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Cuban Journal of Agricultural Science

versión impresa ISSN 0864-0408versión On-line ISSN 2079-3480

Cuban J. Agric. Sci. vol.55 no.4 Mayabeque oct.-dic. 2021  Epub 01-Dic-2021


Animal Science

Meat quality of non-castrated males (Holstein x Zebu), fattened in a silvopastoral system

1Instituto de Ciencia Animal, Apartado Postal 24, San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque, Cuba


Meat quality of non-castrated males in finishing stage was evaluated in a silvopastoral system with Leucaena leucocephala, supplemented with corn meal. Thirty-nine animals of the same genetic group (5/8 Holstein x 3/8 Zebu) were used, sacrificed in three groups, of 13 animals each, at different ages (25, 29 and 33 months, respectively), according to the technical standards of the Meat Center of the Institute of Animal Science of the Republic of Cuba. Analysis of variance was performed to evaluate instrumental (color, temperature, pH, texture) and sensory indicators in meat samples taken from the Longissimus dorsi muscle between the tenth and thirteenth rib. The criterion of 60 randomly selected consumers was analyzed for the evaluation. The pH was also determined in two carcass muscles (Semimembranosus and Longissimus dorsi). A difference (p <0.01) was observed in the luminosity indicator (L*) between the youngest age group compared to the oldest. Tenderness values differed (p <0.01) among all groups slaughtered at 25, 29 and 33 months (7.47, 8.82 and 9.75 kg, respectively). The youngest animals showed lower values of tenderness and greater luminosity with respect to the older groups.

Keywords: cattle; grazing; beef

During the last years, tourism has notably developed in Cuba. This can lead to an increased demand for meat products, including quality and certified beef. Research carried out in the island by Espinoza et al. (2008) reported that the crossbreeding of bovine mass reaches approximate values of 80 %, with different gradations of Holstein x Zebu. This requires greater attention to these cattle groups to discern their commercialization in select markets, with regard to characteristics such as meat tenderness, due to its economic importance (Liu et al. 2005 and Álvarez et al. 2019). Consequently, as there is no qualification or classification system for carcasses, it is difficult to certify carcass and meat quality, specifically in half-bred dairy animals.

Information is limited about the characterization and quality of meat of non-castrated males, from dairy herds (Holstein x Zebu) and finishing stage, in silvopastoral systems (Iraola et al. 2019). Information on liveweight and appropriate slaughter age in these genetic groups is also insufficient so that indicators of meat quality can be established. Consequently, limited knowledge on beef has a significant influence on mastering how to produce and assess its quality. Therefore, it is necessary to continue research at the Institute of Animal Science (ICA, initials in Spanish), as a training center for human and technological resources for teaching and cattle rearing in Cuba. From these elements, the objective of this study was to evaluate meat quality in non-castrated Holstein x Zebu males, finished in a silvopastoral system with leucaena and supplemented with corn meal.

Materials and Methods

Location and animals. The research was carried out at the ICA Meat Center, located at 22º 53' N, 82º 02' W and 92 m a.s.l., in San José de las Lajas municipality, Mayabeque, Republic of Cuba. Thirty-nine non-castrated males of a genetic group 5/8 Holstein x 3/8 Zebu were used, finished during dry season (November-April), in a silvopastoral system with leucaena and supplemented with corn meal, at a rate of 1 kg.animal-1. Meat quality evaluation was carried out in three groups of 13 animals each, corresponding to three ages at slaughter (25, 29 and 33 months), with mean liveweights of 420, 432 and 441 kg, respectively.

Experimental conditions. The animals were transferred to the meat processing plant at ICA, as they reached the mentioned ages. Each group remained 24 h in shaded corrals and water ad libitum. The slaughter was carried out according to the quality and technical standards established in the meat plant. At the end of slaughter, carcasses were kept for 24 h between 0 and 5.5 °C.

Carcass indicators. pH measurements were performed to all animals in two muscles of the left carcass: Semimembranosus (hindquarters) and Longissimus dorsi (loin) at 45 min. and at 24 h after slaughter, with the help of a Portable pH Meter®, a digital meat penetration equipment, previously calibrated with pH 4.00 and 7.00 buffer solutions.

Meat analysis. The methodology described by Alvarez et al. (2014) was adapted for the instrumental analysis of samples taken from the loin between the 10th and 13th ribs, 24 h after the animals were slaughtered. Color readings for meat were performed, at least, at five points on each sample. Coordinates of luminosity (L*), red-green color (a*) and yellow pigmentation (b*) were recorded, indicating luminosity and red and yellow color indexes, respectively. The determination of these readings was conducted with the help of a colorimeter (CROMA-MATER® model). The pH was also specified in each loin sample with the help of the Portable pH Meter®.

