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Journal of Animal Science - Meat Science

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: In-plant survey of carcass characteristics related to quality, quantity, and value of fed steers and heifers1

 

This article in JAS

  1. Vol. 95 No. 7, p. 2993-3002
     
    Received: Mar 08, 2017
    Accepted: Apr 17, 2017
    Published: June 15, 2017


    2 Corresponding author(s): j-savell@tamu.edu
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doi:10.2527/jas.2017.1543
  1. C. A. Boykin*,
  2. L. C. Eastwood*,
  3. M. K. Harris*,
  4. D. S. Hale*,
  5. C. R. Kerth*,
  6. D. B. Griffin*,
  7. A. N. Arnold*,
  8. J. D. Hasty,
  9. K. E. Belk,
  10. D. R. Woerner,
  11. R. J. Delmore Jr.,
  12. J. N. Martin,
  13. D. L. VanOverbeke,
  14. G. G. Mafi,
  15. M. M. Pfeiffer,
  16. T. E. Lawrence§,
  17. T. J. McEvers§,
  18. T. B. Schmidt#,
  19. R. J. Maddock,
  20. D. D. Johnson,
  21. C. C. Carr,
  22. J. M. Scheffler,
  23. T. D. Pringle**,
  24. A. M. Stelzleni**,
  25. J. Gottlieb†† and
  26. J. W. Savell 2*
  1. * Department of Animal Science, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M University, College Station 77843-2471
     Department of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins 80523-1171
     Department of Animal Science, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater 74078
    § Beef Carcass Research Center – Department of Agricultural Sciences, West Texas A&M University, Canyon 79016
    # Department of Animal Science, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Lincoln 68583-0908
     Department of Animal Sciences, North Dakota State University, Fargo 58108-6050
     Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611-0910
    * *Animal & Dairy Science, University of Georgia, Athens 30602-6755
     †Agricultural Marketing Service-USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Stop 0249, Washington, DC 20250-0249

Abstract

The National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA)–2016 used in-plant cooler assessments to benchmark the current status of the fed steer and heifer beef industry in the United States. In-plant cooler assessments (n = 9,106 carcasses) were conducted at 30 facilities, where approximately 10% of a single day’s production were evaluated for USDA quality grade (QG) and yield grade (YG) factors. Frequencies of evaluated traits were 66.5% steer and 33.4% heifer sex classes and 82.9% native, 15.9% dairy-type, and 1.2% Bos indicus estimated breed types. Mean USDA YG factors were 1.42 cm for adjusted fat thickness, 89.5 cm2 for LM area, 390.3 kg for HCW, and 1.9% for KPH. Mean USDA YG was 3.1, with a frequency distribution of 9.6% YG 1, 36.7% YG 2, 39.2% YG 3, 12.0% YG 4, and 2.5% YG 5. Mean USDA QG traits were Small70 for marbling score, A64 for overall maturity, A55 for lean maturity, and A69 for skeletal maturity. Mean USDA QG was Select96 with a frequency distribution of QG of 3.8% Prime, 67.3% Choice, 23.2% Select, and 5.6% lower score. Lower score included dark cutter (1.9%), blood splash (0.1%), and hard bone, which are USDA overall maturity scores of C or older (1.8%). Marbling score distributions were 0.85% Slightly Abundant or greater, 7.63% Moderate, 23.54% Modest, 39.63% Small, 23.62% Slight, and 0.83% Traces or less. Carcasses that were Choice or Select and USDA YG 2 or 3 accounted for 70.7% of the carcasses evaluated. Compared with the previous NBQA, we found a numerical increase in mean USDA YG, USDA QG, adjusted fat thickness, HCW, LM area, and marbling score with an increase in dairy-type carcasses and percentage of carcasses grading USDA Prime and Choice as well as frequency of USDA YG 4 and 5. The findings from this study will be used by all segments of the industry to understand and improve the quality of fed steer and heifer beef that is being produced.



INTRODUCTION

The first National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) was conducted in 1991 to create a nationwide snapshot of the status of the beef industry. Following the completion of NBQA–1991, the executive summary called for the NBQA to be repeated within the next 5 yr to understand what changes had occurred and what areas still required industry focus (National Cattlemen’s Association, 1992). Over the last 25 yr, 5 NBQAs have been conducted (Lorenzen et al., 1993; Boleman et al., 1998; McKenna et al., 2002; Garcia et al., 2008; Gray et al., 2012; McKeith et al., 2012; Moore et al., 2012). Successive audits to assess the status of the fed steer and heifer industry allow for ongoing improvements in U.S. beef production, along with continued advancements in producer education.

The 2016 NQBA (NBQA–2016) continues the trend of documenting and analyzing the quality and consistency of the U.S. fed steer and heifer beef industry. This aspect of the NBQA–2016 focuses on the assessments of carcass characteristics including USDA quality and yield grades from a nationwide sample of beef. Through this effort, quantifying progress that has been made over time and setting strategies allows the beef industry to identify areas for continued improvement.


MATERIALS AND METHODS

Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approval was not required for this study because no live animals were involved.

