The marbling of carcases is determined more by the characteristics of the animals themselves than by farming practices

“Improved marbling could be of great benefit to the beef industry, responding more effectively to consumer preferences and increasing the market value of the product. To identify the management elements that could determine the degree of marbling of carcases, 128 cows were collected on six different farms, each using different breeding and feeding practices. Multiple statistical tests were carried out to determine whether marbling was more influenced by animal characteristics than by management practices. As expected, within the same farm, the practices used to finish the cows were the same from one animal to the next. We confirm that there was indeed a general level of marbling per farm (highly marbled animals coming from farms ‘used’ to producing highly marbled animals), without being able to determine the weight of genetic choices or feeding and management practices in this determinism. However, we were able to establish that very high marbled carcases came from heavier slaughtered animals and were associated with (1) management that maximised finishing times and time spent on grass (during the animal’s life) and (2) finishing diets rich in maize (grain or silage) and containing flax. The practices and performances associated with low and medium marbling carcases were difficult to separate using the indicators available in this study but were opposite to those of high marbling carcases. This ‘overall level of marbling’ on the farm makes it possible to prioritise the practices that favour or do not favour the development of marbling on the carcase, and allows to formulate advice to breeders to increase the marbling of their carcases. However, there are still grey areas to be covered to effectively achieve a maximum success rate, which will require further work and a more detailed characterisation of the practices and genetic orientations of the animals.”

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