EAST TEXAS (KETK) – When you go out to eat, cook out or grocery shop, choosing a cut of meat can be a simple decision but you may not know how science impacts that steak on your plate.
“A lot of people really don’t think about all of that that goes behind the scenes to produce that steak they enjoy,” said Dr. George Perry, Associate Research Professor of Beef Cattle Reproductive Physiology at Texas A&M AgriLife.
Between planning, breeding and raising the steer it can take up to two years before the beef is in your store, and it all starts with DNA.
“We now have the technology within certain breeds that we can come in, take a DNA sample and we can measure in that animal if they are favorable or not for some of those genes,” Perry said.
The owner of Tri-Vita Cattle Company, Karson Beavers, says the stakes are high. Genetics help him find steers that produce the best and most meat.
“The European breeds, the Angus, the Herefords, and even the Charolais are better meat quality, they marble better,” Beavers said.
Marbling is the amount of fat inside the muscle, explained Perry.
Beavers said knowing which breed of cattle creates better beef helps him determine which he can cross-breed, enhancing the product and taste.
“Our ultimate goal is a steak on a customer’s dinner plate, I want bulls that just put that mass on,” said Beavers.
On the beef side of genetics, the build is the most important thing that ranchers are looking for when they decide which ones they are going to use for meat and which ones they are not.
“So we may know this panel of genes impacts marbling or muscling or tenderness,” Perry said.
The key is finding a cow and bull that match the attributes the breeder is looking for.
“We cross-breed the Herefords and Angus with the Mashona,” Beavers said.
Tri-Vita doesn’t just use genetics to get the best meat but to help his cattle thrive.
“They’re heat tolerant since they do come from Africa, so they handle the heat,” Beavers said.
Dr. George Perry with Texas A&M AgriLife Overton Office says Brahman cattle are also a good choice for our climate.
“We cross Brahman with either Hereford or Simmentals and so then those offspring still have the heat tolerance of the Brahman,” Perry said.
And while some ranchers faced tough decisions because of drought and extreme temperatures last summer, Beavers saw his hard work pay off.
“We didn’t sell one head last year at all and part of that is due to our heat tolerance influence we brought in,” Beavers said.
Just a few aisles from the meat are cheese, butter and milk. More products from the same animal, also advancing through research and study.
“The genetics on the dairy side, the dairy industry is really interested in milk production,” Perry said.
The Waldo Way Dairy Farm in Tyler says genetic selection plays a big role in what makes it to their shelves.
“I went to great links to acquire a 100% registered Guernsey herd for my farm,” said Narisa “Ris” Waldo, owner of The Waldo Way.
Waldo wanted a cow that performed well in the barn, had a stocky body structure, and produced the highest quality milk. That’s why she choose a Guernsey herd.
“Guernsey milk taste like melted ice cream as far as I’m concerned,” Waldo said.
Untouched raw milk is beneficial to the body. Waldo says even for those intolerant to lactose.
“The composition of that milk, number 1 it’s higher in beta-carotene, that’s why they are the only one, the only cow that is called a gold cow,” Waldo said.
Mass commercial dairy farms which provide most of our country’s milk choose cows for quantity over quality. They have to make sure there is always a carton on the shelf.
“The Holstein of today will give 10 to 12 gallons of milk,” Waldo said.
The Waldo Way doesn’t use cross-breeding, even if it means less yield. Experts say there are pros and cons to all breeding decisions.
“A lot of the cattle in the U.S. are cross-bred and there’s benefits genetically to cross-breeding because we get heterosis,” Perry said.
Heterosis is when a crossbred animal shows genes superior to both parents.
When it comes to telling apart a pure breed from a cross breed, just look at the calf. Their coloring can be a little different and also their build.
“Every breed is a little bit different, there’s very good in every breed and so it’s finding the ones that fits what you want to accomplish,” Perry said.
Genetic technology advancements are giving ranchers new methods to get the most out of their cattle, improving product, production and profit.
“Being able to select animals at birth, to say, ‘Hey does this bull or this cow have the genetics we want to pass on,'” Perry said.
East Texas ranchers and farmers add that nothing is a perfect science, especially when it comes to mother nature, but they can make sure you’re consuming the best and tastiest product.