First results from ongoing research show an average carcass-value advantage of $134 per head for Angus-sired calves compared to those with bos indicus or Brahman influence.
The Southern Carcass Improvement Project (SCIP) was initiated in 2009 as a collaboration between Kansas State University, Virginia Tech and Gardiner Angus Ranch. Its goal was to measure the impact that a single generation of high-quality Angus genetics can have on feedlot and carcass performance when mated to Brahman-crossed cattle commonly found in the Southern U.S.
“It had to show the effect in one generation to have much impact and gain many believers,” said Mark Gardiner, the Ashland, Kan., Angus breeder who shared SCIP progress at his family’s bull sale in September.
The idea came up while talking with longtime friend Tom Brink, senior vice president of Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, about beef quality in the South, where many herds were selected for adaptability with little emphasis on carcass traits.
Brink had bought many calves and feeders from those states, and he knew a huge share of them hit a genetic roadblock to marbling. Gardiner had sold many bulls into those states and saw what a difference genetic improvement was making for his customers. Both men saw the USDA Choice percentage climb in Kansas packing plants while Texas plants lagged.
“This is a major problem, yet there is no broad-scale effort to improve quality grades in Southern-origin cattle,” Brink noted at the Gardiner sale. “In fact, the industry problem is rarely even discussed, although its annual cost is more than $200 million, not counting the lost beef demand due to lack of sufficient high-quality beef.”
Three years earlier he and Gardiner wondered, what if a demonstration project could be set up in with a major university to show the added value in breeding to an Angus alternative? They talked to Virginia Tech animal scientists Dave Notter and Bill Beal, geneticist and breeding systems experts, respectively. Gardiner would fund the research if a scientifically valid structure could be set up.
As Beal recalled, “Tom proposed that we identify a group of cows typical of Southern herds and breed them either to typical Southern bulls or high-growth, high-carcass Angus bulls. The question was how to do it.”
He liked the idea of “demonstration” as opposed to clinical study.
“We could all sit back and go to the Journal of Animal Science, where there are published studies that used bulls with different marbling levels, and they show that what you see is, in fact, what you get in carcass merit. Okay,” Beal said, “but those were controlled studies that some meat scientist did at a university.” Such results still seemed theoretical to real-world ranchers.