Beef Research

A brief look at the Society’s ongoing programme of Beef Marketing & Research

A fundamental part of the Society’s structured technical programme is to investigate the properties and qualities of the Limousin Beef product. Research involving some of Britain’s leading agricultural colleges, universities and animal health companies coupled with a professional marketing plan aims to promote and develop the Limousin brand. To this end, work is being carried out in three distinct areas:

  • Determining the allele frequency of the markers for tenderness and marbling in British Limousin cattle
  • Gene marker tests to identify beneficial traits including the ability to produce lean meat
  • Research into the properties of Limousin beef to determine the level of fat and saturated fat, level of cholesterol and calorific value

Bristol University Research Project

Research into the properties of Limousin beef has been conducted through Professor Geoff Wood at Bristol University. This work, specific to the BLCS and Branded Beef Breeders Ltd, is generating considerable industry interest from a major retailer and meat wholesaler. The graph below demonstrates the relationship between linoleic acid, the major polyunsaturated fatty acid or “good fat” and the total lipid content or “bad fat.” This shows that the Limousin group of animals has higher levels of the “good fat” and lower levels of muscle fat “bad fat.”

Through sound, qualified research we aim to affirm that Limousin beef is a ‘heart-healthy’, lean beef product particularly low in fat and saturated fat.

The ability of the Limousin breed to produce consistent, high-quality cattle that meet the demands of the market place in terms of size, grading and killing-out percentage means that Limousins are well placed in the new post-CAP reform beef industry. Limousin is synonymous with flexibility, adaptability and easy-care. Furthermore, Limousins are able to service any market, whatever the size, as they widely available both in terms of numbers, geographical area andconsistentquality.

Igenity-L Tenderness Trials

Further encouragement for Limousin beef has come in the form of the Igenity-L
TenderGene tests which have recently been carried out by Merial Animal Health. In June 2005, samples were taken from 40 pedigree Limousin bulls in order to identify the Calpain genotype – considered the key to tenderness. TenderGene is scored on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being most tender and 1 least tender. Given the fact that across all breeds sampled in the UK to date, there has only been one single score of 5 and no scores of 4, then the following Limousin results are encouraging.

Limousin 3* 2* 1*
Number 25 8 6
% 64% 21% 15%
Ave Beef Value 19.4 19.8 12.5
Number sold 20 4 2
% sold 80% 50% 33%
Ave Price £2087 £3019 £1680

Furthermore, the beef values and eventual prices of those animals sold were looked at with the results showing there may be some correlation between Beef Value, selling potential, sale price and the presence of the tenderness genotype, however, as with any small sample such as this, caution is watchword as there are many factors which influence buyers’ decisions.

Participating in ground-breaking genemarker research is the first step towards identifying the estimated 60% of carcase characteristics that are dependent on genotypes, with the remaining 40% based on feed, individual management and local conditions. Commenting on the initial findings, BLCS Development Manager, Richard Saunders said: “Genemarkers are just one part of the jigsaw of selection criteria that include pedigree bloodlines and performance recording in determining future breeding decisions. The question that remains for the future is whether consumers would be willing to pay a premium for “guaranteed” tender beef?”

Limousin Beef Well Placed in Gene-Star Tenderness Trials

Tests were carried out in partnership with Genetic Solutions Ltd, the Roslin Institute, the Genesis-Faraday Partnership, the National Beef Association and four other breed societies to investigate gene markers for tenderness and marbling. Research was funded by a Spark Award through Genesis Faraday. Results reveal that Limousin beef is favourably placed in the industry when compared to other breeds.

A total of 47 Limousin samples were analysed for the frequency of two tenderness genes (T1 & T2) and one marbling gene (M1). Overall, Limousins were placed slightly above the average for M1 & T1 and slightly below for T2.

Each variant in the gene is called an allele. Since cattle, like us, carry two copies of every gene, then an animal may carry 0, 1 or 2 copies of the “*” allele for each gene. The number of * alleles it carries is the genotype for that gene.

Limousin results 0* 1* 2*
T1 0 11 36
T2 37 10 0
M1 28 16 1

Tenderness genes

The speed and extent of ageing tenderization has been closely linked to the proteins calpastatin and calpain (T1 & T2) although it is important not to lose sight of other factors that may affect tenderness, such as variation in cuts or pre and post-slaughter practices.

T1 Calpastatin
Limousins rated favourably here with 36 samples rated 2*, 11 samples 1* and zero samples 0*. In studies in Australia, the difference between 1* and 2* animals was 0.2kg in shear force (increased shear force indicates tougher meat). It is likely that eliminating 0* and 1* animals from the population would remove some of the tougher meat and improve consistency.

T2 Calpain 1
The low frequency of this allele across all breeds sampled implies that there may be considerable scope to improve beef tenderness through exploiting these alleles.

Marbling genes

In Japan and N America, and to a lesser extent Australia, marbling in beef is viewed as desirable and consequently the degree of marbling is seen as an important part of beef quality. In Europe, marbling is seen as having little or no economic value and consumers perceive highly marbled meat as undesirable due to a preference for lean meat.

M1 Thyroglobulin
For M1,the overall frequency for the favourable allele in the 5 breeds was low.

The results of this project could give breeders guidance on breeding goals and selection protocols and furthermore allow the Society to maximise marketing opportunities for quality cattle. Already in Australia, beef is given a 1-5 Star rating depending on eating quality and in the US Breed Societies are closely allied to beef producers in their quest for good eating beef.

Rather than losing sight of current breeding goals by chasing an increase in the frequency of * alleles, the next step is to integrate genemarkers into the overall selection index.


Genemarkers will increasingly be used to provide information for breeders, wholesalers and retailers to drive product improvement. There are exciting opportunities ahead to participate in future research and development programmes to define the impact of genemarkers within UK conditions and cattle populations for both pedigree and commercial producers, however, they remain just one tool alongside visual assessment, performance recording and pedigree bloodlines to determine breed improvement.