Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Extreme Genes

This is a short segment about Belgian Blue cattle, which are bred for their muscles.

Note the hesitation when asked if the cattle are healthy. In fact, with beef cattle, chickens and other meat-producing animals, long-term health is not too much of a concern as there is no "natural" life span; at maturity the animals are sent off to the the knackers.

And yes, this cow is the bovine equivalent of the bully whippet.



Heather Houlahan said...

Why it's Shaven Yak Day!

Seriously, I'm sure these guys would do FINE turned out on my scrubby pasture.They are certainly perfectly normal cows.

Wonder how much corn it takes to bulk up one of these freaks. Carbon footprint? Naw ...

I'm reading about the 19th Century craze for "fat cattle" in a couple of sources these days.

No less grotesque or delicate than these, though probably less edible.

an American in Copenhagen said...

I worked in a lab at Washington State University for the researcher/professor who discovered the gene causing this condition and continues to study it.

The video is a little misleading because it indicates these cattle are the result of long term selection for large muscles. In face, this breed is the result of one (or possibly more) cow(s) with a spontaneous mutation in the gene regulating embryonic muscle cell development being used to establish a gene pool where all of the individuals have two copies of this ‘double muscle’ gene. The gene has incomplete penetrance so individuals with only one copy are still more musceley than ‘normal’ cows.

In terms of health, these cows are NOT as healthy as other high production animals. If you think these bulls look like freaks, check out their babies! They’re born looking like little body builders and usually have trouble fitting through their mothers’ slightly narrower than normal pelvis. Most of the purebreds are managed in zoo-like facilities like the one in the video because birth is often via cesarean section and because these animals are so valuable. The bulls used to create the next generation of dairy cows are kept in similar facilities even though they don’t have any problems giving birth.

Needless to say, cows like these will never become the norm. Rather, they are used to create crossbreds for the meat market. The meat from these animals has smaller but more numerous muscle fibers which gives the meat unique tenderness. The ratio of meat to offal/bone/etc is much higher with these cows which makes them more economical to produce—cow for cow you get more meat and less waste. As a result, if you’re going to grain feed a cow, this is the most environmentally friendly one to do it with.

All that said, I only buy grass fed beef—usually bought direct from a local farmer.

Anonymous said...

Yet another reason why I buy pasture-fed beef from ranchers who raise healthy, normal, well-cared-for heritage breed beeves.

"The animal is as healthy as another intensive producing animal."

Um, no thanks.

sassanik said...

As someone who has owned a cow that we raised for meat I am horrified by the appearance of these animals! In my opinion there is no way that animal can be healthy! That is going pretty far on the extreme breeding side of cattle ranching.

Anonymous said...

I listened to him say it three times, and perhaps I still didn't get it, but did he say these animals are the ultimate examples of "natural selection"?