Fred Taylor wrote the book. Ken Malterer? Let’s just say he’s done his homework.
For the second straight year, Malterer has taken home top honours at the Calgary Stampede’s Quality Beef Competition. This time around, a Speckle Park steer from his Ponoka-area Ponderosa Farms outfit topped 44 other entries at the post-Stampede competition held at Cargill Foods in High River, earning Malterer a windfall of more than $8,000.
The Stampede’s annual Quality Beef Competition, featuring animals from the annual UFA Steer Classic, is held each year to identify carcasses of superior quality and educate ranchers about the latest in consumer trends.
In the beef cattle industry, the consumer is king. And Taylor, a prominent inspector with the Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA) who’s also the lead judge for the Quality Beef Competition, isn’t one to let ranchers forget it. He’s tailored the rules of the Stampede’s annual beef showdown around retail demands.
Heightened interest in carcass traits can be used to select sires within a breed, possibly increasing a marbling score or tenderness of beef — attributes that customers are demanding in their beef purchases.
“We’ve taken a page from Fred Taylor’s book. We believe in quality first, and that comes from genetic bloodlines,” says Malterer. “We have our own animals that we finish in a feedlot, plus a bunch of others that we use to fill a custom market, and we’re always getting carcass information back on the animals. By weeding out the ones that don’t have a good-quality carcass, hopefully we’ll increase the quality of the breed in general. It’s all about striving for the ideal carcass.”
Malterer’s Speckle Park steer, with AAA 60 marbling, a rib eye of 93 square centimetres, and a carcass weight of 668.4 pounds, actually finished in a dead heat with an Angus owned by Aaron Miller of Cremona, which had AAA 40 marbling, a rib eye of 84 square centimetres, and a weight of 698.6 pounds.
Both entries earned a Sterling Silver score of 84, but the tie was broken via marbling scores. As a result, Malterer earns a grand champion cheque for $3,000, plus the price of the carcass.
And, for the second straight year, he also collects a $5,000 bonus from three regional Speckle Park producers — Codiak Acres, River Hill Stock Farm, and Six Star Speckle Park — who’d again offered the cash prize to any rancher who could do the breed proud by crashing the Stampede winner’s circle.
Miller pockets $2,000, plus the price of his steer’s carcass.
“You’ve got to change with the times. If the consumer wants them smaller and a little more marbled, by gosh, that’s what you’ve got to get to them,” says Malterer. “As an industry, generally, we sell ’em at the market, and that’s the last we see of them. Follow-up information is important. Really, if you don’t know what you’re producing, how do you know what direction to go?”
Optimal points at the Stampede’s Quality Beef Competition are scored for: a rib eye that measures between 80 and 89 square centimetres; two to four millimetres of back fat; AAA marbling; a carcass weight that falls between 650 and 750 pounds; white fat; and fine grain meat texture.
Taylor was more than tickled with this year’s results. Just more than 75 per cent of the entries were graded AAA or higher, while more than 90 per cent of those AAA-grade carcasses scored high enough to qualify for all branded beef programs, such as Sterling Silver or Certified Angus Beef.
“Those results are about as good as you can get,” says Taylor. “This tells me that these guys in this competition were really shooting to win it, and that the cattle producers out there are generally paying more attention to producing AAA carcasses genetically.”
That’s a good thing, notes Taylor, since consumer demands are more exacting all the time. Numerous Canadian grocery chains are adopting AAA-grade or branded beef programs to give consumers a more rewarding eating experience.
“As retailers, we’re seeing a huge trend toward high-quality cuts of beef,” says Grant Hirsche, owner of Hirsche Fraser Meats in Okotoks, which sells rancher-direct, AAA-grade beef. “People will spend an extra two or three dollars if it’s really good meat.”
Bill and Brad Lamport of Balzac, placed third and fourth in the Quality Beef Competition with a Hereford and a Speckle Park, respectively.
Speckle Parks placed five times in the top 10, including a steer owned by Malterer’s son, Kristofer, which was rated sixth overall. Steers representing the Speckle Park, Hereford, Angus, Charolais, Limousin, Murray Gray, and Simmental breeds were entered this year.