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Pervious Page  RESEARCH
 
A Review of the New Zealand National Beef Competition in Comparison to the Australian Beef Carcass Appraisal Method

Written by Lachlan James B.Rur.Sci (Hons), under supervision of:
Mr. Paul L. Charteris, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University.
Associate Professor Roger W. Purchas, Institute of Food Nutrition and Human Health, Massey University.

Executive Summary

This study undertook a comparison of the New Zealand National Beef Competition with that Australian Beef Carcass Appraisal Method. The following recommendations to improve the New Zealand competition were made:
The points for dentition and carcass weight should be de-emphasised and replaced by more quality-related points.
Investigate the use of carcass ossification as an alternative criteria for estimating animal age.
Allocate points for a eye-muscle area per unit after adjusting for variation in carcass weight.

Make available extra points for carcass quality characteristics such as meat pH and fat colour.
Investigate the accuracy of prediction equations for estimating saleable meat yield from simple measures such as eye muscle area, fat depth and carcass weight as an alternative to current bone-out procedures.
Adopt a tenderness/taste evaluation for all carcasses, thereby enabling all entrants to be eligible for eating quality awards.

Introduction

The production of quality meat products that meet market specifications should be a major aim of cattle breeders and producers world-wide. To obtain benchmarks and comparisons between and within herds, direct comparisons of carcasses must be made. One method to obtain such comparisons is by the use of carcass competitions which can involve evaluation procedures that are more detailed and comprehensive than those used for carcass classification. Furthermore, carcass competitions help focus producer and breeder attention on criteria of importance to consumers.

To obtain useful information, the structure and scoring procedures of such competitions must aim to correctly rank carcasses on a combination of traits that reflect the current market situation and consumer requirements. The allocation of such points often differs widely between countries, due to market differences, and competition requirements.

This review of the New Zealand National Beef Competition aims to compare and contrast the judging criteria and point allocations used in New Zealand (NZ), with the Australian Beef Carcass Appraisal Method (Version 3.4). From these comparisons, objective recommendations and comments on the New Zealand competition were made.

New Zealand National Beef Competition

To enable a comparison of the New Zealand National Beef Competition, the structure, points allocation, and regulations of the current NZ competition are outlined below.

1. Objectives of the NZ National Beef Competition - Structure

  1. To demonstrate how beef can be evaluated on the basis of commercially important and valuable characteristics.
  2. To show how evaluation procedures can be applied within several different product classes involving all breeds and their crosses.
  3. To demonstrate to producers that our quality markets require beef cuts of a preferred size with no excess fat and well developed muscles.
  4. To identify producers who are breeding and/or finishing cattle with exceptional carcasses containing high quality beef, so that their superior management can be promoted by way of field days and other such events.
  5. To reward those carcasses in a weight for age event determined by dentition. It will reward the younger, well grown animal which are high yielding and producing cuts which are desirable to the market and consumer.
  6. To determine meat quality from a consumer perspective. This will be determined by the carcasses which are yielded being scored and awarded points for objective measures of meat tenderness.

2. Point Allocations - Classes


Class 1, Div 1: Domestic heifer or steer 160.1 - 220kg Hot Standard Carcass Wt. (HSCW)
Class 1, Div 2: Domestic heifer or steer 220.1 - 270kg HSCW
Class 2, Div 1: Premium export heifer or steer 270 - 295kg HSCW
Class 2, Div 2: Premium export heifer or steer 295.1+kg HSCW
Class 3: Young lean beef Pair of young entire male animals, any HSCW

Table 1. Points allocation for the 1998 New Zealand National Beef Competition.

