All Aboard the Marbling Train Wreck!

Help Support CattleToday:


Well-known member
Feb 21, 2004
Reaction score
This is a piece of the e-mail from the ASA called the Durham Connection. Very good, and informative. Maybe a little long for Dun, but worth the effort I do believe.

All Aboard the Marbling Train Wreck!

At what point will common sense once again take precedence over marketability in making breeding decisions? The fierceness of competition in the seedstock industry has caused many knowledgeable cattlemen to defy logic, ignore breed roles and place undue selection emphasis on highly marketable traits, while ignoring traits that truly drive their customers' profitability. Maternal breeds are chasing growth, ribeye area, yield and placing excessive emphasis on marbling; while sacrificing reproductive efficiency, fleshing ability and docility. At the same time, terminal breeds focus on color, birth weight, fleshing ability and you guessed it, marbling; while sacrificing growth, muscle and lean gain. The merits of a terminal crossbreeding system have been demonstrated to exhaustion, however, the "everything to everyone" mentality of nearly every beef cattle breed, seems to be as ramped as ever. At a time when selection pressure for so many traits appears misappropriated, marbling rises to the top of the list for both selection pressure and damage to breed characteristics.

Have you ever studied carcass data on what most would label as "maternal" cattle. A cowherd of about 5.5 frame score, moderate in growth EPDs, with good fleshing ability and average muscling. For decades these cattle have graded 70-80% Choice or better. Yet today both British and Continental breeds are destroying their purpose in the industry in an attempt to achieve 85-95% Choice; and they are failing in their mission. "Maternal" cattle don't have enough growth or lean gain potential for you? Yet another argument for the terminal crossbreeding system.

A recent edition of The Seedstock Digest examined possible causes for the lack of improvement in marbling. Some hypothesized that the market is staying more current and cattle are being marketed with less finish, but general trends in carcass weight and an increasing percent in yield grade 4's would contradict that argument. One contributing factor is that the majority of breed associations are adjusting carcass traits to an endpoint not used by the industry; days of age. How many feedlot managers set an egg timer when cattle enter the yard and ship them to the plant when the timer goes off? None. Cattle are generally managed in an attempt to achieve an optimal compositional endpoint, like fat thickness Shouldn't the drivers of genetic change be reflective of our industries' management practices?

Americans have always suffered from a more is better complex, but at some point doesn't the incremental costs of gain have to be calculated on exaggerated genetic selection pressure for marbling? I couldn't find a Journal paper to quantify my arguments, but can't we all observe and forecast using some level of honest evaluation and common sense the results of this misguided selection pressure? There will always be individual animals and herds that defy the norm, but step back and generalize the direction this selection pressure is moving populations from a type and kind perspective. Breeds whose strengths are maternal function are growing narrower-based, shallower bodied and flatter sided. Selection pressure is simultaneously being placed on ribeye area, retail product and carcass value, but cattle are actually becoming lighter muscled in relation to their live and carcass weights. Terminal type cattle are moving in the same direction, flatter, narrower and less muscular, seemly suffering from a defeatist "if you can't beat'em, join'em" attitude. Witnessing large successful British breeders running a within-breed terminal breeding program so that they can sell breeding stock by popular sires and retain maternal replacements by functional sires, is a sad state of affairs.

But, like nearly everything in life, money is the ultimate motivator. Seedstock breeders are in business to make money; commercial cattlemen, calf buyers and packers have all bought into the hype; paying absorbent prices for imaginary improvements in marbling. Huge potential exist for breeds and breeders whom accept their role in the beef industry and chose to positively affect their customers' bottom-line.
Good article. Just goes to show that the lesson of single trait selection hasn't been learned yet. Or a new generation of people have to learn by making the same mistakes.

dun":wgflp22n said:
Good article. Just goes to show that the lesson of single trait selection hasn't been learned yet. Or a new generation of people have to learn by making the same mistakes.

I couldn't agree more.
The other problem is that as you cross the common breeds more and more to come up with certain traits, the gene pool gets smaller and smaller so when you get some disease in the herd, you may have lost the bloodlines that carried the immunity.
I see the same problems. I have been a Charolais seedstock producer for several years now. Most of my bulls were used as terminal cross sires. The last few years though It has been increasigly difficult to sell Charolais bulls because everyone has bought into the Black is better craze. I have tried to tell them that gaining a couple of cents a pound will not pay for the lost weaning weights but most wont listen. It has gotten to the point that I have put Angus bulls on my Charolais cows and gone commercial.
Sounds like you bought into the "black is better" craze also. Why didn't you keep breeding straight Charolais and go commercial?

Latest posts