Castrated bulls give more tender beef – and more of it

“It is entirely possible to produce more tender beef than we do today, and I believe that Norwegian consumers aren’t getting the best meat quality,” says Rune Rødbotten, post doc. researcher at Nofima Mat and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

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The castration project has been led by Jan Berg of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, but the tenderness tests have been carried out at Nofima Mat. The aim of the project has been to find out how tender beef can be obtained in Norway.

Clear conclusion

46 male calves were castrated, raised and then slaughtered. The clear conclusion is that beef from castrated animals is more tender and is less varied than meat from normal bulls.

“The castrated animals have been put out to pasture in summer and have been given different levels of feed concentrates in winter, in addition to silage. We discovered that the different combinations of feed concentrates can have a marginal effect on the level of tenderness, but the amount of fat increases with the amount of feed concentrate,” explains Rødbotten.

Several breeds were tested during the project: NRF (represents about 90% of Norwegian cattle stocks), an Angus/NRF cross, Jersey and an Angus/Jersey cross. Angus, which is known for consistently good meat, is the most common breed in the USA, among other places. However little difference in tenderness was found between the breeds.

Farmers should be paid more for castrated animals

With castrated animals, the proportion of beef that can be used as steaks or for roasting is more than twice that of normal bulls, simply because the castrated animals have more tender meat. According to the researcher, the fact that much more of the carcass of a castrated animal can be used as steaks or roasts should be taken into account when the farmer is paid for the carcass.

Castrating male calves used to be the normal practice. This practice has now disappeared, however, because the farmers don’t get paid for it. Farmers currently get paid according to musculature and fat content, while tenderness and meat quality are not taken into account. “We should say right now that it is difficult to find good methods for measuring tenderness, but since we now know that castrated animals give much more tender meat, this is a sign of quality in itself and should be included in the pricing,” believes Rødbotten.

He also points out that the castrated animals have a high quality of life, adding that it is normal practice to castrate pets. “The castrated animals grow up as peaceful and harmonious animals. They don’t fight each other, and they don’t attack the farmer. Castrated animals can enjoy the fresh air and green grass of the pastures, while most bulls must be kept inside all their lives. Also, since Norway has so much open pasture land, castration can mean eco-friendly food production,” says the researcher.

Looking more closely at the financial aspects

Economics will be an important aspect of the follow up project. Rødbotten and his colleagues will now be looking at the effects of using open pasture land, as well as calculating the real value of the meat, based on being able to use a greater proportion of it as steaks and roasts.

“Much of the open land available as pasture in Norway is not being used. Bulls cannot go out into open pasture because they are simply too dangerous, while cows have to be brought in for milking. Castrated bulls, on the other hand, can be allowed to roam the open pasture,” concludes Rødbotten, who will present the results of his project at the Biff 2010 congress on 5 and 6 February.

This is the biggest castration project for several decades and has been a collaboration between the producer Prima Jæren, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Nofima Mat, Bioforsk and the University of Florida. The project has been financed by the Research Council of Norway and Prima Jæren.

Raw materials and process optimisation  

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