General Overview

Before data collection, a correlation meeting was held to emphasize clarity and consistency of data to be collected by collaborating institutions. In-plant cooler assessments were conducted at 30 federally inspected beef processing facilities, which were selected to represent virtually the entire fed steer and heifer beef industry across the United States (Table 1). These assessments occurred from January 2016 to December 2016 and were completed by personnel from 6 collaborating institutions. Each facility was surveyed for the entirety of 1 day’s production; data were collected for both shifts in facilities that processed cattle for 2 shifts a day.


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 1.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Company and location of surveyed plants

 
Company Location
AB Foods Washington Beef Toppenish, WA
American Foods Group Green Bay, WI
Cargill Meat Solutions Dodge City, KS
Cargill Meat Solutions Fort Morgan, CO
Cargill Meat Solutions Friona, TX
Cargill Meat Solutions Schuyler, NE
Cargill Taylor Beef Wyalusing, PA
Creekstone Farms Arkansas City, KS
FPL Food Augusta, GA
Greater Omaha Packing Company Omaha, NE
Harris Ranch Beef Company Selma, CA
Iowa Premium Beef Tama, IA
JBS Green Bay Green Bay, WI
JBS Plainwell Plainwell, MI
JBS Souderton Souderton, PA
JBS Swift Cactus Cactus, TX
JBS Swift Grand Island Grand Island, NE
JBS Swift Greeley Greeley, CO
JBS Swift Hyrum Hyrum, UT
JBS Tolleson Tolleson, AZ
Kane Beef Corpus Christi, TX
National Beef Dodge City, KS
National Beef Liberal, KS
Nebraska Beef Omaha, NE
Tyson Fresh Meats Amarillo, TX
Tyson Fresh Meats Dakota City, NE
Tyson Fresh Meats Finney County, KS
Tyson Fresh Meats Joslin, IL
Tyson Fresh Meats Lexington, NE
Tyson Fresh Meats Pasco, WA

Carcass Assessment

Beef carcasses (n = 9,106) were selected throughout the day’s production to represent approximately 10% of each production lot. Trained personnel evaluated each carcass for HCW, LM area (measured by dot grid, video image analysis instrument, or blotting paper), apparent breed type (native, dairy, or Bos indicus), sex class, carcass defects (dark cutter, blood splash, calloused eye, and yellow fat), and any certified or marketing program and whether the animal was 30 mo or older as determined by dentition. The USDA (2016) standards were used for evaluating sex class. Apparent breed type was determined using the procedures defined by Lorenzen et al. (1993): Bos indicus type cattle were those with dorsal thoracic hump (rhomboideus muscle, overlying muscles, and subcutaneous fat) with a height greater than 10.2 cm, dairy-type cattle were identified as those with thin muscling in relation to skeletal size, and all other cattle were classified as native. Carcasses that were denoted as qualifying for certified programs were recorded. Lean maturity, skeletal maturity, preliminary yield grade, percentage of KPH, and marbling score were evaluated by USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, Quality Assessment Division personnel (USDA, 2016). For beef processors that removed KPH before grading, the estimated KPH value used by the facility was recorded (some establishments calculated KPH based on before and after carcass weights and some used a standard average KPH measurement).

Statistical Analyses

All analyses were performed using JMP software (version 10; SAS Inst. Inc., Cary, NC, 1989–2007) and Microsoft Excel for Mac 2016 (Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA). The Fit Y by X function was used for ANOVA, and least squares means comparisons were conducted using Student’s t test. Correlations were determined using the multivariate function. Frequency distributions, means, SD, and minimum and maximum values were determined using the distribution function.


RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Carcass Assessment

The mean USDA yield grade (YG) for this study was 3.1 (Table 2). Table 3 reports means for USDA YG from past NBQA; 3.2 for NBQA–1991 (Lorenzen et al., 1993), 2.8 for NBQA–1995 (Boleman et al., 1998), 3.0 for NBQA–2000 (McKenna et al., 2002), 2.9 for NBQA–2005 (Garcia et al., 2008), and 2.9 for NBQA–2011 (Moore et al., 2012). Figure 1 shows the frequency distribution of carcasses by one-half YG increments. The frequencies were 9.6% YG 1, 36.7% YG 2, 39.2% YG 3, 12.0% YG 4, and 2.5% YG 5. Moore et al. (2012) reported YG frequencies from NBQA–2011 as 12.4% YG 1, 41.0% YG 2, 36.3% YG 3, 8.6% YG 4, and 1.6% YG 5. The mean USDA YG factors were 1.4 cm for adjusted fat thickness (AFT), 390.3 kg for HCW, 89.5 cm2 for LM area, and 1.9% for KPH (Table 2). When compared with NBQA–2011, mean AFT, HCW, and LM area all numerically increased. The most notable difference in this study was a 16.3-kg increase in mean HCW from NBQA–2011 (Moore et al., 2012). There are many factors that have affected cattle weights during the period between the last 2 audits, including but not limited to heavier cattle entering the feedlots, extended periods of cattle on feed, and a larger proportion of steers compared with heifers in the slaughter mix (Mathews and Haley, 2015).


