Opportunities for pasture-raised Jersey beef in the Southeast

Final Report for OS06-032

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2006: $14,952.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Steven Washburn
North Carolina State University
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Project Information


Jersey and Jersey-Holstein steers were finished on pasture or using concentrates for 84 days before harvest. Data were collected on 44 steers over 2 years. Steers were harvested at similar ages regardless of weight. Fatty acid profiles differed and concentrate-fed animals had more fat. Taste panel evaluations of loin samples included comparison with choice beef. Taste panel preferences averaged 39.6%, 37.5%, and 21.9% for choice beef, concentrate-fed Jersey beef, and pasture-fed Jersey beef, respectively. The cooperating farmer projected a net return of about $1,000 per head for pasture-fed steers indicating potential for profitable beef enterprises using Jersey or Jersey-Holstein steers.


This project was a collaborative effort among faculty in two departments at NCSU, an area extension agent, and a cooperating farmer in NC.

The male offspring of Jersey and Jersey-cross dairy cattle represent a potential resource for pasture-raised beef in the region. There are about 25 dairy farms in North Carolina that have Jerseys or Jersey cross cattle in their herds. Further, the Southern Region has many more dairy farms with Jersey genetics. There have been favorable evaluations of Jersey animals in crosses with more traditional beef breeds and in grain-fed finishing programs (Koch et al. 1976, Shackelford et al, 1994). However, such evaluations have not been done for pasture-finishing systems. The study reported by Koch et al. (1976) noted several characteristics of Jersey-sired steers from Hereford and Angus cows that may be important for family farms interested in including pasture-finished beef among the products offered to customers.

Jersey crosses had lighter carcasses than other breed groups and although dressing percentages were lower they tended to finish more quickly, had relatively high quality grades reflected by higher marbling scores. However, they had lower fat percentage in the rib-eye area and smaller rib-eye muscle areas than other breed combinations. Means for Jersey and South Devon crosses for the Warner-Bratzler shear force (lower = more tender) were lower compared to most other breed groups but all were within acceptable ranges. All breed group means were significantly above the minimum level for acceptance on the taste panel evaluation. Consistent with the Warner-Bratzler test, Jersey and South Devon crosses were also rated more tender by the taste panel compared to other breed groups. Although flavor and juiciness means did not differ significantly across breed groups, the Jersey crosses were numerically the highest for both of those taste panel measures. Overall taste panel acceptability was highest for the Jersey crosses (Koch et al., 1976).

In a follow-up study from the Clay Center, Nebraska crossbreeding data, Shackelford et al. (1994) reported that steers from Jersey-sired crosses with Angus or Hereford cows had intermediate scores for lean color (cherry red) and lean texture (fine) but rated among the most firm as opposed to being soft in comparison to other breed groups.

In reviewing literature on potential for Jersey beef in New Zealand, Morris et al. (2001) noted that most literature was 20 years old and obtained in grain-based feeding systems. They indicated a need to invest in a new characterization of Jersey and Jersey cross cattle for beef production under pastoral conditions. The favorable composition of the intramuscular fat and the high level of monounsaturated fatty acids found in beef from Jersey cattle in pasture-based systems could be significant in terms of human health.

Because there are readily available Jersey animals in the region, the studies cited above document that there are potentially favorable attributes of Jersey beef. If those attributes hold true in pasture-based systems, there may be marketing opportunities for producers in the region.

Literature Cited:
Koch, R. M., M. E. Dikeman, D. M. Allen, M. May, J. D. Crouse, and D. R. Campion. 1976. Characterization of biological types of cattle III. Carcass composition, quality and palatability. J. Anim. Sci. 43:48-62.
Morris, S. T., E. Navajas, and D. L. Burnham. 2001. Beef Production from Jersey Cattle.
Review prepared for the C.Alma Baker Trust; Massey University: 26 pages.
Shackelford, S. D., M. Koohmaraie, T. L. Wheeler, L. V. Cundiff, and M. E. Dikeman. 1994. Effect of Biological Type of Cattle on the Incidence of the Dark, Firm, and Dry Condition in the Longissimus Muscle. J. Anim. Sci. 72: 337-343
Sitz, B. M.., C. R. Calkins, D. M. Feuz, W. J. Umberger, and K. M. Eskridge. 2005. Consumer sensory acceptance and value of domestic, Canadian, and Australian grass-fed beef steaks

Project Objectives:

Our primary objective was to evaluate the potential for Jersey and Jersey-Holstein crossbred steers for beef production in the Southeastern U.S. As part of that evaluation, we wanted to compare beef from animals reared primarily on pasture versus those that received a high concentrate diet before harvest. Meat characteristics including fat composition, tenderness, and consumer acceptability were investigated. We are also interested in the potential economic return from Jersey-cross steers finshed either on pasture or in a feedlot.