Class 1
Class 2
Class 3
Weight ranges Div 1, 169.1 - 220 kg
Div 2, 220.1 - 270 kg
Div 1, 270 - 295 kg
Div 2, 295.1+ kg
Any weight
Dentition restrictions Milk teeth only Not more than 4 permanent incisors Not more than 2 permanent incisors
Points for Dentition Milk teeth, 30 Milk teeth, 30
2 permanent, 15
4 permanent, 0
Milk teeth, 30
2 permanent, 15
Weight points 1 point per 10 kg to 270 kg
1 point per 10 kg to 360 kg
1 point per 10 kg to 360 kg
-1 point per 10 kg over 360 kg
Eye-muscle pts. 1 point per cm2 1 point per cm2 1 point per cm2
Fat depth points <1mm, 0
1mm, 20
2mm, 35
3mm, 45
4 - 8mm, 60
9mm, 55
10mm, 50
11mm, 40
12mm, 25
13mm, 10
13+mm, 0
<1mm, 0
1mm, 20
2mm, 35
3mm, 45
4 - 8mm, 60
9mm, 55
10mm, 50
11mm, 40
12mm, 25
13mm, 10
13+mm, 0
<3mm,6 0
3mm, 55
4mm, 45
5mm, 35
6mm, 15
6+mm, 10
Fat distribution points up to 10 points up to 10 points up to 10 pts, from devoid to excessive
Muscling points Muscle class 1, 10
Muscle class 2, 0
Muscle class 1, 10
Muscle class 2, 0
Muscle class 1, 10
Muscle class 2, 0
pH points Up to pH 5.6, 10
6.1 - 5.70, 8
5.71 - 5.8, 6
5.81+, 0
Up to pH 5.6, 10
6.1 - 5.70, 8
5.71 - 5.8, 6
5.81+, 0
Up to pH 5.6, 10
6.1 - 5.70, 8
5.71 - 5.8, 6
5.81+, 0
Meat colour points 1 to 5 on scale, 5
6+, 0
1 to 5 on scale, 5
6+, 0
1 to 5 on scale, 5
6+, 0
Fat colour points 1 to 5 on scale, 5
6+, 0
1 to 5 on scale, 5
6+, 0
1 to 5 on scale, 5
6+, 0

3. Miscellaneous Rules and Regulations

  • Animals entered in class 1 will not be transferred if they exceed 270 kg HSCW or have any permanent incisors.
  • Cattle treated with growth promotants are not eligible for class 1.
  • Cattle in class 2 with more than four permanent incisors will not be considered for judging.
  • Cattle in class 3 with more than two permanent incisors will not be considered for judging.
  • Carcasses that exceed pH 5.8, and meat colour score 7 or greater will not go forward for yield assessments.
  • On hoof judging is optional.

Australian Beef Carcass Appraisal Method (ABCAM) 3.4

The ABCAM 3.4 system is used throughout N.S.W. at small carcass competitions through to the Sydney and Canberra Royal Agricultural Shows. Although the system sets guidelines for the points allocation of various market categories, it is suggested that flexibility can be used depending on processor and abattoir restrictions and requirements, the major points are outlined below.

1. Suggested Market Categories:

  • Light weight butcher / domestic, HSCW 130 - 150 kg.
  • Butcher / Domestic trade, HSCW 150 - 180 kg.
  • Supermarket / Heavy domestic, HSCW 180 - 230 kg.
  • Heavy supermarket, HRI and Light Export, HSCW 230+ kg.
  • Japanese export, HSCW 280 -400 kg.

2. Points Allocation
Yield Parameters, 60% of total
Allocated by:

  • Eye muscle area up to 20 points
    Points allocated on comparison of rib-eye area and HSCW (Appendix 1).
  • Muscle score up to 10 points
    A to E score of the thickness and convexity of muscle relative to skeletal size of carcass, having adjusted for fat.
  • Fat depth, Rib, up to 15 points
    Points determined on a sliding grid, with respect to market destination of carcass.
  • Fat depth, P8 rump, up to 15 points
    Points determined on a sliding grid, with respect to market destination of carcass.

Quality Parameters, 40% of total
Allocated by:

  • Fat colour and texture, up to 5 points
    Assessed by visual comparison at seam fat location. Points allocated from white (5) to yellow (0), and dry to greasy. Aus-Meat colour chips are recommended.
  • Fat distribution, up to 10 points
    Points allocated on a sliding scale from too lean to ideal to too fat (lumpy).
  • Meat colour, up to 15 points
    Points allocated on a sliding scale, with reference to Aus-Meat colour chips and market destination.
  • Meat texture and firmness, up to 5 points
    Points allocated from exceptionally fine (5) to coarse and stringy (1).
  • Marbling, up to 5 points
    Points allocated on a sliding scale, with reference to Aus-Meat marbling chips and specific market destination requirements.

Defects:

  • Up to 10 points deduction
    Points deducted at the descretion of the judge. Relevant deductions may be for market weights, pen uniformity, dentition, adverse muscle pH, subcutaneous fat discoloration.

Contrast Between New Zealand and Australian Competitions

Although both competitions endeavour to reward the most suitable beef carcasses that meet market requirements, the judging criteria and points allocation are very different. The NZ system has a potentially unlimited points allocation, with eye muscle area being the factor that determines the highest possible score that a carcass can achieve.

The relative distribution of points also differs the two between competitions as outlined in Table 2. It should be noted that the NZ percentiles are approximations based on a hypothetical steer entered in the carcass competition.

Table 2. Comparison of points allocation between New Zealand National Beef Competition (based on a hypothetical steer) and Australian Beef Carcass Appraisal Method 3.4.

