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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service



2012 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
Grassland is an extensive natural resource in Appalachia. Basing beef production on pasture, from conception to slaughter, will add value to small farm production in the Appalachian area. Three cooperating institutions (West Virginia University, Virginia Tech, and Clemson University) and the ARS Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center are together providing production information by cooperatively studying soil, plant, animal and economics. Each institution is responsible for research on particular phases of the production stream. The objective of this agreement is to provide information on meat quality attributes for the pasture-based beef production system. The Agreement has three specific goals: 1) Produce a 12-month supply of pasture-based beef by expanding the harvest window with retention of acceptable meat quality, 2) Develop criteria for pasture raised beef that define “the window of acceptability”, and 3) Develop tools for pasture-based beef producers to assess and manage risk.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Researchers in several disciplines will work together and will include soil scientists, agronomists, ruminant nutritionists, animal physiologist, agricultural economist and extension specialists. Experiments will be conducted in the field on stocker and heifer development systems as well as on the soil fertility, pasture production and management components. Residual feed intake and forage-use efficiency will be estimated from data under controlled conditions. Continuous-flow fermentation will be utilized to compare digestive kinetics and fermentation with products and byproducts of forages consumed during finishing. Data from experiments will be used to estimate and calibrate risk-profitability decision tools for producers. Potential revenues will be assessed under various live cattle market conditions to predict scenarios that favor marketing harvested grass-fed beef. Data will be obtained in grocery stores to determine consumers’ response to visual and taste characteristics, and their willingness to buy the product.

3. Progress Report:
The major areas of research are to: a) define the window of acceptability for grass-fed beef and b) identify chemical and physical determinants of meat quality. In fall of 2011, 48 steers of two frame scores were finished to two animal age endpoints (18 or 20.5 mo of age). Meat quality parameters were assessed and data analyzed. Results show that advancing animal age resulted in a 0.5 kg increase in shear force values and requires additional postmortem aging to achieve similar tenderness of younger animals. Flavor profiles were analyzed and the results show that the hexanal production, an oxidation volatile of linoleic acid, is lower in grass-fed beef products. In addition, long-term frozen storage of grass-fed beef results in greater production of lipid oxidation products but this can be prevented with vacuum packaging of ground products. This research has shown that animal age is the major determinant in tenderness of grass-finished beef products. Grass-fed cattle should be slaughtered at 18 months of age or less to produce a highly acceptable beef product. This project has documented the nutrient composition differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef (Duckett et al., 2009). In addition, it has shown that palatability between the two finishing systems is similar (Duckett et al., 2007). This project demonstrates that production of tender grass-fed beef with enhanced nutritional profiles can be accomplished in the Appalachian region of the United States.

4. Accomplishments

Last Modified: 05/21/2017
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