Growth rate, body composition, and meat tenderness in early vs. traditionally weaned beef calves


One hundred forty spring-born Angus × Gelbvieh and purebred Angus steers were selected for study as early weaned (EW; average age at weaning = 90 ± 30 d) or traditionally weaned (TW; average age at weaning = 174 ± 37 d) steers that were non-implanted or implanted (Synovex-S, Fort Dodge Animal Health, Overland Park, KS). Initially, steers were sorted by age, sire, and farm, and then allotted randomly in a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement of treatments of EW implanted (EWI), EW nonimplanted (EWN), TW implanted (TWI), or TW nonimplanted (TWN). Ultrasound measurements (US) of LM area (LMA), 12th rib fat thickness (US-BF), and marbling (US-M) were collected every 28 d during the time that steers were on feed. At 202 d of age, EW calves had larger US-LMA, US-BF, and BW than TW calves (37.9 vs. 32.3 cm2, 0.38 vs. 0.26 cm, and 271.6 vs. 218.9 kg, respectively; P < 0.001). At slaughter, EW calves had heavier HCW (290.4 vs. 279.7 kg, respectively; P < 0.05) and greater USDA marbling scores (51.25 vs. 46.26, respectively; P < 0.05) than TW calves; more EW steers graded USDA Choice or greater (P = 0.05). However, no differences were detected in BW (P = 0.15), LMA (P = 0.39), BF (P = 0.45), or liver abscess scores (P = 0.41). Twenty-four implanted steers were selected from the original group of 140 and sorted into two slaughter groups of 12. Twelve implanted steers from each weaning group, matched in slaughter BW but differing in age, were subsampled at slaughter to assess the effect of weaning age and chronological age on muscle tenderness. Younger animals had lower Warner-Bratzler shear force values (P < 0.001) than older calves after 14 d of postmortem aging; however, no differences were found in tenderness after 21 d of aging. Furthermore, there was greater variance (P < 0.001) in Warner-Bratzler shear force values among younger, EW steers vs. older, TW steers. These data provide evidence that early weaning of beef calves may be used as a tool to more effectively manage the cow-calf production system without compromising the quality of the offspring.


Animal Science

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Journal of animal science