Dairy cattle, notably cull dairy cows, are continuing to improve in quality as they move through slaughter plants across the United States. That’s important because dairy cattle now make up 20% of the U.S. beef supply.
Most notably, 76% of dairy cows are identified as “sound” in the 2016 National Beef Quality Audit. Just five years ago, that number was at 51%. A prohibition on the sale of “downer” cows, enacted a few years ago, means fewer at-risk animals are being sent to market.
And a concerted industry education effort not to market thin cows is also likely having an effect, says Jamie Jonker, Vice President of Sustainability & Scientific Affairs for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). The number of dairy cattle identified as “too thin” was 9.3% in the 2016 audit compared to 22% in 2007.
The number of blemishes, condemnations and other attributes that affect the value of carcasses remains minimal. The frequency of arthritic joints is also down substantially, falling from 11% in 1992 to 1.3% in 2016. That’s critical because such arthritic joints usually cause slaughter plants to simply render large amounts of meat that surround these joints. The frequency of injection site lesions in the round is also down, from 60% in 1998 to about 15% today.
Beef quality assurance is now incorporated into NMPF’s FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program, and it’s evident with this year’s audit that dairy farmers are responding. “The FARM Program’s partnership with the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program has produced valuable resources that help nurture an environment of continuous improvement for beef and dairy cattle,” says Jim Mulhern, NMPF CEO and president.
Any dairy farm participating in FARM Animal Care Version 3.0 will receive BQA certification equivalency. For more on the FARM Program, click here.