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 2.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Means, SD, and minimum and maximum values for USDA carcass grade traits

 
Trait n Mean SD Minimum Maximum
USDA yield grade 7,379 3.1 1.0 −0.7 9.3
USDA quality grade1 8,651 696 110 367 890
Adjusted fat thickness, cm 7,992 1.42 0.71 0.0 6.35
HCW, kg 8,493 390.3 46.5 195.9 616.4
LM area, cm2 8,681 89.5 11.2 45.8 141.9
KPH, % 8,531 1.9 1.1 0 6.0
Marbling score2 8,660 470 104 200 970
Lean maturity3 8,741 155 24 110 490
Skeletal maturity3 8,061 169 34 110 480
Overall maturity3 8,730 164 27 115 445
1100 = Canner00; 400 = Commercial00; 600 = Select00; 700 = Choice00; 800 = Prime00 (USDA, 2016).
2100 = Practically devoid00; 200 = Traces00; 300 = Slight00; 400 = Small00; 500 = Modest00; 700 = Slightly Abundant00; 900 = Abundant00 (USDA, 2016).
3100 = A00; 200 = B00; 300 = C00; 400 = D00; 500 = E00 (USDA, 2016).

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 3.

National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA): Means for USDA carcass grade traits from NBQA–1991, NBQA–1995, NBQA–2000, NBQA–2005, NBQA–2011, and NBQA–20161

 
Trait NBQA–1991 (n = 7,375) NBQA–1995 (n = 11,799) NBQA–2000 (n = 9,396) NBQA–2005 (n = 9,475) NBQA–2011 (n = 9,802) NBQA–2016 (n = 9,106)
USDA yield grade 3.2 2.8 3.0 2.9 2.9 3.1
USDA quality grade2 686 679 685 690 693 696
Adjusted fat thickness, cm 1.5 1.2 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.4
HCW, kg 345.0 339.2 356.9 359.9 374.0 390.3
LM area, cm2 83.4 82.6 84.5 86.4 88.8 89.5
KPH, % 2.2 2.1 2.4 2.3 2.3 1.9
Marbling score3 424 406 423 432 440 470
Lean maturity4 163 154 165 157 154 155
Skeletal maturity4 175 163 167 168 162 169
Overall maturity4 169 160 166 164 159 164
1NBQA–1991 (Lorenzen et al., 1993); NBQA–1995 (Boleman et al., 1998); NBQA–2000 (McKenna et al., 2002); NBQA–2005 (Garcia et al., 2008); NBQA–2011 (Moore et al., 2012).
2100 = Canner00; 400 = Commercial00; 600 = Select00; 700 = Choice00; 800 = Prime00 ; (USDA, 2016).
3100 = Practically devoid00; 300 = Slight00; 400 = Small00; 500 = Modest00; 700 = Slightly Abundant00; 900 = Abundant00 (USDA, 2016).
4100 = A00; 200 = B00 (USDA, 2016).
Figure 1.
Figure 1.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Frequency distribution of carcasses by one-half yield grade increments.

 

Beginning with NBQA–1995, there has been a continued increase in HCW. Bunting (2015) discussed potential reasons for carcasses continuing to get heavier, with processing facilities’ labor costs and cattle availability at the forefront. Heavier carcasses allowed facilities to process the same number of cattle with the same amount of labor and resulted in a greater amount of salable beef. For this reason, lighter-than-average carcasses are typically more severely discounted than those carcasses slightly above average. Additionally, a reduction in the fed cattle supply may limit the packers’ ability to discount heavy-weight carcasses. As HCW continues to increase, effect on steak thickness and consumer preferences becomes more crucial. Dykstra (2016) evaluated the relationship among USDA YG, HCW, and steak size in which the optimal steak was 2.54 cm thick and weighed approximately 340.2 g. To achieve these steak parameters from a HCW of approximately 419.5 kg, the carcass must be a YG 4. A YG 2 carcass of the same weight would have a larger LM area and would not result in the desired steak thickness. Moreover, consumers generally prefer thicker steaks with a smaller surface area (Maples et al., 2016). The correlation constant between HCW and LM area (r = 0.40) indicates that although there is a positive relationship between the 2 traits, a larger HCW does not always result in a larger LM area. Lawrence et al. (2008) reported that LM area is not a linear function of HCW; rather, it is quadratic. Because of this relationship, Lawrence et al. (2008) found that the USDA calculated YG equation benefits those carcasses lighter than 363 kg for having above-average muscling but penalizes those carcasses heavier than 363 kg for having below-average muscling.