Australia
Component
New Zealand
0% Dentition 12%
0% Weight 10%
20% Eye muscle area 32%
10% Muscle score 5%
30% from two sites Fat depth 25%

60%

Yield Total

72%

10% Fat distribution 5%
5% Fat colour and texture 3%
15% Meat colour 3%
5% Meat texture and firmness 0%
5% Marbling 0%
0% (may incur deduction) pH 5%
40% Quality Total 16%

As can be seen from Table 2, there is a larger emphasis placed on yielding attributes in the NZ system, compared to the Australian system. This may to some degree reflect differences in market requirements, however heavier carcasses with large eye muscle areas are disproportionately rewarded, compared with lighter weight or smaller eye-muscle area carcasses, irrespective of yield.

In general, bone-out aspects are not included in Australian carcass competitions, as opposed to the NZ system which enables the six highest scoring carcasses from each class to be boned out. Furthermore most Australian competitions that possess an evaluation of meat tenderness, do so as a separate arm of the competition, with all carcasses eligible for awards.

There are also differences in class weight divisions and requirements (i.e. bull class), however these are generally market orientated. One slight difference between competitions is that when large numbers of entries are received, in Australia, classes may be split into narrower weight ranges. At the majority of the Australian competitions, hoof judging is compulsory. On-hoof judging in New Zealand competitions has been discontinued in order to make the pre-slaughter holding period as short and as free of stress as possible.
Perceived Problems with the New Zealand System

There are some perceived problems that currently exist with the NZ National Beef Competition. Currently there seem to be excessive points allocated to eye muscle area, and carcass weight. This enables carcasses of larger eye-muscle area and carcass weight to potentially place high irrespective of carcass and meat quality. An example of such a situation is illustrated in Table 3, with two (hypothetical) carcasses competing in class 2, division 2.

Table 3. Comparison of two hypothetical carcasses competing in class 2, division 2 of the New Zealand National Beef Competition.

Carcass 1
Points
Carcass 2
Points
18mths (milk teeth) 30 15mths (milk teeth) 30
360 kg HSCW 36 295.1 kg HSCW 29.51
95 cm2 Eye muscle area 95 65 cm2 Eye muscle area 65
8mm fat 60 4mm fat 60
Poor fat distribution 0 Excellent fat distribution 10
Muscle class 2 0 Muscle score 1 10
pH 5.8 6 pH 5.6 10
Poor meat colour 0 0 Excellent meat colour 5
Poor fat colour 0 Excellent fat colour 5
Total 227 Total 224.5
Retail beef yield % 69.3 Retail beef yield % 69.9

Retail Beef Yield Percentage* 69.3 Retail Beef Yield Percentage* 69.9
*Retail beef calculated using equation from James (1997).
RBY% = 69.65 + 0.042 x EMA - 0.41 x 12/13th rib fat depth - 0.0016 x Liveweight.
Dressing percentage estimated at 55%.

Although this is an extreme case as, carcasses at the extreme of the target weight range have been chosen, it illustrates the current situation where larger carcasses, with larger eye-muscle areas are able to dominate the competition, despite having poor quality attributes, Assuming the prediction equation from James (1997) is an accurate estimator of retail beef yield (%) both of these carcasses had a similar estimated retail beef yield despite a 30 cm2 difference in eye muscle area.

Such carcasses are favoured because in order to be larger at a similar age it is likely that they will have grown faster, and one of the objectives of the competition is to reward faster growing cattle. This is a laudable aim but it may be that by attempting to reward both faster growth rates as well as superior carcass and meat quality characteristics in the same competition, neither job is done very well. The problem is that differences in carcass weight within a dentition class may not be a good indication of differences in growth rate because of the variation between individual cattle in the age at which various pairs of permanent incisors erupt. It may be preferable to accept that it is not feasible to reward for superior growth rate in a carcass competition and to focus instead on obtaining the best possible measures of carcass and meat quality characteristics.

The current bone-out procedure is likely achieving the stated objective of obtaining a measure of carcass yield. With the current bone out, the weight of specific muscles is expressed as a percentage of carcass side weight. However, the difference between animals in the proportion by weight of specific muscles does not vary significantly between animals of differing biological types (Cooper and Willis, 1972, and Berg and Butterfield, 1976). Current procedures are likely to be appropriate for separating high and low yielding carcasses but probably have poor predictive power for separating carcasses on the basis of their cuts distribution.

The present tenderness assessment procedure is only undertaken on the six carcasses from each competition that have scored highly in each class. The assessment of these carcasses for tenderness is thus a potentially biased sample, and may in fact not be assessing the carcasses that possess the highest consumer desired attributes. Given the current reliance on eye muscle area and weight, only carcasses that excel in those attributes are assessed for tenderness.

