Opportunities for pasture-raised Jersey beef in the Southeast

2007 Annual 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

Opportunities for pasture-raised Jersey beef in the Southeast


Two years of data comparing grass-finished (GF) Jersey X Holstein cattle (n = 12 + 10) when compared to concentrate-finished (CF) Jersey X Holstein cattle (n = 12 + 10) and choice graded dairy-influence cattle (DI) (n = 12 + 10). Before the study, all Jersey cross cattle were fed 2.26 kg per head per day concentrate ration with pasture and ad libitum hay when pasture was limiting. Cattle within the GF treatment group were rotationally grazed for 84 d on warm season grasses before harvest. Cattle within the CF treatment group were fed a concentrate ration of 77.25 % corn, 10 % corn silage, and 11 % soybean meal 84 d before harvest. Cattle were harvested at the same time regardless of weight or degree of finish and all steers were between 20 and 24 mo of age. Average harvest weights were 429.5 kg (yr 1) and 474.1 kg (yr 2)for GF and 481.1 kg (yr 1) and 489.1 kg (yr 2) for CF cattle. Dressing percent was lower (P < 0.05) for GF (46.5% and 48.2% vs. 52.5% and 52.7% for yr 1 and 2, respectively) than CF cattle. Carcass weights and dressing percentages were significantly lower in pasture-fed steers in both years. Those differences were likely a combination of differences in gut fill (more fill on pasture) and degree of fatness (less on pasture). Also, smaller ribeye areas were recorded (P < 0.05) for GF (as compared to CF cattle. All meat was aged for 14 d before being loins were collected and cut into 2.54 cm steaks. Meat from the GF and CF treatments was then frozen until further analysis. Beef loin steaks, aged for 14 d, were secured from a Green Bay, Wisconsin packer for the choice grade dairy influence (DI) comparison. Carcass data on the DI treatment were not recorded. Intramuscular crude fat analyses revealed differences (P < 0.05) among treatments, with GF 1.7 %, CF 3.7 %, and DI 5.6 % fat. 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. The consumer acceptability panel (n = 124) 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 GF, CF, and DI were reported on the acceptable side of the hedonic scale (> 5.0). There were no differences (P > 0.05) in overall liking among all treatments. No differences (P > 0.05) were detected in flavor liking among the treatments. For juiciness liking, CF had higher (P < 0.05) scores than GF (6.13 vs. 5.67), but CF was not different from DI. For tenderness liking, CF had higher (P < 0.05) scores compared to GF (6.34 vs. 5.56), but CF was not different from DI. There were no differences (P > 0.05) in WBS values among all the treatments. When consumers were asked to make a forced choice preference ranking, CF had higher (P < 0.05) percentage preference than GF (40.9 % vs. 25 %) but CF was not different from DI. These data suggest that beef loin steaks from CF were preferred by more panelists in contrast to beef loin steaks from GF. However, consumers rated beef loin steaks from grass fed Jersey cattle acceptable for overall, flavor, juiciness, and tenderness liking. Cattle producers may consider marketing grass fed beef if demand for this niche product is present.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The objective of this work is to examine marketable characteristics of farmer-reared pastured Jersey and Jersey-Holstein steers and to compare groups of pasture-raised (CEFS) and confinement-finished (Butner Beef Cattle Field Laboratory) Jersey and Jersey-Holstein steers for measures of growth, tenderness, fatty acid composition, and taste acceptance of beef produced. We are also interested in the potential economic return from Jersey-cross steers finshed either on pasture or in a feedlot.


Although steers in both years averaged approximately 23 months of age at harvest, it is 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 to approximately 15-18 months. Such work needs to be done along with an economic analysis of the project. Fatty acid composition from the grass-fed and grain-fed steers have been done but have not yet been statistically analyzed. It is expected that grass-fed steers will have higher concentrations of CLA and a potentially more favorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids as reported from other studies.

An informal taste panel evaluation was conducted at the Piedmont Farmer's Market in a booth adjacent to that of cooperating farmer, Joe Peterson. Again a majority of the consumers there preferred the steak samples from the grain-fed Jersey-cross steers but both grain-fed and grass-fed samples were very acceptable suggesting an opportunity for developing a specialty market for Jersey-cross pasture-finished beef.