Lambert (1991) identified outlier cattle, such as those with a HCW greater than 409.1 kg, as a lost opportunity and reported that approximately 1.5% of carcasses surveyed surpassed this threshold. The current study observed that almost half (44.1%) of carcasses surveyed exceeded 409.1 kg (Fig. 2). McKenna et al. (2002) addressed concerns regarding discounts for carcasses above 431 kg. The frequency of carcasses exceeding 431 kg were 4.6% in the NBQA–2000 (McKenna et al., 2002), 5.1% in the NBQA–2005 (Garcia et al., 2008), 11.1% in the NBQA–2011 (Moore et al., 2012), and 25.7% in the NBQA–2016. However, Moore et al. (2012) reported in NBQA–2011 that the current heavy-weight carcass price discount was for those that exceeded 454 kg. Moore et al. (2012) reported 3.7% of carcasses greater than 454 kg, and the current study shows that 12.4% were above this threshold. In response to the continued increase in HCW, the threshold for heavy-weight discounts is now at 477.3 kg (USDA Market News Service, 2017). Five percent of the carcasses surveyed in NBQA–2016 exceeded this threshold. Kay (2012) stated that increased carcass size was a method to combat reduced cattle numbers. Although total number of cattle slaughtered is the lowest in decades, total beef production has increased (Maples et al., 2016). Additionally, increased carcass size and decreased carcass numbers have the potential to increase sustainability by producing a greater amount of beef with the same amount of resources (Bunting, 2015). Finally, Tatum et al. (2006), in a study of the factors that affect value in beef grids, found that the most important driver of carcass value was carcass weight, accounting for 70 to 90% of the variation in total revenue when the Choice/Select spread was less than US$10/45.4 kg carcass weight. Without question, the increasing carcass weights observed over the lifetime of these audits are often driven by marketplace conditions.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Frequency distribution by carcass weight groups.

 

As USDA YG increased from YG 1 to YG 5, mean AFT and HCW increased (P < 0.05) and mean LM area decreased (P < 0.05; Table 4). This is to be expected, as AFT, HCW, and LM area are all factors in the USDA YG equation. Between USDA YG 4 and 5, no difference (P > 0.05) was detected between mean USDA quality grade (QG), marbling score, and KPH percentage. The least squares means of carcass traits by HCW group are reported in Table 5. As HCW increases, YG and AFT increase. Mean USDA QG increased as carcass weight increased up to 363.6 kg; thereafter, mean USDA QG did not improve (P < 0.05). Additionally, mean LM area increased as carcass weight increased (P < 0.05), with no differences seen in mean LM area at or above 454 kg (P > 0.05). Table 6 reports the least squares means of carcass traits by AFT groups. As AFT increases, USDA YG increases (P < 0.05). The correlation between AFT and marbling score (r = 0.24) indicates that although they are related, having a greater amount of external fat does not always result in a greater amount of marbling. The AFT and marbling correlation from NBQA–2011 was 0.34 (Moore et al., 2012). The decrease in the correlation coefficient could be a result of external fat increasing more rapidly than marbling.


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 4.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Least squares means for carcass traits (SEM) within USDA yield grades

 
USDA yield grade
Trait 1 (n = 710) 2 (n = 2,705) 3 (n = 2,894) 4 (n = 884) 5 (n = 186)
USDA yield grade 1.6e (0.01) 2.6d (0.01) 3.4c (0.01) 4.4b (0.01) 6.1a (0.09)
USDA quality grade1 675d (2.3) 702c (1.2) 716b (1.2) 725a (2.6) 724ab (5.1)
Adjusted fat thickness, cm 0.7e (0.01) 1.1d (0.01) 1.5c (0.01) 2.1b (0.02) 3.7a (0.12)
HCW, kg 359.4e (1.70) 378.2d (0.82) 396.1c (0.77) 412.8b (1.51) 424.5a (3.87)
LM area, cm2 100.3a (0.42) 91.7b (0.20) 87.1c (0.18) 83.0d (0.32) 81.1e (0.77)
KPH, % 1.6d (0.03) 1.9c (0.02) 2.1b (0.02) 2.4a (0.04) 2.4a (0.08)
Marbling score2 401d (3.2) 452c (1.9) 488b (1.9) 517a (3.7) 521a (8.3)
Lean maturity3 156a (0.6) 154b (0.3) 152c (0.3) 149d (0.5) 153bc (1.7)
Skeletal maturity3 165c (0.9) 165c (0.5) 168b (0.6) 169b (1.1) 175a (2.6)
Overall maturity3 161b (0.7) 160b (0.4) 161b (0.4) 161b (0.8) 165a (1.9)
a–eMeans within a row with different superscripts differ (P < 0.05).
1100 = Canner00; 400 = Commercial00; 600 = Select00; 700 = Choice00; 800 = Prime00 (USDA, 2016).
2100 = Practically devoid00; 300 = Slight00; 400 = Small00; 500 = Modest00; 700 = Slightly Abundant00; 900 = Abundant00 (USDA, 2016).
3100 = A00; 200 = B00 (USDA, 2016).