For measuring the instrumental texture, after 24 h, loin samples were frozen at -21 °C. They were kept at this temperature until their analysis in the laboratories of the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Industria Alimentaria de Cuba (IIIA, initials in Spanish). The Warner-Bratzler blade, mounted on a texture analyzer (TA HD plus Texture Analyzer, Stable Micro Systems®), was used. Muscle hardness was determined by recording the maximum effort kg/cm2 to cut the sample.

Additionally, loin samples were subjected to sensory analysis with the participation of 60 consumers, randomly selected among ICA workers, who had the opportunity to give their opinion for each slaughtered group. Out of these consumers, 67 % were men, 60 % had an average age between 20 and 40 years and 40 % between 41 and 65 years. The methodology developed by Álvarez et al. (2014) was adapted for the analysis with score values between 1 and 5, being 1 the least desired value and 5 the optimal value they can select. Panelists were asked their opinion on texture (hardness), juiciness, and acceptability.

Statistical analysis. Mixed models were applied from a PROC MIXED. The age range was included as a fixed effect and the slaughter management of animals and residual error were considered as random effects. The general model and its effects are described below:

Yijl= μ + Ri+ bj+ eijl



value of the measured indicators


general mean of the observations


effect of the i-th age in months at slaughter (i = 25, 29 and 33)


random effect of animal slaughter (j = 1, 2,… ..39)


random error related to observations

For the effects that were significant in the model (p <0.05), the multiple comparison test was applied for means, according to the Tukey-Kramer test (Kramer 1956). The corresponding link function was used in the model applied for studying the consumer test, which allowed to describe the specific link function and obtain the retransformed means. The information processing was carried out with the help of SAS program (2013).

Results and Discussion

Table 1 shows mean pH values, recorded at 45 min. and at 24 h postmortem in the two analyzed muscles. No difference was found (p> 0.05) among evaluated ages. This result was similar to values described for loin samples (table 2). According to Pérez-Linares et al. (2015), pH at 24 h agreed with the acceptable ranges of rigor mortis, as a quality indicator for beef.

Table 1 Mean values for pH in two muscles of bovine males (5/8 Holstein x 3/8 Zebu) 

Indicators Age at slaughter, months SE ± P value
25 29 33
pH (45 minutes)
Loin* 6.31 6.18 6.64 0.11 0.1210
Hindquarter* 6.62 6.40 6.70 0.09 0.1311
pH (24 hours)
Loin 5.80 5.71 5.70 0.13 0.1100
Hindquarter 5.72 5.80 5.80 0.05 0.1920

*Hindquarter (Semimembranosus) and loin (Longissimus dorsis)

SE: standard error

Regarding meat color in loin samples (table 2), a difference (p <0.01) was found for L* values between the younger group with respect to the older ones. The pH values and the b* and a* index did not differ among groups.

Table 2 Meat color, pH and texture parameters of loin samples of non-castrated males (5/8 Holstein x 3/8 Zebu) 

Indicators Age at slaughter, months SE± P value
25 29 33
Luminosity (meat) 37.16a 35.58b 35.16b 0.03 0.0032
Index a* (meat) 13.16 12.92 13.00 0.04 0.6060
Index b* (meat) 7.46 7.31 7.38 0.02 0.9242
pH 5.77 5.78 5.81 0.04 0.5212
Texture (after rigor mortis)
Maximum cut strength, kgf 7.47c 8.82b 9.75a 0.01 0.0027

SE: standard error

Although a lower measure of meat luminosity was found in older age groups, the three evaluated achieved L* scores higher than 33, considered as acceptable for commercialization, as reported by De la Cruz et al. (2019). However, the percentage decrease of luminosity, of approximately 5 %, in the groups with the oldest slaughter age, could be related to the reports of Fiems et al. (2000) and Fiorentini (2018) about feeding system, age at slaughter and adiposity in meat, among other factors. In this regard, Rearte (2003) referred that, in animals fattening finished in grazing, the chemical components contained in the lipid fraction could pass into meat and affect its color with age. This is explained by the components derived from carotenes, which are not totally degraded in the rumen, due to their fat solubility, and because they can cause a yellowish tone to carcass. In addition, the observed values of a* and b* are considered red colorations, characteristic of the meat of cattle finished in grazing, according to findings of several authors (Muchenje et al. 2009, Ripoll et al. 2012, Panea et al. 2016 and González et al. 2019), who pointed it out as a very important trait in beef production, specifically for its commercialization (Casasús et al. 2012, Legako et al. 2018 and Peregrino et al. 2018).

Regarding meat toughness, a difference (p <0.01) was found among groups. It was determined that the values of resistance to cut strength increased with age by 18 % and 30 %, with respect to the younger group.

