Lowline Angus Cattle
You may have noticed how BIG commercial cattle have become over the past 50 years. In the 1950s, an average Hereford steer was about 48 inches at the hip, and the weight was around 900 pounds. Today a Hereford steer will typically be 54 inches at the hip and weigh around 1300 pounds. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades carcass quality by assessing marbling and maturity. They grade carcass yield (usable cuts of meat) by assessing external fat, carcass weight and area of ribeye muscle. The formula
Lowline Bull & Charolais Bull
for determining carcass yield includes a penalizing factor for carcass weights in excess of 600 pounds. In addition, the “Certified Angus Beef” trademark is only allowed on qualified animals with a carcass weight below 1,000 pounds. In the case of commercial beef production, bigger is NOT necessarily better (Texas A&M report).
Lowline Angus are relatively new to the United States. The first Lowlines were imported from Australia in 1997. The breed is a true Angus, and it is the result of a research study at the Trangie Research Institute in New South Wales. The research study was designed to to establish whether large or small animals were more efficient converters of grass into meat. Three closed herds were established—called High line, Low line and Control line. The research results showed the High lines to be about 5% more efficient than the Low lines in grass to meat conversion efficiency, but the efficiency as protein converters was much the same. When the study was completed in 1992, the Low line animals (now about 30% smaller than their counterparts) were sold at auction to Australian ranchers. The Australian Lowline was recognized as a breed in 1993, and the herd book is maintained on-line with the Australian Lowline Cattle Association. In North America, Lowline Angus are registered with the American Lowline Registry. In 2006, there were approximately 1600 registered Fullblood Lowline Angus in the United States and Canada.
Because Lowlines are a relatively new breed to North America, there are not very many animals available on the market, and prices will vary depending on the quality and age of the animals. Fullblood females prices will generally range from $3,000- $5,000. Fullblood bulls prices will range from $1,000-$3,500.
At Pecan Creek Farm, our goal is to develop breeding stock to provide a high-quality, grass-fed meat product. Our location in central Texas puts us in close proximity to several excellent cattle-breeding facilities. We’re very fortunate that the best new technologies are practically in our backyard. Cattle breeding is no longer limited to “pasture breeding.” Now there’s an entire alphabet soup of technologies—including AI (Artificial Insemination), ET (Embryo Transfer), and IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).
The live calves born at Pecan Creek Farm are all the result of Embryo Transfer. We have purchased recipient cows with confirmed pregnancies, and we’ve purchased frozen embryos for transfer into our own recipient cows. We are harvesting embryos now from our own donor cows by conventional flushing and by in-vitro fertilization. There are advantages and disadvantages to each technology, and we continue to make adjustments to our breeding program. We are also harvesting semen from our own bulls, and we have been using “sorted” semen in our embryo program. Semen is sorted by separating X and Y chromosomes—so that the sex of an embryo is known at the time of implantation. Sex may also be determined by sonogram of the recipient cow when the pregnancy has reached 60 days. SEXING TECHNOLOGIES, located between College Station and Navasota, Texas is the company we currently use for embryo work.
In order for a Lowline Angus to be registered as a Fullblood, the parentage of the animal must be confirmed by DNA testing. All Fullbloods must be descendants of the Lowline Angus dispersed from the Trangie Research Study in Australia. Lowlines may also be registered as Purebred—meaning they are at least 7/8 Lowline Angus. Parentage is confirmed by submitted a small blood sample along with the application for registration.
Additional genetic testing is available for predicting how efficiently an animal uses its feed and the quality and tenderness of meat produced by that animal (Pfizer Animal Health). In the United States in 2006, an animal could be tested for three tenderness genes and two carcass quality genes. In early 2007, a test for a third carcass quality gene was added. The test has now evolved into a 56 panel set of gene markers called MVP's (Molecular Value Predictions). These give a molecular breeding value for Tenderness, Quality Grade and Feed Efficiency. Hair samples are submitted for these tests.
All Lowline Angus at Pecan Creek Farm are DNA tested to confirm parentage and are registered with the American Lowline Registry. We also test our animals for tenderness and carcass quality. We select our breeding stock based on both physical characteristics (phenotype) and genetic qualities (genotype). Our goal is to produce animals with a maximum amount of useable cuts of meat, and we want a meat product that is tender and tastes great. We want it all!