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 5.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Least squares means for carcass traits (SEM) within carcass weight groups

 
Carcass weight group, kg
Trait <272.6 (n = 45) 272.7 to 318.1 (n = 379) 318.2 to 363.5 (n = 1,715) 363.6 to 409.0 (n = 2,864) 409.1 to 454.4 (n = 1,852) 454.5 to 500 (n = 452) >500 (n = 72)
USDA yield grade 2.2g (0.17) 2.5f (0.04) 2.8e (0.02) 3.1d (0.02) 3.4c (0.02) 3.7b (0.04) 4.3a (0.12)
USDA quality grade1 666d (7.5) 688c (3.4) 703b (1.7) 710a (1.1) 708a (1.7) 706ab (4.1) 711ab (9.7)
Adjusted fat thickness, cm 0.9f (0.13) 1.1f (0.03) 1.3e (0.02) 1.4d (0.01) 1.5c (0.02) 1.7b (0.03) 1.9a (0.08)
HCW, kg 255.0g (2.83) 301.7f (0.59) 344.1e (0.29) 386.9d (0.23) 428.4c (0.28) 469.7b (0.49) 518.1a (2.05)
LM area, cm2 75.6f (1.48) 81.1e (0.44) 85.2d (0.23) 89.2c (0.18) 93.0b (0.23) 97.0a (0.45) 98.6a (1.23)
KPH, % 1.8bc (0.14) 1.9c (0.05) 1.9bc (0.02) 2.0b (0.02) 2.1a (0.02) 2.2a (0.04) 2.1ab (0.12)
Marbling score2 379f (12.3) 434e (4.7) 462d (2.4) 473c (1.8) 478bc (2.3) 486b (4.4) 519a (11.9)
Lean maturity3 154abc (2.1) 156a (1.0) 154b (0.4) 153c (0.3) 152d (0.3) 151d (0.6) 153bcd (1.8)
Skeletal maturity3 159e (2.6) 165de (1.4) 167de (0.6) 167d (0.5) 169c (0.7) 174b (1.6) 188a (5.5)
Overall maturity3 157c (2.1) 161c (1.0) 161c (0.5) 161c (0.4) 162c (0.5) 165b (1.2) 174a (3.9)
a–gMeans within a row with different superscripts differ (P < 0.05).
1100 = Canner00; 400 = Commercial00; 600 = Select00; 700 = Choice00; 800 = Prime00 (USDA, 2016).
2100 = Practically devoid00; 300 = Slight00; 400 = Small00; 500 = Modest00; 700 = Slightly Abundant00; 900 = Abundant00 (USDA, 2016).
3100 = A00; 200 = B00 ; (USDA, 2016).

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 6.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Least squares means for carcass traits (SEM) within fat thickness groups

 
Fat thickness, cm
Trait <0.51 (n = 291) 0.51 to 0.74 (n = 832) 0.76 to 0.99 (n = 972) 1.02 to 1.25 (n = 1,297) 1.27 to 1.50 (n = 1,184) 1.52 to 1.75 (n = 1,542) 1.78 to 2.01 (n = 670) 2.03 to 2.26 (n = 517) 2.29 to 2.52 (n = 253) 2.54 to 2.77 (n = 246) 2.79 to 3.05 (n = 58) >3.05 (n = 135)
USDA yield grade 1.9l (0.05) 2.3k (0.02) 2.5j (0.02) 2.8i (0.02) 3.0h (0.01) 3.4g (0.01) 3.7f (0.02) 4.0e (0.02) 4.2d (0.04) 4.6c (0.04) 4.8b (0.08) 6.6a (0.14)
USDA quality grade1 675f (3.8) 691e (1.9) 699d (2.0) 704cd (1.9) 709c (1.8) 716b (1.7) 718b (2.7) 721b (3.2) 719b (5.6) 734a (4.8) 746a (5.6) 710bcd (10.1)
Adjusted fat thickness, cm 0.2l (0.01) 0.6k (0.003) 0.9j (0.002) 1.11i (0.003) 1.4h (0.002) 1.6g (0.002) 1.9f (0.002) 2.1e (0.004) 2.4d (0.003) 2.6c (0.01) 2.9b (0.01) 4.4a (0.12)
HCW, kg 359.0a (2.90) 371.2i (1.50) 378.7h (1.37) 383.7g (1.27) 393.1f (1.28) 397.3e (1.15) 400.2de (1.68) 404.5cd (2.05) 404.6bcd (2.89) 411.7b (3.04) 426.6a (5.92) 411.0bc (4.19)
LM area, cm2 86.1e (0.77) 87.1de (0.43) 89.5bc (0.39) 90.4b (0.31) 91.3a (0.30) 90.4b (0.27) 90.3ab (0.41) 89.3bc (0.45) 90.0abc (0.69) 88.2cd (0.64) 90.5abc (1.08) 86.1de (1.07)
KPH, % 2.0abc (0.07) 2.0abc (0.04) 1.8def (0.04) 2.0ab (0.03) 2.0bc (0.03) 1.9cde (0.03) 1.8ef (0.04) 2.1a (0.05) 1.8fg (0.08) 2.0abc (0.08) 1.7bcdefg (0.18) 1.6g (0.11)
Marbling score2 407i (6.1) 429h (3.4) 446g (3.3) 458f (2.8) 468e (2.8) 487d (2.6) 498c (3.9) 506bc (4.5) 511bc (6.7) 538a (6.6) 543a (16.2) 524ab (10.5)
Lean maturity3 161a (1.5) 154b (0.6) 155b (0.5) 154b (0.5) 152cd (0.4) 151de (0.4) 151de (0.5) 150e (0.6) 150e (0.8) 150de (1.0) 147e (1.3) 155bc (2.1)
Skeletal maturity3 164ef (1.5) 162f (0.8) 164ef (0.8) 165e (0.7) 166e (0.8) 169cd (0.8) 171bcd (1.4) 172b (1.5) 172bcd (2.0) 173bc (2.1) 164def (2.5) 180a (3.6)
Overall maturity3 163b (1.2) 158f (0.6) 160cdef (0.6) 160cde (0.5) 160def (0.6) 161bcde (0.6) 162b (1.0) 163b (1.1) 162bcd (1.5) 163bc (1.5) 156ef (1.6) 169a (2.3)
a–lMeans within a row with different superscripts differ (P < 0.05).
1100 = Canner00; 400 = Commercial00; 600 = Select00; 700 = Choice00; 800 = Prime00 (USDA, 2016).
2100 = Practically devoid00; 300 = Slight00; 400 = Small00; 500 = Modest00; 700 = Slightly Abundant00; 900 = Abundant00 (USDA, 2016).
3100 = A00; 200 = B00 ; (USDA, 2016).

