US - Early castration and weaning, followed by a high energy diet, is pivotal to ensuring weaning is not detrimental to marbling deposition.
Management decisions to reduce stress within a 60 day window pre and post weaning have huge impacts on the end product, according to Dr Jason Ahola at Colorado State University.
The period is when fat cells transfer from growing in number to growing in size, with both being influenced by calf welfare and feeding at this point.
“It appears if we can influence the number of cells, we can influence the amount of fat or marbling cattle put into those cells,” Dr Ahola told the American Wagyu Association.
“This differentiation that occurs around the time of weaning is somewhat dependent on what kind of feed the cattle are on, their energy balance and the amount of stress they are under.”
As a result, Wagyu farmers are being urged to consider marbling as a youngstock factor, not just for the feedlotters.
Dr Ahola said that carcases can be improved by weaning at 100 to 150 days, rather than 205 days.
Calves weaned at this time are more likely reach premium or choice grade, although nothing is proven about overall profitability, he added.
High energy diets, in addition to early weaning, also enhance deposition of intramuscular fat.
General welfare is also important, as treating for diseases has been linked with decreases in quality and marbling.
Therefore, Dr Ahola recommends a ‘low-risk’ set-up for cattle at the weaning stage.
Fence-line weaning, worming and self-weaning nose flaps also work well when combined with a vaccination programme.
He added that growth technologies have no proven effect on marbling, although more than two implants per lifetime does damage meat quality.
In terms of market opportunity, cattle farms have a good reason to address marbling on their operation.
Currently, highly marbled beef supplies is in strong demand, explained Dr Ahola.
“If we are going to be more profitable and if we are going to provide our consumers with a better product, we need to increase the average marbling of our cattle.”
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