Materials and methods:

Groups of yearling Jersey and Jersey-Holstein crossbred steers were identified at the NC Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and monitored through the finishing phase from late June with harvest in October, 2006 and October, 2007. Each year one group of steers (n=12 in 2006 and n=10 in 2007) were maintained on summer pastures through harvest similar to the approach used by the cooperating farmer, Mr. Joe Peterson. Pastures included mixtures of sorghum-sudan grass and crabgrass for most of the period and fescue and ladino clover in the last month before harvest. Similar steers (n = 12 in 2006 and n = 10 in 2007) by age and genetics were transported to the Butner, NC beef cattle research laboratory and were adapted to a high energy ration over two weeks and then fed that ration ad libitum for 84 days before harvest. The concentrate-based ration consisted of 77.25 % corn, 10 % corn silage, and 11 % soybean meal on a dry matter basis and was similar in both years.

In 2006 the steers averaged 63% Jersey and 37% Holstein and did include a few pure Jerseys. In 2007, the percentage Jersey was 66% and also a few pure Jerseys were included. Average age at harvest was similar among all groups and was about 23 months across both years (range of 20 to 24 months). Harvest was at a set time rather than based on weight or condition of animals.

All animals were harvested at the Matkins abattoir in Matkins, NC. Hot carcass weights were collected and then carcasses were cooled and aged at ~3 degrees C for 14 days. As carcasses were cut, strip loins were collected, weighed, and brought back to NCSU for various tests and taste panel evaluations. Those loins were cut into 2.54-cms thick steaks which were stored frozen until needed. Also, a sample of the internal fat from the pelvic area was collected for fatty acid analyses from each carcass.

Taste panel evaluations were conducted on steak samples collected in both years. Beef loin steaks, aged for 14 d, were secured from a Green Bay, Wisconsin packer for the choice grade dairy influence comparison. Carcass data on those choice steaks were not recorded. All steaks were cooked to an internal temperature of 70 °C using Faberware open hearth grills. Cooked steaks were cut into 2.54 X 1.27 X 2.54 cm pieces to be presented to consumers. Panelists were asked to evaluate samples using a 9-point hedonic scale where 9 = like extremely and 1= dislike extremely to determine acceptance in overall, flavor, juiciness, and tenderness liking.

In addition to the taste panel evaluations on campus, evaluation of taste preference only between the pasture finished and concentrate finished steers was done at the NC Farmers Market near Greensboro, adjacent to a booth operated by cooperating producer, Joe Peterson. At that event, steaks were cooked on a portable grill.

During the course of the study, cooperating farmer, Mr. Joe Peterson, continued to raise a few Jersey-cross steers which were usually harvested one at a time. He kept cost and income records on the animals but we were not consistently able to get carcass data from his animals.

Research results and discussion:

Animal performance and yields: Because all steers were harvested at the same time regardless of weight or body condition, live weights, carcass weights, and other carcass measures differed depending on type of finishing ration. Although groups were similar in live weight at the start of the finishing period in both years gains were faster for concentrate-fed steers leading to larger steers at harvest. In the first year pasture-finished Jersey cross steers weighed 429.5 kg live weight at harvest whereas the concentrate-fed steers averaged 481.1 kg, the magnitude of the difference in part because one pasture-fed steer (75% Jersey) weighed only 356.4 kg when all the concentrate-fed steers weighed at least 436.4 kg. Average live weights in the second were closer but pasture-fed steers were still lighter (474.1 kg vs. 489.1 kg).

We did not directly measure gut fill but it is expected that gut fill was greater on the pasture-finishing groups due to the higher fiber nature of the respective rations. Therefore, with live weight differences and likely gut-fill differences the mean hot carcass weights were significantly heavier (P < 0.05) in both years for concentrate-fed Jersey cross steers: Year 1: 252.6 vs. 200.1 kg; Year 2: 257.8 vs. 228.5 kg. This resulted in significant differences in dressing percentage in favor of concentrate-fed Jersey-cross steers: Year 1: 52.5% vs. 46.5% and Year 2: 52.7% vs. 48.2%

Fat percentages and fatty acid composition: Intramuscular crude fat analyses of loin steaks in Year 1 revealed differences (P < 0.05) among treatments, with pasture-fed Jersey-cross beef at 1.7 %, concentrate-fed Jersey-cross beef at 3.7 %, and Midwest choice beef at 5.6 % fat. Those differences in overall fat content are likely important aspects in the taste panel evaluations noted below.