The mean USDA QG in this study was Select96. Previous NBQA means for USDA QG were Select86 for NBQA–1991 (Lorenzen et al., 1993), Select79 for NBQA–1995 (Boleman et al., 1998), Select85 for NBQA–2000 (McKenna et al., 2002), Select90 for NBQA–2005 (Garcia et al., 2008), and Select93 for NBQA–2011 (Moore et al., 2012). The frequency of USDA QG was 3.8% Prime, 67.3% Choice, 23.2% Select, and 5.6% other. The “other” category included Standard, Commercial, Utility, dark cutter, blood splash, hard bone, and calloused eye. The NBQA–2011 frequency of USDA QG was 2.1% Prime, 58.9% Choice, 32.6% Select, 5.1% Standard, 0.9% Commercial, and 0.3% Utility (Moore et al., 2012). These data show a dramatic increase in the frequency of Prime (+1.7% points) and Choice (+8.4% points) carcasses and a decrease in the frequency of Select (−9.4% points) carcasses since 2011. This study observed the highest frequency of Choice carcasses (67.3%) since the 1974 Market Consist (Abraham, 1977) reported 74% Choice. The notable increase in HCW also significantly influences the increased marbling scores and QG outcomes. Additionally, the increase in dairy-type carcasses—16.3 versus 9.9% reported by Moore et al. (2012) for the last audit—likely plays a role in the increased mean USDA QG and marbling score. Of the carcasses that graded Prime, 32.0% were classified as dairy type.

Means for factors contributing to QG in the current audit include Small70 for marbling score, A55 for lean maturity, A69 for skeletal maturity, and A64 for overall maturity. Mean marbling score was increased compared with previous audits, continuing the trend that began with NBQA–1995. Marbling score distributions were as follows: Slightly Abundant or greater (0.85%), Moderate (7.63%), Modest (23.54%), Small (39.63%), Slight (23.62%), and Traces or less (0.83%). For both Prime and Choice, the greatest proportion of carcasses were within the lowest third of the grade (83.1% low Prime and 55.5% low Choice; Table 7). However, the majority of carcasses qualifying for Select were in the top half of the grade (61.2% high Select), which would be expected, as Small/Slight+ are the peak of the marbling normal distribution curve. As USDA QG increased from Select to Prime, USDA YG, AFT, and HCW increased (P < 0.05; Table 8). In contrast, LM area decreased as USDA QG increased from Select to Prime (P < 0.05). Throughout the NBQA, there has been a consistent trend of carcasses with higher USDA QG possessing numerically heavier HCW and smaller LM areas.


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 7.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Occurrence (%)1 of marbling scores within USDA quality grades2

 
Marbling score Overall3 Prime Choice Select Other4
Abundant 0.13 2.46 0.28
Moderately Abundant 0.57 14.46 0.57
Slightly Abundant 3.25 83.08 2.27
Moderate 7.63 10.88 5.10
Modest 23.54 33.61 15.86
Small 39.63 55.45 42.21
Slight+ 15.31 61.18 8.83
Slight− 8.31 38.71 3.99
Traces 0.83 19.26
1Rounding error prevents all categories from adding to 100.0%.
2USDA quality grade was affected by maturity and dark cutting.
3Overall category represents USDA quality grades of Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, and Cutter.
4Other includes No roll, Standard, Commercial, Utility, dark cutter, blood splash, hard bone, and calloused ribeye.

