Published on 04/29/98

No Bull: UGA Facility Makes Steaks Better

Shoppers today may not realize a bull test center has any value to them. But the fact that they can buy their beef both lean and tender is due largely to just such a place.

"We use ultrasound to measure the ribeye area and check the marbling, and to measure the backfat," said Robert Stewart, a University of Georgia Extension Service animal scientist.

Stewart runs the Tifton Bull Evaluation Center of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

BREAKING GROUND for the new multipurpose livestock building at the University of Georgia Bull Evaluation Center near Irwinville, Ga., are (from left) Georgia Rep. Penny Houston (District 166), Georgia Rep. Newt Hudson (Dist. 156), Georgia Cattlemen's Association President Betts Berry, UGA Animal and
Dairy Science Department Head Larry Benyshek, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Assistant Dean Phil Utley, Georgia Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Harold Ragan (Dist. 11), GCA Bull Test Committee Chairman Harvey Lemmon and UGA CAES Dean and Director Gale Buchanan.

To yield tender steaks, he said, beef cattle have to have a certain amount of marbling. Beef lovers have long known that the intermixture of fat and muscle marks the very best cuts of meat.

But backfat, Stewart said, just has to be trimmed off. Shoppers don't want to do a lot of trimming.

"Now that we're using ultrasound to measure these aspects of a bull," he said, "purebred cattle producers can change their cattle to better meet consumers' needs."

Stewart has seen many changes in the UGA bull test program. The most obvious have come in the past three years, when the facility was moved from its 37-year-old Tifton site to a greatly expanded site in nearby Irwin County.

Local legislators and state agricultural leaders met at the site April 16 to break ground for a $250,000 multipurpose building. The building is expected to be completed by the time the next group of bulls arrives at the end of September.

"This new facility will be a valuable part of the bull evaluation program," said Betts Berry, president of the Georgia Cattlemen's Association, which helps manage the program. "And the bull evaluation program is an integral part of the total beef production effort of Georgia."

Harvey Lemmon, who chairs the GCA bull test committee, said the center's top Angus bulls have gone from yearling weights of less than 1,000 pounds to more than 1,400 pounds in the program's 40-year history.

"It doesn't take a genius," he said, "to see what we've accomplished with the bull evaluation program."

It's all a matter of genetics. "When we needed more size, we first started measuring frame," Stewart said. "When we found we were getting tall bulls that weren't deep enough or wide enough, we moderated our goals to consider depth and dimension."

But the biggest bull isn't always the best bull, he said. Cattlemen consign their bulls to be tested (and foot the bill for the program), he said. The bulls are all fed the same feed and evaluated over four and half months.

"We provide the most complete data a buyer can get," Stewart said. "If we identify what we're looking for, we have tests to evaluate for it."

Sometimes, he said, a farmer may want a bull to breed first-calf heifers. He can choose one that sires quality calves that are smaller at birth.

One farmer may want to raise the weaning weights in his herd. Another may need cows that give more milk. Both can get what they need by selecting the right bull.

The focus of any genetic change in cattle is what the shoppers want in the store.

"We just have to identify the needs and see what kind of bull best matches the needs of the herd," Stewart said.

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.