As stated in previous PCC Updates and Newsletters, the grassfed sector is the only bright spot in today’s beef industry. It has had an annual growth rate of 25% for the past 20 years. In contrast, the commodity beef sector has shrunk nearly 20% over the last 15 years. It is becoming harder and harder to be profitable in the commodity beef business. We believe this trend will increase at an even faster pace as the Millennials replace the Baby Boomers. That’s the “good” of grassfed beef.
Now, let’s take a look at the “bad.” There are significant differences in the quality of the grassfed beef being produced and marketed today. These differences are highlighted in Mark Shatzker’s book, titled Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef. In this book, Mark mentions that the best steak he has ever eaten and the worst steak he has ever eaten were both grassfed.
Grassfed beef producers face challenges that the feedlot sector does not face. Soil health, forage chain management and the nutrient density of the forages are all crucial factors grassfed producers must address. I plan to discuss these in more detail next week. In addition to these, animal genetics play a critical role in the quality of the beef produced. Truth be known, most of the genetics available today are unable to finish to a Choice grade in less than 24 months on forages.
In terms of beef quality, tenderness, juiciness and flavor are the consumer’s top three demands. When grass finishing, it is impossible to achieve these attributes without starting with the right genetics. Meat tenderness, juiciness and flavor are correlated to the deposition of fat – both outside and intramuscular. The aging process, which requires ample backfat, also plays a critical role in the tenderness and flavor of the beef. Without ample backfat, the aging process can impart rancid flavors to the beef. Tenderness is also affected by the age of the animal at time of slaughter.
The common denominator in producing grassfed beef that is tender, juicy and has great flavor is the use of early-maturing genetics that have the ability to deposit fat on forages alone. It seems obvious that working with a seedstock producer who specializes in grass-efficient, low-maintenance, easy-fleshing genetics should be the grassfed beef producer’s first step.
At Pharo Cattle Company, every bull we sell has been evaluated and scored for grass-efficiency, maintenance energy requirements and fleshing ability. In addition to that, we utilize both ultrasound and DNA data to quantify carcass traits. If you’re interested in working with a partner that focuses on your profitability – both in the cowherd and in the finishing stage – then we invite you to take a look at the 390 bulls we will be offering in our two fall bull sales.