Timothy G. Page, Barrilleaux, Adam
LSU AgCenter Beef Cattle Fact Sheet
“The Use of Ultrasound Technology in Today’s Beef Cattle Industry”
Tim G. Page, Ph.D.
Ultrasound is sound waves that have a frequency beyond the audible range for human ears.Humans can hear at frequencies between 20 and 20,000 hertz.Ultrasound is sound waves above 20,000 hertz.Tissue imaging or live animal evaluation frequencies range from 1 to 10 megahertz (MHz).The range for biological tissues is from 2 to 20 MHz.The frequency is determined by the type of tissue or organ being evaluated.If deep tissue penetration is necessary, then a low frequency is used.A higher frequency gives greater resolution, but less tissue penetration.Beef cattle carcass evaluation most commonly uses a frequency of 3.5 MHz and reproductive evaluation uses 5.0-7.5 MHz.
Ultrasound occurs in nature as well.Some types of bats navigate by using ultrasound at a frequency of 25,000-500,000 MHz.Bats also use ultrasonic waves to locate their prey.This process is called echo-location.Some moths detect the presence of predators by sensing ultrasonic waves.
Ultrasound can travel through liquids, tissues and solids.Therefore, it can penetrate through the human and animal body and allow one to see the muscles, bones and organs.It is used for medical and veterinary diagnostics and for carcass and reproductive evaluation.Carcass composition can be determined on all species of livestock using ultrasound technology.The most common carcass traits evaluated with ultrasound include fat thickness, ribeye area, rump fat thickness and intramuscular fat (marbling).
Today’s Beef Cattle Industry
Today, with the ever-changing market, beef cattle producers must utilize every piece of technology possible to improve their cattle production and keep up with the market trends.The beef cattle industry is using technology such as Real-Time Ultrasound to evaluate live carcass characteristics of an individual and to help make better management decisions concerning genetic selection.
Value-based marketing has pushed commercial beef producers to produce cattle that will bring a premium when sold on the rail.In some grids, this can create a $10-$15 per hundred weight (carcass weight) difference between a select carcass and a choice carcass, which, in some cases relates to the difference between a loss and a profit.Granted, these premiums are subject to differences in price spreads between select and choice.Also, each packer has their own unique grid that a producer has to fit their cattle into to receive the premium.That is all the more reason for a producer to use ultrasound technology to learn more about their own cattle where they can make more informed decisions about how they want to market their cattle (Example:live weight versus grid).As the industry moves more and more toward paying according to value or quality, commercial beef producers will have to purchase breeding stock with reliable genetic carcass trait information.
Progressive purebred producers must find and produce cattle that are superior in carcass traits and will best fit the standards of value-based marketing within the breeder’s particular breed.Progressive crossbred cattle producers need to select the top 25% of their heifers as replacements every year.Ultrasound technology can determine high, average and low individuals whether it is the ribeye area, fat cover or the percent of intramuscular fat.Research has shown that sires with reduced fat thickness in steer progeny also produce heifer progeny that reach puberty later, in turn having reduced conception rates.The same relationship has been shown to exist between maternal and growth performance traits.Individuals exist in the population that allows for selection to make optimum change for both traits.Ultrasound accuracy allows a breeder to choose animals with minimum amounts of external fat thickness and optimum amount of ribeye area and intramuscular fat.
Carcass data should be used as another management tool that breeders have to make a more informed decision about selection of the cattle that will enter their breeding programs.Carcass data is not necessarily required to run a breeding operation, but competition with other breeders will be high, and each advantage a breeder uses will result in the improvement of the breeder’s ability to market their cattle.
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