For the pelvic fat samples that were collected for the pasture-fed and concentrate-fed Jersey cross steers, there were differences (P < 0.05) in proportions of various fatty acids but those differences were not always consistent across years. For example in year 1, concentrations of cis 9, trans 11 conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) were 0.50 % of total fatty acids in pasture-fed steers compared to only 0.34% for concentrate-fed steers in year 1 but both groups had similar proportions for that CLA in year 2 (0.67% vs. 0.71%, respectively). However, concentrations of trans 10, cis 12 CLA were 0.142% for pasture-fed steers vs. 0.016% for concentrate-fed steers in year 1 and were 0.26% vs. 0.06%, respectively, in year 2.

Because the fatty acid analyses were done on samples collected from the pelvic area, that fat deposit may not consistently reflect the most recent dietary status of the animal. All the Jersey and Jersey-cross steers had been on pasture most of their lives so differences in fatty acid profiles would reflect changes in the concentrate feeding regimen during the last three months.

Taste panel evaluations: The consumer acceptability panel (n = 124) for steaks from year 1 consisted of 58.9 % female and 41.1 % male. Panelists were asked to evaluate samples using a 9-point hedonic scale to determine acceptance in overall, flavor, juiciness, and tenderness liking. Mean liking scores for Midwest choice, concentrate-fed Jersey cross, and pasture-fed Jersey cross were all reported on the acceptable side of the hedonic scale (> 5.0). There were no differences in overall liking among all treatments nor in flavor liking among the treatments. For juiciness liking, concentrate-fed Jersey cross steers had higher (P < 0.05) scores than the pasture-fed group (6.13 vs. 5.67), but concentrate-fed scores were not different from those of choice Midwest beef. For tenderness liking, concentrate-fed Jersey crosses had higher (P < 0.05) scores compared to pasture-fed Jersey crosses (6.34 vs. 5.56), but concentrate-fed was not different from Midwest choice. When consumers were asked to make a forced choice preference ranking, concentrate-fed Jersey cross beef had higher (P < 0.05) percentage preference than pasture-fed Jersey cross beef (40.9 % vs. 25 %) but concentrate-fed Jersey crosses did not differ from Midwest choice beef (34.1%).

Taste panel evaluation of loin steaks from the second year’s harvest was conducted in November, 2008 with 80 consumer participants on the NCSU campus. About 75% of the participants were under age 40, 65% were female, and about 79% indicated that they ate beef at least once per week. That group indicated price per pound (85.5%), flavor (80%), and tenderness (77.5%) as the major considerations in purchasing beef. The choice beef from the Midwest ranked highest in overall forced preference by 45% of those consumers whereas the grain-fed Jersey cross group was preferred by 36.2% and the pasture-fed Jersey cross group was preferred by 18.8%. In that evaluation, the 9-point hedonic scale resulted in significantly lower scores (P < 0.05) for overall acceptance and flavor liking for beef from pasture-fed Jersey cross steers (6.20, 5.99) compared to choice Midwest (6.83, 6.80) or grain-fed Jersey cross steers (6.74, 6.76). No differences were noted between scores for juiciness liking or tenderness liking with average scores ranging from 5.91 to 6.53.

At the Farmers Market, the taste panel comparison between steaks from the pasture-finished steers and those from concentrate-finished steers from year 1 revealed a 66.9%: 33.12% advantage for the grain-fed product among 145 consumers at the market. About 54% of those consumers were age 50 or older and 57% were male. About 75% of those participants indicated that they ate beef at least once a week.

As noted above, taste panel evaluations of loin samples included comparison with choice dairy-influence beef from the Midwest. There were no differences in Warner-Bratzler tenderness values among treatments in either year. Across both years, taste panel preferences averaged 39.6%, 37.5%, and 21.9% for choice beef, concentrate-fed Jersey cross beef, and pasture-fed Jersey cross beef, respectively. Even with those preferences, generally all samples were deemed of acceptable quality. Although fewer consumers preferred the leaner pasture-fed Jersey beef, there appears to be a consistent percentage of the population who have that preference. It was clear that the overall eating quality of the steaks from Jersey-and Jersey-cross steers regardless of feeding regimen was reasonable even though such animals had less fat than choice quality beef from the Midwest.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

A poster/abstract was presented at a national meeting in 2007 by graduate student, Holly Deal:

Deal, H. D., D.J. Hanson, M. H. Poore, S. P. Washburn, C. M. Williams, and A.D. Shaeffer. 2007. Consumer acceptability of beef loin steaks from dairy cattle finished on grass and concentrate feeding programs. Proc. Recip. Meat Conf. (60th). Amer. Meat Sci. Assoc. Savoy, IL. (Abstr.)

