Breeder opts for gene markers to boost quality

Selecting sires based on gene markers for taste and marbling is the latest step in one Northumberland beef producer’s bid to maximise eating quality of his Aberdeen Angus cattle.

Berwick-on-Tweed breeder Donald McPherson now has calves on the ground by US sire Rockn D Ambush, chosen for his genetic ability to transmit better eating quality to his progeny.

“I’m also hoping to put that quality into the female side because I want to produce tasty tender beef every time.

I sell through eight farmers’ markets and a garden centre and my goal is to maximise eatability at every stage,” Mr McPherson told beef producers at a Pfizer meeting in Berwick.

“There are a couple of tenderness genetic markers and one for marbling.

The US and Australia breed and measure for taste and marbling so they have a higher population of sires to use.

“But this rating is only an indication, so I still need to use performance figures as a selection tool.

Plus, genetics are only a small proportion of the variation in eating quality.

I’m looking at everything from genetics and feeding, to pre- and post-slaughter treatment.”

The 50-cow suckler herd has switched to an all-grass diet to boost omega 3 levels in beef, improving its human health benefits.

All cattle are finished off grass, or grass silage in winter and no more than 2kg barley a head each day, he explained.

“I’ve also increased from three to four weeks hanging for carcasses to improve flavour.

Stress levels are reduced by not accepting animals of wild temperament, or mixing social groups, and cattle are killed straight off the lorry.”