The Great Puzzle: What role does a beta agonist play on my farm?

My farm is like a huge jigsaw puzzle.  There are many pieces that must be put together in the correct way in order to make the best beef in the most sustainable way.  I have a road sign along the highway with my farm’s mission statement: Protecting the Environment and Caring For Our Animals To Bring You Safe, Great-tasting, High Quality Nebraska Beef.  All of the decisions that I make at my cattle feed yard are made with this mission statement in mind.

Archie and I standing by the words that rule our lives…

I wake up every day asking myself how I can do a better job—how can I be a more responsible animal caregiver and grower of food?  Sometimes it is a question of paying closer attention to detail and sometimes it is a question of looking into new science / technology which will allow my animals to be more efficient producers of food.

We talked last week about how every action or choice has a consequence.  I think about this every time that I make a decision about how to care for my animals at the feed yard.  I talk with my veterinarian and my PhD nutritionist, I do personal research, I rely on personal experience, and I make a decision by weighing the positives against the negatives—knowing that every choice has a consequence.

I teach her how to care for cattle and raise beef. I also feed her that beef—good care and healthy beef is my priority.

I began feeding a beta agonist called ractopamine hydrochloride about four years ago.  I started feeding it to only a few of my animals and have slowly increased to feeding it to every one of my animals as I gained personal experience and confidence in the product.

This steer is in the final finishing phase at the feed yard. He is currently receiving ractopamine in his feed to help him continue to put on muscle as he is prepared for harvest…

Beta agonists work by activating either the beta 1 or the beta 2 receptor on the muscles of my cattle.  This affects protein synthesis and muscle growth.  What does this mean exactly?

  1. As animals grow larger and get close to the time of harvest, their bodies tend to turn nutrients into fat instead of lean muscle.  For example, ractopamine encourages or repartitions those nutrients into muscle growth through protein synthesis rather than fat deposition.
  2. This allows the animal to make more lean muscle (what we want to eat), and less fatty tissue (what we do not want to eat).
  3. By making more muscle and less fat from nutrients, the animal becomes a more efficient user of its food thereby reducing the total environmental footprint of its food production.

    Another steer receiving ractopamine and in the final stages of growth prior to harvest…

Here is a list of questions that I worked through prior to making the decision to feed ractopamine to my animals:.

  1. Does ractopamine affect the well-being or health of my animals? Good animal welfare is important to me and I want to ensure cattle comfort on my farm.  It has been my observation that cattle fed ractopamine on my farm remain comfortable and healthy.
  2. Does ractopamine affect the quality of the beef that my animals grow?  I follow my animals from birth to harvest and there is no impact on the quality or taste of the beef (I eat it too!). However, ractopamine does have a positive change on the leanness of my beef product:  it makes my beef leaner with less fat that must be trimmed off at the harvest level.
  3. Why feed ractopamine to cattle?  I feed it because it allows them to be more efficient convertors of my natural resources, while also allowing them to produce a leaner product with less fat trim at harvest.
  4. Would I feed beef from cattle that had been fed ractopamine to my children?  Absolutely, I do it every day.

    Two more “big boys” that are close to being “put on the bus”…

As with any practice that I employ on my farm, I constantly watch and evaluate its use.  I will continue to research and study the product ractopamine as well as to continue to evaluate its effectiveness.  Taking care of my animals, my farm, and producing wholesome beef are my top priorities—everything that I do on my farm must help me to successfully fulfill my mission statement.

While one beta agonist helps Karyn to get more oxygen to her lungs while she participates in athletics, a different one helps me to grow the beef that feeds her…Each one plays an important role in our family.

Do you have more questions about the use of beta agonists in cattle?  If so, please share them.


Filed under Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., General

12 responses to “The Great Puzzle: What role does a beta agonist play on my farm?

  1. Anne
    Have you noticed any difference in quality grade? Are you still achieving your quality grade and tenderness goals with this product?

    • Hi Robyn:

      No, I have not noticed any difference in quality grade using ractopamine. That particular beta agonist does not have any detrimental effects on tenderness (an important factor in my decision to use it). My cattle grade consistently between 70 and 95% choice.

      Good question—and it was great to meet you and your mom last week!


  2. Great post. I honestly didn’t know such a thing existed. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Derrel White

    I was visiting with Dr. Bob Westerman, the extension beef specialist for Oklahoma State last week after church. He did not seem to be a big proponent of beta antagonists but really did not specify why. What would be the principal downsides of these types of products that might cause someone like him who is knowledgeable and certainly not opposed to new technology to not like this kind of product? From what you outlined this product has multiple benefits while still addressing all of the factors like welfare that are important to y?ou. Are there any factors where the jury may still be out that might change your opinion of these products

    • Hi Derrel:

      Those are all good questions. I believe that beta agonist use in beef cattle needs to be very targeted and carefully fitted with the genetic make up of the cattle in order to be effective. In other words, I think that it needs to be evaluated carefully given the goals and the breeding of the animals that it is administered to. For instance, most of the cattle that I feed are predominantly Angus breed cattle. The quality grade on these animals is outstanding, but they can be more apt to develop yield grade 4 and 5 carcasses. Feeding ractomamine to my animals at the end of the feeding period allows them to remain leaner and works to eliminate their propensity to put on extra fat. In this way, it allows my animals to use feed more efficiently while also producing a better beef product.

      I have chosen ractopamine as the beta agonist that I use at my feed yard because it accomplishes all of the things listed above without compromising the tenderness and quality grade of my beef. There is another beta agonist product on the market that has been shown to negatively affect quality grade and tenderness of beef. I have researched this other product and chosen not to use it.

      Dr. Temple Grandin is gathering information on beta agonist use in beef cattle. She has not been a supporter of the use of the product, and I think that perhaps that may be where your friend is coming from. It is my understanding that Dr. Grandin feels that beta agonists compromise good animal welfare. As I stated above, I have not seen this at my feed yard but it is something that I will continue to monitor. I am interested in Dr. Grandin’s thoughts and hope that she will publish some information soon.

      I think that it is important for cattlemen to understand and use products wisely. I have done a lot of home work on this for that reason and have chosen the beta agonist that fits my cattle and my goals for them and their beef. I will continue to follow new information so that I can continue to reevaluate and improve my farm and my cattle.

      Thanks for stopping by to read and ask questions.

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  6. Ann,
    As usual I learn more and more about cattle and life as I read your blogs (new and old posts) and this one was just as education as others I read 🙂 It also helps hubby and I keep in mind things for our future of hopefully having more animals some day 🙂

    • Kim,

      I am so glad that you find my posts useful and interesting. It is always great to hear from you and get feed back!

      I am so impressed with your gardening and canning skills! Awesome job with your vegetables this year–I love seeing the great pictures and find your canning inspiring. I am hoping to get corn put up this weekend 🙂


      • Our corn didn’t come up this year… I would have loved some of that 🙂 I do love my hobby of canning and seeing all those jars lines up and the freezer getting full of green beans, peppers, and tomato sauce is satisfying 🙂

  7. Pingback: Ask a Farmer: Beta Agonists and Cattle Feeding | Agriculture Proud

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