South American Cattle May Benefit U.S. Consumers And Beef Industry
GAINESVILLE—In the quest for the perfect steak, researchers with the University of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are looking to South America to give consumers and cattle producers just what they’re looking for.
Scientists expect ongoing studies to show that Romosinuano cattle, native to Colombia, exhibit heat tolerance and good meat quality characteristics while providing higher reproductive rates in tropical climates — attributes that are economically important to Florida’s beef industry.
“Beef tenderness is a very important issue to consumers, and the Romosinuano breed from South America could help the U.S. cattle industry produce tender beef more efficiently,” said Tim Olson, an animal geneticist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “If Florida cattle producers can produce that trait more efficiently, then the costs of production should decrease.”
Calves are being born this spring at the USDA Subtropical Agricultural Research Station in Brooksville from embryos imported from Venezuela and implanted into surrogate mothers from Angus and Senepol breeds in Florida. The calves will be evaluated over the next few years to see if they exhibit the same desirable traits locally that are characteristic of the breed in South America’s climate.
“The Romosinuano could be used in cross-breeding programs with the potential of improving reproductive efficiency for cattlemen here in the South,” said Chad Chase, an animal reproductive physiologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service who serves on the UF/IFAS faculty. “This breed could also provide the consumer with acceptable product quality as far as meat tenderness is concerned from cattle in the South.”
Researchers are using imported embryos because federal health regulations make importing live animals too expensive. The embryos must meet U.S. Animal Plant Inspection Service regulations.
Along with evaluating alternative breeds such as the Romosinuano, research at the Brooksville station also is helping to improve the Brahman breed, which has been dominant in Florida’s beef industry because of its tolerance of heat and disease. While the Brahman influence can help produce heavier calves at weaning, the pregnancy rates of purebred Brahman cows can be relatively low. Calves with too much Brahman influence often are discounted in the marketplace because of perceived characteristics of poor feedlot performance and carcass quality — a situation that often affects Florida’s cattle industry, Olson said.
The Romosinuano breed could help improve pregnancy rates in cattle herds in Florida, which currently has one of the lowest percentages in the industry. But one concern about the breed is that it lacks size and muscling, two traits usually sought by Florida cattle producers.
Ultimately, the Romosinuano could be used in the development of a new composite breed adapted to the tropical climates, which would include the Angus and other breeds, said Olson, who was part of a cooperative group that traveled to Venezuela to choose the donor cows and sires.
The Romosinuano calves should help provide a foundation stock of the breed for cattle producers in the United States, and UF/IFAS researchers hope to provide Romosinuano animals to other scientists and private industry, Olson said.
Clarence King, a commercial cattleman in Levy County, said the possibility of a heat-tolerant, more fertile breed of cattle would be a boon to the industry in states such as Florida.
“If the predictions prove correct during the studies of the Romosinuano breed, then at least a cross with that breed could provide cattle producers around the South with an alternative to what many of us use now,” King said. “And that may help us with lower production costs and with being able to provide what the customer wants.”
- Sylvia K. Beauchamp