempfers said both feed efficiency and gain suffer when their half to three-quarter Brahman-cross steers are fed up north in the winter. However, George Kempfer said in the spring and summer, the steers have gained 3.5 to 4.4 pounds a day and have shown a feed-conversion ratio of 5.4 to 1 (dry-matter-intake-to-gain ratio). In a south Texas feed yard, he said feed conversion dropped down to 4.9 to 1 on milo.