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Young, good-looking and with the weight of a bull

The Superprecocious Yearling is ready for slaughter at one year of age and with 450 kg of weight, which guarantees soft meat and profits to the cattlemen

A system for the raising of cattle developed at the State Paulista University (Unesp), in Botucatu, brings an innovative solution to the national cattle raising industry. With one year of age, with weight of more or less 450 kilograms and without the use of anabolic steroids, the bullock is ready for slaughter, contrary to the majority of national cattle which require three to four years to arrive at this weight. The new technique of controlling – the manner of rearing and feeding – has resulted in the Superprecocious Yearling.

More than 12,000 animals have already been slaughtered after having been fattened on the campus of Lageado of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Zootechniques (FMVZ) of Unesp in Botucatu and on more than 200 private ranches situated in the States of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Parana, Goias, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, Tocantins and Rondonia, with technology passed on and supervised by the researchers.

Another healthy factor of the Superprecocious Yearling is the thickness of the layer of fat of these young animals. It always reaches the 3 millimeter mark, permitting freezing in the cold storage plant which does not prejudice its softness. In reality, this meat will not be recommended for barbecues. “It would simply fall apart.” advised professor Antonio Carlos Silveira, coordinator of the thematic project the Development of Meat Cattle of the Superprecocious Biological Model, under development since 1992 on the Lageado campus of Unesp, with financial support from FAPESP.

Dr. Silveira coordinates a group of 28 people involved in the project, which includes 11 subprojects and will be concluded in 2003. There are 12 researchers from various centers: The Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences (FCAV) of Unesp at Jaboticabal, the Faculty of Medicine of the University of São Paulo (USP) in Ribeirão Preto, the Higher School of Agriculture Luiz de Queiroz of USP in Piracicaba and the Institute of Biosciences of Unesp at Botucatu. There is also the participation of 11 post-graduate and graduate students of Unesp at Botucatu.

Jumping stages
The Superprecocious Yearling is a result of the breeding of the Nelore breed of cattle, of Indian origin, with European breeds – Aberdeen Angus, Hereford, Simental, Braunvieh, Charolês, Limousin, Swiss Brown and others. The cross breeding can be done naturally or by artificial insemination. The system is notable because it jumps stages. For example, there is the need for only 35% of the pasture area used in traditional cattle rearing, because the calves stop breast feeding at seven months and with 230 kg – an age at which they would normally weigh 200 kg – and go directly to fattening in confinement . Therefore they don’t pass through the common and onerous phase of recreation which normally lasts from two to three years.

The system anticipates not only the age of slaughter of the bullocks to take place at the maximum of 13 months, but as well the first parturition of the cows – preserved in part for reproduction -, which can occur at two years of age, while in the traditional rearing the first parturition only happens after three years of age. The Spuerprecocious Yearling is crossed with a bull of European extraction and the offspring has a quarter of the Nelore blood (from the first cross) and three quarters of European blood.

With the passing on of the technology to other farms and ranches, and with proven success, the system is already consolidated. It began to be developed in 1992, in a partnership between Unesp of Botucatu and the agriculture and cattle raising company Nomurabras, situated in Araxa (MG), which, at the initial stage, gave the calves and a property in the municipality. At that time, the average age of the cattle being slaughtered in the country was around four years and the first parturition of the cows was, and still is, four years and a half. “A reality which shows the backwardness of the cattle industry in the country.” emphasized Dr. Silveira. “Right from the first months of the experiments, the slaughter age of the bullocks was lowered by a year and the first parturition of the cows to a minimum of 24 months.” he completed.

Biological model
To make sure that everything runs well, the researchers monitor the growth of the muscular skeleton structure of the yearlings from their birth until they stop breast feeding, and from there until their termination – mature enough for slaughter. They also research the quality of the feedstock and supplements, to guide the control of food. Also, in the area of molecular biology, they carry out the characterization of the genes involved in the growth and in the composition of the carcass, to identify genetically superior individuals and eventually destine them for reproduction.

No other country has a biological model for beef cattle as efficient and quick, assured Dr. Silveira. He pointed out the research into the process of the softness of the meat: “The enzyme calpastatine which inhibits the softness, is present in all animals, it is only that some have more and some have less.” For example, in the Zebuin breeds – such as Nelore – it is more frequent.

To study the biology of the growth of the genetic groups and the enzymes responsible for softness in the meat, a complementary project was developed with three sub projects, in partnership with the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Institute of Biosciences of Unesp in Botucatu and the Department of Technology of FCAV of Unesp at Jaboticabal.In this project, researchers from the area of physics-chemistry are looking to develop practical methods for the post-slaughter determination of the softness of the meat.