View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 8.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Least squares means for carcass traits (SEM) within USDA quality grades

 
USDA quality grade
Trait Prime (n = 288) Choice (n = 4,979) Select (n = 1,710) Other1 (n = 262)
USDA yield grade 3.6a (0.05) 3.3b (0.01) 2.7d (0.02) 3.1c (0.07)
USDA quality grade2 819a (0.9) 732b (0.3) 656c (0.5) 357d (10.8)
Adjusted fat thickness, cm 1.6a (0.04) 1.5b (0.01) 1.2c (0.02) 1.4b (0.05)
HCW, kg 399.4a (2.47) 393.1b (0.60) 381.7c (1.07) 391.0b (2.91)
LM area, cm2 84.5c (0.63) 88.9b (0.14) 91.5a (0.27) 91.2a (0.63)
KPH, % 1.8b (0.07) 2.0b (0.01) 1.9b (0.02) 2.1a (0.06)
Marbling score3 756a (2.8) 497b (0.9) 356d (0.5) 429c (6.1)
Lean maturity4 149c (0.8) 151c (0.2) 155b (0.3) 171a (2.1)
Skeletal maturity4 163bc (1.3) 166b (0.3) 161c (0.4) 230a (3.6)
Overall maturity4 157b (0.9) 159b (0.2) 158b (0.3) 211a (2.7)
a–dMeans within a row with different superscripts differ (P < 0.05).
1Other includes Standard, Commercial, Utility, dark cutter, blood splash, hard bone, and calloused ribeye.
2100 = Canner00; 300 = Utility00; 400 = Commercial00; 600 = Select00; 700 = Choice00; 800 = Prime00 (USDA, 2016).
3100 = Practically devoid00; 300 = Slight00; 400 = Small00; 500 = Modest00; 700 = Slightly Abundant00; 900 = Abundant00 ; (USDA, 2016).
4100 = A00; 200 = B00; 300 = C00 (USDA, 2016).

The largest numerical percentage of carcasses (29.9%) was Choice YG 3 (Table 9). The frequency of carcasses that were Choice or Select and USDA YG 2 or 3 was 70.7%, which is comparable to NBQA–2011 (72.0%; Moore et al., 2012). Nonconforming carcasses (those grading Standard or below and/or USDA YG 4 and 5) in the current audit accounted for 18.2% of all carcasses, which was similar to that reported by Garcia et al. (2008), at 18.3% of all carcasses. However, Moore et al. (2012) found 15.6% of the carcasses to be nonconforming, which is numerically lower than was found in this audit. The increased proportion of nonconforming carcasses is consistent with the increased frequency of USDA YG 4 and 5 observed in NBQA–2016, which was noted earlier in the discussion of YG trends.


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 9.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Percentage distribution1 of carcasses stratified by USDA quality and yield grades

 
USDA quality grade, %
USDA yield grade Prime Choice Select Other2
1 0.07 4.06 4.79 0.55
2 0.94 23.61 10.90 1.05
3 1.78 29.94 6.20 1.49
4 0.97 9.31 1.40 0.40
5 0.22 1.86 0.33 0.12
1Carcasses with missing values for USDA quality or yield grades are not included.
2Other includes Standard, Commercial, Utility, dark cutter, blood splash, hard bone, and calloused ribeye.

The overall presence of dark cutting was 1.9%, which is numerically lower than NBQA–2011 (3.2%; Moore et al., 2012) and was the lowest surveyed in NBQA history. Blood splash (0.1%) also numerically decreased from NBQA–2011 (0.3%; Moore et al., 2012). Additionally, the frequency of hard bone, or carcasses with an overall USDA maturity score of C or greater, was 1.8%.

The frequencies of estimated breed type were 82.9% native, 15.9% dairy-type, and 1.2% B. indicus. When compared with NBQA–2011, there was a 6.0% point increase in dairy-type cattle and a 5.4% point decrease in native cattle. This increase in dairy-type cattle is consistent with the upward trend from NBQA–2000 (6.9%; McKenna et al., 2002), NBQA–2005 (8.3%; Garcia et al., 2008), and NBQA–2011 (9.9%; Moore et al., 2012). Market conditions such as the U.S. drought of 2012, the reduced beef cow herd, and record beef prices created more competitive markets for Holstein steers (Felix, 2016), and an increase in calf-fed dairy beef programs offered by some packers likely had an influence on the greater proportion of dairy-type cattle (Bunting, 2015). Native carcasses possessed the greatest USDA YG (3.1), AFT (1.5 cm), HCW (390.3 kg), and KPH (2.0%; P < 0.05; Table 10). Dairy-type carcasses had the greatest QG (Choice17) and marbling score (Small86) and the least AFT (0.9 cm) and smallest LM area (80.6 cm2; P < 0.05). Additionally, of the dairy carcasses surveyed, 8.0% graded USDA Prime (data not shown in tabular form). This is consistent with the findings from Albrecht et al. (2006) in which Holstein carcasses possessed a greater amount and finer flecks of marbling


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 10.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Least squares means for carcass traits (SEM) within estimated breed types

 
Estimated breed type
Trait Native (n = 6,016) Dairy (n = 1,342) Bos indicus (n = 106)
USDA yield grade 3.1a (0.01) 3.0b (0.03) 2.6c (0.18)
USDA quality grade1 705b (0.9) 717a (1.7) 667c (4.7)
Adjusted fat thickness, cm 1.5a (0.01) 0.9c (0.02) 1.2b (0.08)
HCW, kg 390.2a (0.57) 383.6b (1.06) 389.9ab (4.20)
LM area, cm2 90.9a (0.13) 80.5b (0.26) 91.6a (1.06)
KPH, % 2.0a (0.01) 1.9b (0.04) 1.0c (0.12)
Marbling score2 469b (1.2) 486a (3.2) 382c (7.0)
Lean maturity3 153b (0.2) 156b (0.5) 149a (1.1)
Skeletal maturity3 169a (0.4) 165b (0.6) 159b (1.9)
Overall maturity3 162a (0.3) 161a (0.5) 155b (1.3)
a–cMeans within a row with different superscripts differ (P < 0.05).
1100 = Canner00; 400 = Commercial00; 600 = Select00; 700 = Choice00; 800 = Prime00 (USDA, 2016).
2100 = Practically devoid00; 300 = Slight00; 400 = Small00; 500 = Modest00; 700 = Slightly Abundant00; 900 = Abundant00 (USDA, 2016).
3100 = A00; 200 = B00 (USDA, 2016).