That same poster was set up during the Farmers Market taste panel evaluation in August, 2007.

Preliminary results were discussed at a dairy workshop on July 17, 2008 at CEFS.

A PowerPoint presentation on key results was presented at a Value-added beef workshop at CEFS on November 14, 2008.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
With only one study, we probably have raised more questions than we have answered. There certainly was a high degree of acceptability for the loin steak samples from both concentrate-fed and pasture-fed Jersey and Jersey-cross steers even though they likely would not have graded USDA Choice. The cooperating producer has shown the ability to develop a niche market for pasture-fed Jersey beef and has been successful economically when marketing directly at a premium price. Additional work on market potential, shortening the time to harvest, and in improved forage management would add to the data collected in the current study.

Economic Analysis

The cooperating farmer, Mr. Joe Peterson, figured a budget based on handling about 30 steers per year. He started with a four-month-old 250-pound Jersey or Jersey-cross bull calf at a cost of $250 per head and Fencing, pasture, and ownership costs were $118.00, hay cost at $240.00, transportation costs of $105, labor cost at $32.00, and other costs (minerals, insurance, taxes) of $25.00 for a cost of $770.00 for a 24-month-old live steer weighing about 840 pounds. On top of those costs, processing fees were at $242.00, marketing labor and fees were $206.00 leaving a total input cost of $1,218.00. A steer weighing 840 pounds dresses a hot carcass weight of about 400 pounds or 47.6% which is similar to dressing percentages observed for the CEFS pasture-fed steers. With dry aging for 14 days, a shrink of 16% is expected such that retail salable product = ~336 pounds. Mr. Peterson has been able to average $6.78 per pound resulting in a gross income of $2,281.00 and an expected net return per steer of $1,063. Projected out to 30 steers, the farm net from the beef enterprise would yield about $31,890 which would complement the other farm enterprises. Mr. Peterson indicated that across all farm enterprises, that he finished in the black in 2008 and has plans to expand his pasture acreage and number of steers raised. He indicates that his profit analysis is based on direct retail marketing, i.e. farmers market and farm sales. He says: “I have not been able to justify a profit on a wholesale basis.” Obviously in a niche market as used by Mr. Peterson, the opportunity for a premium price more than offsets the higher costs of raising and processing a relatively low number of animals each year. Another factor that is quite variable is the purchase value of bull calves at the start. Certainly, there are times when young bull calves can be purchased for much less than $1.00 per pound. Another concern for such enterprises is access to a local abattoir which can operate efficiently enough to hold those costs down as well as be close enough to reduce the transportation costs to and from the abattoir. Grain-fed steers grew faster and yielded more and were consistently favored by a higher percentage of panelists. Therefore, the economic potential of grain feeding would depend upon the cost of grain and whether that beef product could command comparable premiums to the pasture-fed beef. In either case, there appears to be potential to develop a profitable enterprise using Jersey or Jersey-Holstein cross steers for beef. Although steers in both years averaged approximately 23 months of age at harvest, it is also likely that a more intensive use of high-quality pasture over the entire life of such animals could reduce age at harvest by several months perhaps realistically to approximately 16-20 months of age. Certainly, a pasture plus grain feeding option would shorten the time to harvest. Such work needs to be done along with a more thorough economic analysis of the project including evaluation of market potential for various method of finishing Jersey and Jersey cross beef.

Farmer Adoption

This project came about as a result of farmer interest. That producer is continuing to expand his Jersey beef enterprise. There is interest in the project from the American Jersey Cattle Association and it is expected that through the current efforts and from studies they have supported that more Jersey beef enterprises will be developed around the country.

Areas needing additional study

How young an age can Jersey and Jersey-cross steers be harvested from a pasture-based system? More thorough economic analyses with differing cost and return estimates need to be examined. What are optimal forage species and management practices to ensure a consistent, high quality beef product from a pasture-based system? What are the economic and market possibilities for short periods of concentrate feeding in addition to pasture? More complete evaluation of fatty acid composition of various cuts of meat and implications for human health across differing feeding systems is needed.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.