An experiment was conducted to determine if growth rate, as affected by level of feeding, during a 10-or 20-week period prior to slaughter could influence the tenderness and palatability of beef from young (approx. 14 months old at the start of experiment) steers. Steers, comprising 18 Aberdeen Angus (AA), 18 Charolais (CH) and 18 Holstein (HO) purebreds, were allocated, within genotype, to one of three levels of feeding: (a) moderate ((M/M) 750 kJ metabolizable energy (ME) per day per kg M0·75), (b) high ((H/H) 1050 kJ ME per day per kg M0·75) both for 20 weeks; or (c) moderate for the first 10 weeks followed by high for the remaining 10 weeks (M/H). The steers were slaughtered at a fixed age (approx. 19 months old) and samples of m. longissimus lumborum (from all three genotypes) m. vastus lateralis and m. biceps femoris (from AA and CH only) separated, vacuum packed and stored at 2ºC for both 7 and 14 days before freezing. These cuts were subsequently assessed by a 12 member taste panel and texture analysis performed using Volodkevitch-type jaws.
Growth rates during the final 10 weeks of the experimental period differed between dietary regimen (M/M = 0·87; M/H = 1·25; and H/H = 1·02 kg/day; s.e.d. = 0·08; P < 0·001). Steers offered the M/M level of feeding grew more slowly (0·97 kg/day) than those offered the M/H and H/H level of feeding (1·20 kg/day; s.e.d. = 0·06; P < 0·001) over the entire 20 week experimental period. In spite of these differences in growth rate, there were no consistent effects on beef tenderness and general palatability. Mean growth rates for CH, HO and AA steers were 1·21, 1·13 and 1·03 kg/day (s.e.d. = 0·06; P < 0·05). Beef samples from AA steers consistently scored better for various sensory attributes than those from CH and HO steers; this may have been due, in part, to level of carcass fatness and rate of carcass cooling post mortem. Accounting for factors such as genotype within the experimental design and slaughtering animals at a relatively constant age reduced the variance associated with each sensory attribute to 0·6 of that observed in commercial practice. The data suggest that there is little opportunity to improve beef eating quality by increasing growth rate by dietary means in steers provided that moderate levels of gain (equivalent to the UK average) are maintained.