Of carcasses surveyed, steers and heifers accounted for 66.5 and 33.4%, respectively. The numerical increase in frequency of steers in the current study from NBQA–2011 (63.7%; Moore et al., 2012) is consistent with the increase in dairy cattle. Steers possessed greater mean USDA QG, HCW, and KPH (P < 0.05; Table 11). Heifers had increased mean AFT, LM area, marbling score, lean maturity, skeletal maturity, and overall maturity (P < 0.05).


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 11.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Least squares means for carcass traits (SEM) within sex class

 
Sex class
Trait Steer (n = 4,850) Heifer (n = 2,467)
USDA yield grade 3.1a (0.01) 3.1a (0.02)
USDA quality grade1 708a (0.9) 704b (1.5)
Adjusted fat thickness, cm 1.3b (0.01) 1.6a (0.01)
HCW, kg 398.2a (0.61) 374.7b (0.83)
LM area, cm2 88.9b (0.15) 90.6a (0.20)
KPH, % 2.0a (0.01) 1.9b (0.02)
Marbling score2 467b (1.4) 477a (1.9)
Lean maturity3 152b (0.2) 154a (0.3)
Skeletal maturity3 164b (0.4) 176a (0.6)
Overall maturity3 159b (0.3) 167a (0.5)
a,bMeans within a row with different superscripts differ (P < 0.05).
1100 = Canner00; 400 = Commercial00; 600 = Select00; 700 = Choice00; 800 = Prime00 (USDA, 2016).
2100 = Practically devoid00; 300 = Slight00; 400 = Small00; 500 = Modest00; 700 = Slightly Abundant00; 900 = Abundant00 (USDA, 2016).
3100 = A00; 200 = B00 (USDA, 2016).

In 2016, the USDA requested comments on amending the United States Standards for grades of carcass beef to allow cattle that were classified as under 30 mo by dentition or age records to qualify for A maturity. Carcasses that were classified as under 30 mo by dentition had increased USDA QG and LM area coupled with decreased AFT, HCW, marbling score, skeletal, and overall maturity compared with those 30 mo or older (P < 0.05; Table 12). There was no difference between the mean lean maturity between the dental age classes (P > 0.05). Research has not reported differences in palatability between ossification groups within dental age classes (Lawrence et al., 2001; Acheson et al., 2014; Semler et al., 2016). Dentition was reported as a better predictor of actual age than USDA maturity score (Lawrence et al., 2001; Raines et al., 2008).


View Full Table | Close Full ViewTable 12.

National Beef Quality Audit–2016: Least squares means for carcass traits (SEM) of carcasses by dental age classification

 
Trait <30 mo (n = 7,293) ≥30 mo (n = 86)
USDA yield grade 3.1a (0.01) 3.1a (0.10)
USDA quality grade1 697a (1.2) 612b (23.7)
Adjusted fat thickness, cm 1.4a (0.01) 1.1b (0.06)
HCW, kg 389.2a (0.51) 397.6a (6.60)
LM area, cm2 89.5a (0.12) 86.1b (1.27)
KPH, % 2.0a (0.01) 2.0a (0.13)
Marbling score2 470b (1.1) 518a (13.3)
Lean maturity3 153a (0.1) 230a (8.0)
Skeletal maturity3 168b (0.3) 269a (8.2)
Overall maturity3 161b (0.2) 247a (7.3)
a,bMeans within a row with different superscripts differ (P < 0.05).
1100 = Canner00; 400 = Commercial00; 600 = Select00; 700 = Choice00; 800 = Prime00 (USDA, 2016).
2100 = Practically devoid00; 300 = Slight00; 400 = Small00; 500 = Modest00; 700 = Slightly Abundant00; 900 = Abundant00 (USDA, 2016).
3100 = A00; 200 = B00; 300 = C00 (USDA, 2016).

Conclusions

The fed steer and heifer beef industry is constantly evolving, and the NBQA allows a current benchmark to be established and progress to be evaluated. Through these assessments of beef carcasses across the United States and compared with the last audit, we found a numerical increase in mean USDA YG, USDA QG, AFT, HCW, LM area, and marbling score. Furthermore, an increase in dairy-type carcasses and percentage of carcasses grading USDA Prime and Choice as well as frequency of USDA YG 4 and 5 was observed. These data indicate that although the industry is improving the quality of beef being produced, there is also an increase in size and fatness.

 

References

Footnotes


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