Recommendations

Bull class

It is recognised that the bull class is an important class, as it represents a major proportion (25%) of export beef sales from New Zealand and should be continued in the National Beef Competition.

Age

It is recommended that the dentition points allocation would be better utilised by converting these points into factors that have more important influences on carcass value and farm profitability. It is recommended that these points should thus be allocated towards carcass quality factors. It should be noted that an assessment of vertebrae ossification is an alternative to dentition as a predictor of animal age, however the author is not aware of the relative accuracies of the two techniques in predicting age.

Weight

As shown earlier, weight points advantage a heavier animal within a class. In this respect, weight points meet the specifications of Objective 5. However, the goals of Objective 5 are a current point of debate. It is unlikely that carcasses are currently ranked on their liveweight gain per day of age without birth dates being supplied at the time of the Beef Competition.

Eye-muscle area

Currently, carcasses within a weight division can differ by up to 50 kg HSCW. Eye muscle area (which is a predictor of yield) generally increases as carcasses become heavier. If eye muscle area increases in proportion to carcass weight, carcasses with large eye muscle areas may simply arise from heavier carcasses and thus show little difference in retail beef yield per unit carcass weight. Thus it is recommended that the eye-muscle area points be reported on a constant carcass weight basis.

Quality

Currently the number of points allocated toward quality traits in the New Zealand beef carcass competition is approximately 16% of available points. This is considered to be too low. It is suggested that points from dentition be redirected into quality trait points, or additional points be allocated to the quality section to increase the percentage of points allocated toward quality.

Bone out

The current reporting of carcass measures (EMA, fat depth, muscle score, and carcass weight), when combined in a prediction equation, should give a reasonably accurate indication of retail beef yield. However it is recognised that the accuracy of saleable meat yield prediction using such equations depends on the power of the prediction equations themselves to estimate actual yield. It is recognised that bone-out procedures are both costly and time consuming. Further studies are required to assess the accuracy of prediction equations to estimate saleable meat yield and their cost-effective use compared with bone-out procedures.
The trimming of primals to 10mm fat coverage is not well aligned with the specifications outlined in the allocation of points where maximum scores are obtained by carcasses with 4 to 8 mm fat. If this method of trimming is to continue it is recommended that this value be examined and most likely reduced.

Tenderness Measurements

As the tenderness measurements are taken on a handful of the entrants (those achieving high initial scores) there is a possibility that the samples tested are a biased sample and may not be the most desirable carcasses (quality wise). It is suggested that current tenderness measurements be expanded to include all entrants, and be run as a separate arm of the competition. Trained consumer sensory panels may be used to determine the carcasses containing the best quality beef. However, it is recognised that cost factors may affect the feasibility of conducting sensory tests on all carcasses.

Conclusion/Summary

Carcass competitions are an avenue to achieve between and within-herd comparisons of economically important carcass and meat quality traits. However the judging criteria and points allocation of competitions must rank carcasses correctly, such that the most commercially acceptable animals/carcasses are rewarded. A comparison of the New Zealand National Beef Competition with that Australian Beef Carcass Appraisal Method 3.4, was undertaken to give an objective review of the NZ system.

  • Has greater emphasis of points allocated to yield factors than quality attributes compared with Australian competitions.
  • Allocates points on a perceived weight for age basis, but uses a criterion (dentition) that cannot accurately differentiate between animal ages.
  • Uses a bone out procedure that allocate points on the basis of carcass yield on a sample of carcasses selected on the basis of high initial scores.
  • Evaluates the beef tenderness of only a few carcasses that may not be the most consumer acceptable carcasses.

Major recommendations of the study:

  • That dentition points be better utilised by converting them to quality points, or investigating the use of carcass ossification as the criteria for ageing carcasses.
  • Eliminate points allocated for higher weights within classes and divisions.
  • Allocate points on a eye-muscle area per unit carcass weight basis.
  • Make available extra points for carcass quality characteristics
  • Further investigate the use of prediction equations for estimating saleable meat yield as an alternative to current bone-out procedures.
  • Conduct a tenderness/ sensory evaluation of all carcasses as a separate arm of the competition, enabling all entrants to be eligible for awards.

References

Berg, R.T., and Butterfield, R.M., 1976. New concepts in cattle growth. Sydney University Press, Australia.
Cooper, M., and Willis, M.B., 1972. Profitable beef production. Farming Press Limited, Suffolk, UK.
James, L.E., 1997. The effect of partitioning and distribution of fat on the accuracy of predicting retail beef yield percentage from real time ultrasound measurements recorded on live cattle, Unpublished. B. Rural Science (Hons) Thesis, University of New England, Australia.

Acknowledgement
This study would not have been possible without he support of Australian Murray Grey Society Youth Scholarship.

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