In this study, in the three evaluated groups, tenderness values were superior to 6 kgf, a figure that, according to Casasús et al. (2012), indicate that it is a tender meat after rigor mortis, and that conditions meat quality in select markets. However, for the youngest group, the meat could be considered as having intermediate toughness, in correspondence with similar results recorded in Mexico by Gastón et al. (2010) for Holstein x Zebu crossbred animals.

In this research, these results could be conditioned by several factors in the fattening system. They are related to certain management and feeding elements in a silvopastoral system with energy supplementation (1 kg.animal-1 of corn meal), age at slaughter, genetic group, among others that affected meat tenderness. Torres et al. (2014) pointed out that the different blood gradations of Bos indicus, presented by Holstein x Zebu crossbred animals can affect growth rate, reflected in their late maturity, which affects meat quality and its commercial value.

This genotype factor could have a direct relationship with the tenderness obtained in this study. Another element that is related to the recorded hardness results agree of Pinilla (2014), who stated that as the age at slaughter increases in cattle, type I collagen is the largest constituent of skeletal muscles, and this has a positive correlation with the increase of meat toughness. Thus, the productive results in Cuba in silvopastoral systems with non-castrated mestizo males offer a practical possibility for its completion (Iglesias et al. 2017 and Iraola et al. 2019). However, other studies with crossbred animals in these silvopastoral systems, with or without energy supplementation, that exceed 400 kg at slaughter and age inferior to 25 months, are required to discern on tenderness and other meat parameters. This would enable the commercial livestock sector to contribute to the demand for quality beef in the touristic sector of the country.

Regarding pH values, at 24 h in loin samples, results agree with those reported by different authors, according to the expectations in beef. These values are between 5.3 and 5.9 (Coleman et al. 2016 and Legako et al. 2018). Figures registered in loin samples of animals fattening in silvopastoral systems (L*, a* and b*) and pH between 5.7 and 5.8 are among the acceptable ranges for the characterization of commercial beef. This helps to confirm the absence of dark, firm and dry (DFD) meat in rigor mortis or meat maturation (Iraola et al. 2016 and Panea et al. 2016). However, instrumental results corroborated that tenderness parameters are not the most desired for a select market.

Differences (p <0.01) were found among the opinions of untrained panelists, only for the sensory indicator of hardness. The other indicators did not differ. Subjective opinions of consumers, regarding juiciness and acceptability of meat, were very homogeneous. However, it was very interesting that there was a higher percentage of panelists who identified a meat of less toughness in the group of animals slaughtered at a younger age (table 3).

Table 3 Results of the sensory test (1-5) of meat samples from L. dorsis to a group of consumers 

Indicators Age at slaughter, months SE ± P value
25 29 32

  • 3.10a

  • (62.08 %)

  • 2.84b

  • (56.88 %)

  • 2.80b

  • (56.08 %)

0.05 0.0050

  • 2.31

  • (46.23 %)

  • 2.22

  • (44.46 %)

  • 2.27

  • (45.38 %)

0.07 0.2883

  • 4.13

  • (82.62 %)

  • 4.10

  • (82.00 %)

  • 4.10

  • (82.00 %)

0.06 0.2331

* transformed data

( ) percentage values of the real total

The results of the untrained consumer taste test should not be considered conclusive. The instrumental hardness values showed a certain relationship with the results of panelists. However, according to Shackelford et al. (2001) and Della-Rosa et al. (2017), these are the main aspects that are related to meat quality during its consumption. This helps to confirm that, in order to achieve animals with lower meat toughness in silvopastoral systems, so that it is juicier and more acceptable for its consumption, the slaughter age should be shortened and, obviously, the DMG rate would have to be increased to aspire to obtain heavier carcasses and quality meat with this genotype. This will satisfy the expectations of consumers who demand meat from grazing animals.

It is concluded that, in the fattening conditions in silvopastoral systems with leucaena, the animals slaughtered at a younger age showed lower values of tenderness and greater meat luminosity, with respect to those that are part of the two oldest groups at slaughter.


Thanks to the project “Improving the productive efficiency of the agroindustrial chain of beef in Cuba from sustainability and preservation of the environment that allows a social impact.” Gratitude is also expressed to the Experimental Meat Center of the Institute of Animal Science and to the workers who participated in the tests carried out.


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Received: September 04, 2021; Accepted: November 08, 2021


Conflict of interest: Authors declare that there is no conflict of interests.

Author´s contribution: J. Iraola Jerez: Idea, research design and paper writing t. Yenny García Orta: Data analysis and statistical processing. L. M. Fraga Benítez: Design of statistical models. J. L. Hernández: Conduct of research and data analysis

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