The group is also developing a methodology to study the characteristics of the carcass of the breeds in relation to the polymorphism of the growth hormone (IGF-1) and leptine – a product of the obesity gene – highlighting the degree of its presence. The characteristics of the meat and the degree of marmorizing – presence of fat in the carcass – depend on the genetic inheritance of the animal.

Tropical genetics
Predominant in Brazil, the Nelore does not have sexual or terminal precocity, but demonstrates an enormous rusticity and adaptation to the tropical climate and to precarious feeding, while the European animal is sexually precocious and develops in a lot less time, but gets huffy about the restricted food imposed by the climate. The crossing of the Nelore and the European results in half-cast offspring genetically superior to their parents – a phenomena known as heterosis -, in which the rustic characteristics of the Nelore combine with the sexual precocity and the rapid growth rate of the European cattle.

The female Nelore, however, doesn’t have enough milk for the nutritional demands needed for the half-breed calf. From birth to puberty, the growth hormones are liberated to develop bone and muscle and for this the calves need a supplementary supply of milk, rich in amino acids, vitamins and minerals. This supplement or ration is provided via the system, called creep feeding, in pre-molded troughs. They are positioned in places in the pasture where only the still breast feeding calves can have access. The cows can’t manage to reach the troughs. In this way, the calves who normally stop breast feeding at seven months with a weight of 200 kg obtain 30 to 45 extra kilos of weight.

Before puberty
After they stop breast feeding, the males go into confinement with230 kg without passing through the stage of creation. On a property of 1,000 hectares where normally one would raise 1,000 animals per year, only 350 hectares are occupied using the system Superprecocious Yearling because the calves don’t stay more that 7 months in the fields with their mothers, whereas in the traditional system the creation time takes 37 months. As there no longer exists areas of creation, more pasture is left over and the property is optimized: there can be double or even triple the production of cattle or the extra hectares can be used for agriculture.

In this way the animals enter into a phase of fattening in the field or in confinement even before they reach the age of puberty – when the production of steroid hormones predominates over sexual hormones. At this stage, the female enters the puberty cycle and the male increases its scrotal circumference and begins the deposition of fat. The females of the cross breeds already begin their first cycle at 12 months, while the males at the same age weigh more or less 450 kg and can be slaughtered.

Reinforced feeding
The bacteria which are found in the rumen – part of the stomach of ruminants – extract energy from the foodstuffs consumed using up totally the starch of the cereals and liberating volatile fatty acids. These gases are absorbed by the Yearling and correspondto 85% or more of the energy which he needs. For this reason, and as the starch in the corn grain is covered with a protective covering (endosperm) which the bacteria need to break down to make use of the energy, the researchers decided to accelerate the process. To this end, the corn is collected when it is more humid and placed in silos. In this way the protective covering of the jacket is broken and increases the availability of the starch to the bacteria. This material, endowed with the characteristics of a corn meal cake, substitutes the corn ground into the ration.

The result is an economy of 20% in the cost of the fattening of the yearlings when in confinement, since the humid corn is more digestible and it doesn’t have to be stored, dried and put into sacks – it goes straight to the silo. It is the so called silage of the humid corn grain. As well as this, as it is collected almost a month before normal, as it needs to have 26% humidity, there is a lessening of the risk of loss by the attack of predators. Another advantage: a new corn can be planted over the remains of the cornfield in time to make use of the rainy season.

In the area of confinement at Lageado, which was reformed with concrete and has 26 bays with a total capacity for 156 animals, there will be the testing of a combination of feedstock involving mainly silage of humid cereal grains, such as corn, sorghum and others.

Cost reduction
By being younger, the animals eat less than the larger and older cattle. Of what they eat, 75% is destined to the maintenance of vital processes – circulation of the blood, heartbeat, digestion etc. However, the heavier the animal, the greater the amount of food needed for maintenance, and less foodstuff is left over for the food conversion which makes the animal gain weight. For example, an animal of 300 kg needs 9 kg of dry material per day to gain 1 kg of weight to eventually arrive at 450 kg. However, the Superprecocious Yearling passes from 230 kg to 450 kg eating on average 6 kg of dry material per day, and it is sufficient to gain 1 kg per day.

As well as this, the younger animal of whatever breed proportionally gives more beef and with a greater softness. Slaughtered with more or less 450 kg, the yearling gives 16 arrobas (240 kg) of meat with the minimum 3 millimeters of protective fat on the carcass. Before slaughtering, the fat cover and the area of the loin are checked by ultrasound. When the thickness of the fat is less than that required the meat “burns” and hardens when it is refrigerated, as well as losing in conservation, softness and color. As well, there is no need to overstep the limit – 3 to 4 millimeters – as this would be uneconomical: Dr. Silveira remembered that the North Americans have the habit of eating meat with between 8 and 10 millimeters of fat and for this reason their production costs and that of confinement are much higher.

