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Chianina in the U.S., Part 3 | September 2023

Reprinted with permission from the American Chianina Association

by Heather Smith Thomas

Photos courtesy American Chianina Association

50th Anniversary Series

Part 3 - Carcass Superiority

From the beginning of this breed in the U.S., one of its many pluses was carcass and meat quality and high percentage of lean meat. “In addition to increasing enthusiasm for Chianina-bred feeder calves and market show winners, Chianina steers became prominent winners of on-the-rail carcass contests at several national beef shows,” says Richard Koonce, who was field man for the Association for many years.

The first successes for these end-product evaluations were achieved by the Dick Carlson family, of Mile High Chianina. “Mile High home-bred and raised steers were selected as champion carcasses during the 1970s at the Arizona National Show in Phoenix, Ariz. (2 grands and 1 reserve), and grand champions at both the Grand National Show (Cow Palace), San Francisco, Calif., and the North American in Louisville, Ky.,” says Koonce.

“The most successful breeders and promoters of carcass superiority of Chianina and Chiangus genetic influences have been Myron and Kathy Danner, of Burwell, Neb. Consigning for many years to the National Western Fed Beef Contest competition, their home-bred Chiangus garnered several grand champion steer titles as well as grand champion heifer carcasses including having both divisional grand awards and six overall champions. Their line-bred Chiangus entries mostly trace back to their Marquis Farms’ foundation sire, Silver Dollar, the 1977 ACA National Grand Champion Percentage Bull,” says Koonce.

Myron Danner still has a ranch in central Nebraska near Burwell. He was born in 1952 and grew up on a farm in Iowa. “My dad showed carloads of steers in many shows and was very competitive,” Myron says. “He loved showing cattle. He bought the cattle, fed the cattle and succeeded at what he loved to do. We have many show banners from the 50’s and 60’s; he won the International twice in 1966 and again in 1968. These were my 4-H years and we had champions at Chicago. I had a steer that won my County Fair in 1965. He weighed 800 pounds. The cattle at that time were small and very fat and we called them baby beef,” he says.

In the 1970’s Myron went to Iowa State University. “I was influenced by the University professors and was on a meat judging team, then livestock judging. This laid some of the foundation for what I looked for in cattle. In the meats judging I could see the leanness, muscling, the quality grades and all the factors important in beef production,” Myron says.

He went to graduate school at Michigan State University and got to know Dr. Harlan Ritchie, a renowned livestock judge. “I lived with him for 4½ years while I was a grad student and he became my mentor. Harlan introduced me to Chianina cattle and we became partners. Then in the ‘80’s I struck out on my own and continued to follow the breed. In the late ‘80’s I started exhibiting my own cattle at the National Western Fed Beef contest,” he says.

The first time Myron entered that contest he won it, in 1988. “That helped shape my direction and my interest in meat and carcass judging. I continued to exhibit through the 90’s and won repeatedly in Denver. Some years I had both Grand and Reserve and some years they broke it into divisions and had a Restaurant Division and a Retail Division. The specs for the Restaurant Division were for a higher quality grading product, and not so much emphasis on cutability, while the Retail Division emphasis was on cutability, lean muscle, and not so much on marbling,” Myron says.

“I won both divisions because I put my heifers in the Restaurant Division and steers in Retail Division and hit both targets. A heifers quality grade is better; that’s a proven fact because they get fat sooner. Steers keep growing longer and are more muscular. Steers are ideally suited to the supermarket trade. The percentage Chi steer hits the high select/low choice perfectly, with yield grade 1 and 2,” he explains.

“The last time I won it was in 2009 and then that contest was dropped. Denver was my measuring stick for competing; I always followed the Denver Stock Show. It told me whether I was doing things right or wrong.”

Myron says John Matsushima, professor at Colorado State University, sponsored the trophy awarded at the fed beef contest. “It was the Matsushima award for the overall champion pen each year at that contest, a traveling trophy now on display at the National Western Club. John is a legend in Colorado; he wrote the book on cattle feeding. He is still alive, at age 103,” says Myron. In 2021, at the 151st Anniversary of its founding, CSU bestowed the 2021 Founders Day Medal on Professor Emeritus John Matsushima – a legendary scientist in beef cattle nutrition whose innovations influenced the global food system. Matsushima partnered in research with the nation’s top cattle feeders and beef processors to improve animal health, efficiencies, pricing and food quality.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s Chianina-cross steers had won every steer show in the country and also many carcass contests, but it was hard to get the breed accepted in the commercial industry. “One of the reasons was the breed’s temperament,” says Bob Vantrease, who spent many years working for the ACA and was its third CEO. “This has been true with many of the exotic continental breeds, especially when you cross them with other breeds. We had several Chianina breeders, like Dieter Brothers in South Dakota, who went to work immediately on disposition issues. They eventually had one of the best herds of Chiangus cattle in the United States. Disposition was one of the traits they worked the hardest to improve,” Bob says. “Angus are not the best for disposition either, so when crossing these breeds it’s crucial to pay attention to selection for temperament.”

“Many people fail to recognize this. Cattle breeding involves all kinds of selection, but one of the first things to pay attention to is disposition. I don’t care what those cattle can do, if they are not manageable you can’t handle them, and they can also be dangerous,” Bob explains.

“As a breed, we were rocking along pretty well during the 1980’s and resolving many of the problems, when the National Cattlemen’s Association —with Darrell Wilkes at the helm – put on a test to find out more about the beef industry.”

NCA Feedlot Test

In the early 1990’s the National Cattlemen’s Association sponsored a feedlot test and carcass evaluation contest (a Strategic Alliance project) comparing various groups of cattle. All breeds were eligible and cattlemen were invited to enter pot-load entries of weaned steers for this test.

