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Marbling-- a success story in beef

Genetics are just as important as how you finish a cow for processing when it comes to marbling in the beef.

Mark Z. Johnson, Oklahoma State University, Exten Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist

May 1, 2024

2 Min Read
Marbling-- a success story
Getty images/davidchukalexey

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the percentage of fed cattle in the US reaching the USDA Quality Grade of Prime. This level of quality is driven primarily by the degree of marbling in the ribeye at the 12th-13th rib interface of a beef carcass.

Prime quality grade

Historically speaking, the beef industry routinely saw 1 percent – 2 percent of the youngest maturity groups of fed cattle reaching the Prime Quality Grade. It is now normal to see 8 percent – 10 percent of the weekly harvest grading Prime. The Quality Grade of Prime indicates the highest level of tenderness, juiciness and flavor of cooked beef. Prime indicates the greatest likelihood of a satisfying eating experience. This is a tremendous success story for the beef industry. It is particularly an example of a job well done by cattle breeders.

Marbling is a high heritability trait and selection pressure applied to Marbling EPDs has resulted in an increased genetic potential of the US cattle population to reach this level of quality. There is no doubt that the modern norm of finishing cattle to heavier weights has helped to tap this genetic potential. That being said, the additive genetic potential had to be bred in before it could be tapped.

Building consistency

The past three decades has seen the cattle industry improve the consistency and quality of beef. USDA Quality Grades are the most economically significant factor influencing the value of a beef carcass. Cattlemen and Cattlewomen who retain ownership through finishing have responded to the economic signals in the market place quite successfully. This is a success story in which we should take pride. It also serves as an example of what can be accomplished when we use the modern tools available to make genetic change.

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