An experimental slaughterhouse
At the moment the yearlings are slaughtered in the slaughterhouses of the region, but the researchers pretend to construct an experimental slaughterhouse on the campus at Lageado with the capacity of slaughtering eight animals per day. It will be useful to the faculty laboratory, also reformed during the project, which is investigating the quality of the meat. There, there is a check on the softness of the meat, the color, pH and other items. “Our expectation,” stated Dr. Silveira “is to build in Unesp, at Botucatu, the largest research center for meat quality in the country.”

The final idea is to establish a certificate of quality which facilitates the exportation of Brazilian meat. For Dr. Silveira, the country could be a major exporter of meat if it was to present a product which was softer and had a certificate of guarantee. He is hoping that, within a period of three years, the laboratory can issue a meat certificate – specifying if the meat is from a male or female, how much fat there is and what is its degree of softness, as well as presenting a breakdown of the food the animal was fed on – which will confer a guarantee certified by the university. There are sub projects being developed to attain this objective.

Guaranteed maturation
It is also important for the perfecting of the quality of the meat, the adoption of a maturation technique – which, in Botucatu, is done within the laboratory. The cuts are vacuum packed and placed in a refrigerator at a temperature of between 0 and 2 degrees Celsius for 14 to 20 days. During this period the meat becomes darker and afterwards, when oxygenated, returns to its cherry red, said Dr. Luis Arthur Loyola Chardulo, professor of the Chemical and Biochemical Department of the Institute of Biosciences of Unesp. He is responsible for the evaluation of the quality of the meat and for the coordination of the biochemical research, together with Dr. Roberto Roa, of the Department of Technology of Foodstuffs of Unesp at Botucatu.

They check the level of proteins, fat, minerals, humidity, pH and carry out the microbiological analysis for tests of contamination by salmonella and for the activity of enzymes. To complete these studies, they are evaluating the effects of the manipulation of genetic factors – genetic and sexual markings by the method of the reaction in polymerase chain (PCR) – to identify and select the individuals with superior genetic value to include in the characteristics of the carcass. With this project, the cattle ranchers are gaining a technique for an innovative control which will guarantee them a profit, develop the cattle business and point them towards exportation of meat on a very large scale.

An attack on wastage
Although there has occurred a modernization of Brazilian cattle raising during the last decade, the vast majority of the 150 million head of the national herd are still created extensively on the pasture of close to 4 million rural properties which exist within the country. The average distribution is of one animal per hectare. As well as this, of the 30 million head slaughtered last year, only 1.8 million were in the system of confinement – which signified a loss of the use of land which could be used for agriculture or even in a more efficient cattle ranch.

According to Dr. Silveira, the system of production of the Superprecocious Yearling guarantees the cattle raiser a profit calculated at R$ 163.70 per animal. The total cost of production – including vaccines, medicine, price of the calf, rent of the pasture and food – comes to RS$ 457. 54. As the income from the carcass is 55% of the gross weight or 16.53 arrobas and the rancher receives from the slaughterhouse R$ 40.00 per arroba, the November 2000 price, he collects RS$ 661.20 per animal.

Since the Brazilian territory is very large and has diverse climates, the Superprecocious Yearling system, in order to have an all year round slaughtering system, is only suggested for regions where there is the availability of grain, such as the South, South West and Central West. Consequently, in the North and North East it is better to produce the green cow – created on pasture – and to adopt an alternative system of precocious yearlings created only on pasture, which as well will guarantee an income.

For example, for calves which stop breast feeding at less than 230 kg, Dr. Silveira recommends a period of creation of eight months on pasture and four months in confinement, until their slaughter at 20 months with 476 kg hoof weight and 17.48 arrobas. Even then, the profit of the rancher will be RS$ 228.93 per yearling, over a longer period of time.

For slaughter after 24 months, the system suggests a creation period of 14 months and a semiconfinement of three months during which the animal reaches 479.75 kg of hoof weight and produces 17.60 arrobas, guaranteeing an overall profit of RS$ 170.91. For slaughter after 36 months, the calf also stops breast feeding after seven months, spends 23 months of creation on pasture and another six months of fattening on pasture, until it is slaughtered with a hoof weight of 517 kg, producing 18.25 arrobas of meat, which realizes a net income of RS$ 139.28 per animal.

The project
The Growth of Meat Cattle of the Biological Model Superprecocious; Modality Thematic project; Coordinator Dr. Antonio Carlos Silveira – The Department of Improvement and Animal Nutrition of the faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Zootechnique of Unesp in Botucatu; Investment R$ 556,617.21 and US$ 63,331.10