Where is the beef?

By Orlando Huaman 07 April 2016, 12:00AM

Talofa everyone. The beef I am talking about here is not a complaint, as a petition or fraud in an election, but the real meat we eat. 

The U.S. produces from 24 to 27 billions pounds of beef a year with a consumption of 55 lbs of beef per person per year, today.  

With the introduction into Samoa of two slaughtering mobile units and a permanent slaughter house-in the works, we hope to improve our incipient beef cattle industry. 

Therefore, besides increasing the skills of the butchers, our beef producers farmers have to wise up as  to the physical state of their beef cattle in order to become more profitable by improving the performance of their livestock in their breeding enterprise.

By being proficient in live cattle assessment helps beef producers to become more profitable and also enable producers to predict best market options and thus better return per kilogram produced.

Live cattle assessment is a skill that is developed over time or through training. It can be done on an individual animal or a group of them.


There are many different methods of assessment. Some can be done subjectively other objectively, or both. These include: 

• Visual –based on observations of key indicator sites on the live animal.

• Manual- performed by feeling the live animal at key sites.

• Objective- by measuring the animal at key sites. Could be by ultrasonic scanning of the live animal or by measuring such things as hip height.

The main areas and criteria on which cattle are assessed are: Weight, age, fatness, sex, muscling, breed, frame score, structural soundness, maturity and temperament.

Reference points for assessing live cattle.

12th-13th rib site, short ribs of loin, hip, rump site, point of shoulder, brisket, forearm, flank, stifle region (left side), pin bones, tail head, twist, cod and stifle region( right side).

Live weight

 By using a set of electronic scales- most markets operate over a specific weight range. Estimating live wt. is a difficult skill, especially if the history of the livestock is unknown. Factors that affect weight are the type of feed (grain or grass) and the time the animal is off feed.

Estimating carcass weight and dressing percentage.

Producers selling over the hooks get paid on carcass weight.

Carcass weight = Live weight x Dressing percentage 

Dressing percentage = (Carcass weight / live weight) x 100

When cattle are off feed and water, live weight will decrease as gut fill lessens. Dressing percentage (or yield)  will increase, as the carcass does not loose weight immediately. Dressing percentage is influenced by a number of factors: Type of feed, breed, pregnancy status, level of fatness and muscularity.

Age/ dentition

The ability to age cattle is an important component of most beef enterprises, whether it is to meet the age specifications of specific markets or to sort and cull older cows that are not as productive as they once were. 

In live animals age can de defines in calendar months or by dentition (teeth). Carcase age is determined by dentition, but also through the ossification of the cartilage in the animal backbone.

Cattle as aged as follows:

• Milk tooth: about 0 to 24 months

• 2 tooth: about 18 to 20 months

• 4 tooth: about 24 to 36 months

• 6 tooth: bout 30 to 42 months

• 8 tooth: about 36  months onwards.

• Worn full mouth: from about 7 years

• Broken mouth: from about 8 years

• Gummy mouth: from about 9 years.

Fat assessment

Not a standardised national approach is used to describe the fatness of cattle. This description of fatness is now used by market reports to describe both store and fat stock. Fat is now described in millimeters of fat on the rump. Fat score can be assessed by three methods: 

Visual. The ribs become less visible, the tail head softens and rounds of fat increase besides the tail, the muscle seams of the hindquarters become covered with fat and are less evident when the cattle walks, the brisket, flank, cod and twist fill out (giving the beast a square appearance in these areas that contrast with the roundness of its muscles.

Manual. The main areas used to manually assess cattle for fat cover are: Short ribs, tail head, long ribs.

Objective assessment

Objective assessment of fat  can be done with a real time ultrasonic scanner. There are now hand-held digital read-out  ultrasonic scanners on the market; this can help producers to assess fat depth. Being able to accurately assess fat score is critical, not only in correctly meeting market specifications, but also in particular in breeding herds, where fat score have a huge influence on reproductive performance.


Some markets specify the sex of the animal they want.

Muscle and yield potential

Muscle scoring can be assessed in the live animal or in the carcase. Eabily muscles cattle produce higher-yielding carcases than lightly muscles cattle. The degree of muscling in the live animal will affect dressing percentage and meat yield.

Heavily muscled cattle have a: higher saleable yield and higher dressing percentage.

The best method to assess muscle is to view the animal from behind and from the side. From behind, the thickness through the lower hindquarter (stifle area) can be assessed: heavily muscled cattle are thickest  through the stifle. From the side, the convex shape of the hindquarter will indicate muscle.  

The stance of the animal also gives an indication of muscling, as well muscles cattle have a wide stance. Lightly muscle cattle will have a narrow stance and the gut will be visible from the rear. 

Muscle will bulge and ripple as an animal walks, whereas fat will wobble and give the animal a smoot appearance. The thickness through the backline and shoulder should also be viewed when assessing muscle.


Since some markets exclude some breeds and their crosses. That is why is important to distinguish between breeds and if possible, between the breeds used in crossbred cattle.

Maturity type/ frame score

Maturity of cattle is often a difficult trait to assess. Maturity is the age and weight at which an animal fattens. Some markets buy heavy grain-fed cattle and want a high carcass weight but not too much fat. Early maturing cattle that fatten at low weight are typically small framed and light muscled. Late- maturing cattle, on the other hand, are often large framed, and heavy muscled and are used to supply the heavy export market. 

Structural soundness

Structural soundness has an important effect on the longevity of breeding stock. It is a heritable trait that is passed on to their progeny. For feeder cattle, structure becomes an issue only when steers or heifers are fed for more than 100 days  to achieve live weight of over 500 kg.


Poor temperament in cattle should not be tolerated. These animals pose a risk to the handler and can upset other cattle.  Extra costs come from increased handling time, repair and maintenance to facilities, poorer performance when on feed.

Temperament can be assessed in a number of ways. 

Objectively by flight time or the time it takes for the animal to travel a set distance when exiting the cattle crush. There is a significant genetic relationship  between temperament and beef tenderness, growth rates and feed conversion in tropically adapted cattle breeds.

Cattle of poor or excitable temperament will pass on this trait to their progeny. They should be culled as soon as possible.

*Orlando Huaman holds a degree in Animal Husbandry and had participated in Dairy Cattle Judgments in Peru and the USA.

By Orlando Huaman 07 April 2016, 12:00AM
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