Meat colour is assessed against AUSMEAT meat colour standards (1a to 7). Most markets prefer the bright, pink to cherry red colour of chip 1B or 1C due to consumer preferences and their aversion to dark meat colour.
Dark meat colour, over chip 3, is commonly referred to as ‘dark cutting’. This tends to be associated with low blood glycogen levels in the live animal prior to slaughter. Meat colour differences are influenced by the concentration of myoglobin (pigment) in the muscle and factors such as breed, gender, age, muscle type and physical activity.
There are a number of strategies that can assist in minimising the risk of dark meat colour:
- Prevent mixing of unfamiliar animals or drafting of cattle within 14 days of dispatch.
- Isolate 'at risk' animals such as heifers in oestrus, stock off poor nutrition or sick animals.
- Assess pasture quality and plan ahead for the preparation of cattle for slaughter.
- Supplementary feed (if necessary) to boost energy levels to ensure a rising plane of nutrition for the last 30 days prior to slaughter.
- Minimise holding and transport time, particularly for young cattle, e.g. vealers.
Providing access to higher quality feed rations in terms of high digestibility, energy and protein levels can assist in preparing animals. In the case of low energy diets, grain, molasses or high quality silages have proved to be successful as supplements, but usually need to be fed for at least 1-2 weeks prior to slaughter. Grass dominant and frosted pastures can often be found lacking in protein and energy and require closer monitoring as do native pasture species and pastures on low soil fertility country.