“They had their big test at a feedlot in Kansas and each group that participated had to have 100 steers,” recalls Bob. “Darrell Wilkes had representatives from many breeds —Hereford, Angus, Shorthorn, Gelbvieh, Simmental, etc. He had about 15 big ranches’ cattle in this test, but there were no Chianina. So I called him, and asked if he’d have room for a couple more breeders. He said yes, and I told him I had two breeders who could fill it up. Jerry Adamson and Roger Dieter both consigned about 100 head each that were mainly Chiangus. Some of those steers were sired by Fullblood bulls and out of Angus cows, and many were second generation Chiangus; some were even third generation,” Bob says.

In that test, all steers were taken through the feeding period and packing plant. “Those two Chiangus herds ended up as first and second in profit. Jerry’s 100 head made $154 more per head than any of the other herds and Roger Dieter’s steers made $135 more than the other breeds. This was a good test and got people’s attention; it gave us a big boost,” he says.

After all the feedlot and slaughter results were tabulated, it was those two ACA members who had bred and owned the most profitable cattle. Adamson’s Rocking J Ranch (Cody, NE) Chiangus load was crowned champions while the Dieter Brothers’ (Faulkton, SD) Chiangus load was reserve champions.

“The thing that separated that test from all other feed tests was that they actually followed those cattle all the way through the packing house,” says Myron Danner. “They didn’t stop at rib-eye and back-fat measurements; they processed, trimmed and boxed the beef, and weighed the box and priced it at what went into the box. It was more realistic in showing how much profit an animal would produce, and Chianina cattle excelled in that study, making more money per animal than any other breed,” Myron says.

“Unfortunately, they never repeated that kind of test. They only did it that one time. My friend Jerry Adamson told me that breed politics was the downfall.” The other breeds didn’t wan that kind of publicity for Chianina and didn’t want to see that happen again.

Glen Klippenstein also recalls that Chiangus were the most profitable cattle in that large project comparing all breeds. “This gave them credence for their extra value — ranking far above the profitability of all the other competitors. It was so dramatic that the NCA got into a lot of trouble with other breeders! It was done right, but they got hell for it, so they quit doing that feedlot/carcass evaluation and didn’t promote Chiangus anymore,” Glen says.

Myron says the popular breeds were embarrassed when the test measured the feed input, put the beef in the box, weighed the box and priced it for what it was worth. A rib-eye is worth more than a chuck, for instance. “And more lean beef per animal, with less waste fat to trim off, is another factor. Our beef industry should be more open so people can know about these things and have more options on what kind of cattle they raise,” Myron says.

In the last decade, “no other ACA breeder has collected more factual carcass data than the Chuck and Katie Madaris family, at CK Cattle of Hope Hull, Ala.,” says Koonce. “Since 2018, CK Cattle has annually collected feedlot and carcass data on their non-replacement steers and heifers that were not retained for their registered Chiangus, Angus or Simangus herd.”

Through 2021, a total of 890 slaughter cattle records have been obtained with 92.7% (825 head) Quality Grading Choice or better with an average of 48% (428 head) yielding CAB and Prime carcasses. The four-year average Hot Carcass Weight has been 860.5 pounds. Average Ribeye Areas (REA) have ranged from the upper 13 sq. inches to over 14.25 sq. inches while average Backfat (BF) has consistently been from 0.50 to 0.52 inches.

“The packers are the ones that should be telling this, because it made them the most money. The rancher gets the feed efficiency part of it, but in the end, one price buys all cattle when they end up at the packing plant. Even when you sell on a grid there are little bitty premiums but there also little discounts and basically you come out with about the same price,” Myron says. “It’s hard to get true value for what you work hard to select for and produce. The packers buy them all anyway and make a profit on the good ones and put the rest through the system somewhere.”

“Lean Meat is Best”

Bob Vantrease says that about the time Certified Angus Beef came along, several Chianina breeders started working on a Chianina Fullblood beef program. “We ran a research project at Texas Tech and had some breeders in Texas who took the results from that and started a program called Chi-Lite Beef Certified. It was very successful for those breeders, for a while. But these things take a lot of money and time and it’s hard to keep your presence in a grocery store,” he says.

“I spent 10 years with the ACA and had a wonderful time and made a lot of good friends. I had a dream, all my life, to be a rancher raising Fullblood cattle. About 1993 some friends of mine had a large spread in New Mexico. They wanted to know if I’d be interested in going down there to be involved in marketing and ranching. So the kids and I pulled up stakes and went to New Mexico. The first thing I did was buy 40 Chiangus bulls to cross on the Beefmaster cows on that ranch —which created a 5-way composite with Angus, Chianina, Hereford, Brahman and Shorthorn. We sold the first load of steers to Future Beef,” Bob says.

Glen Klippenstein says most of the popular breeds have been selecting for fatter animals. “I despise an obese animal because excessive fat is a waste and costs more money to put on than lean meat. Cattlemen are selling lean meat. If we can raise 1,300 to 1,600-pound steers and have less than .4 inch of back-fat and still grade choice —and provide a great eating experience — why don’t we propagate that type of animal? It makes us more money,” Glen explains.

“A Chianina and its crosses will dress out about 65 to 67%, which is another 50 pounds more than other beef animals. That doesn’t even count the amount of fat that is cut off those other animals in the processing plant. It made all the sense in the world to breed Chianina cattle, but the ACA couldn’t get them adequately promoted. Part of it was because they didn’t have enough breeders; we were about fourth in numbers behind the other continental breeds. We were way down the line because Chianina was about the 5th one to come into this country. Many of the good breeders had already started using Charolais, Simmental, etc,” Glen says. However, the data has always shown that Chianina cattle can and do excel on the rail, making the breeder money.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of a multi-part series. Watch for Part 4 coming soon.

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