Double-Muscling in Cattle

  1. Fairfarmhand
    If you\'ve ever seen a picture of Belgian Blue or Piedmontese cattle, you probably were shocked and thought it was a photo demonstrating genetic engineering gone terribly wrong. However, these two breeds of cattle are not genetically modified, nor are they pumped up on hormones. They are not fed outrageous amounts of feed to reach those obscene sizes. Belgian Blue and Piedmonetese cattle are considered \"double muscled\" cattle.

    What is Double Muscling?

    Double muscling doesn\'t really mean that these cattle have two muscles where normal cattle only have one. Rather, it refers to the fact that Belgian Blue and Piedmontese cattle are genetically programmed to have much larger muscle mass than ordinary cattle. Even without exercise, the muscles of a double muscled cow, steer, or bull will grow to enormous, freakish size. Their muscles can be up to 20 percent larger than normal bovine muscles.

    What Causes Double Muscling?

    Scientists and farmers have selectively bred animals like the Piedmonteste and Belgian Blue for over 100 years. The animals that were chosen for reproduction were the most muscular. In other words, the most muscular cows were bred to the most muscular bulls. Over time, the oddly over-developed breed was the result.

    In the 1990s, scientists learned that the reason that these animals grow to such enormous proportions is that they have a genetic abnormality regarding the production of myostatin. Myostatin is a protein that regulates muscle growth. In normal animals, myostatin tells the muscles to stop growing when they reach a particular size. However, the defective gene allows double muscled animals to continue to grow muscles when other animals stop.

    By breeding double muscled sires and dams, the offspring is guaranteed to have massive muscles and, as a consequence, a much larger carcass at slaughter. Belgian Blue and Piedmontese are not the only breeds that have double muscled animals. Parthenais and Marchigiana cattle have also been known to exhibit double muscling.

    Double Muscled Meat

    Currently, the beef industry is shifting a bit due to consumer demand. Many people are willing to pay a little extra for meat that is not so high in fat and marbling. Additionally, eco-friendly consumers are expressing interest in grass-fed beef. Animals that can put on weight more quickly on grass and hay will help organic or grass-fed farmers make a little extra money.

    The meat quality of double muscled animals is quite comparable to those of other high-selling beef breeds. While there is plenty of meat there, it is tender and tasty. Double muscled animals don\'t have larger muscle fibers; rather they simply have a greater number of muscle fibers.

    While double muscled animals may look like freaks of nature, they really are simply a product of selective breeding. Carefully consider your herd, however, before adding a double muscled line to your genetics.

    \"Beefy Belgian Cow Number 39\" by ines saraiva via Flickr
    Attribution-NonCommercial License

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  1. Fairfarmhand
    You are absolutely right. I read somewhere that like 80% of Belgian Blue calves are born by C-section. That's hard on a cow and limits her productive life, since most vets don't recommend 5 or more C-sections. That's what happens when breeders select based upon a single genetic trait. I think a wiser course might be to use double muscled crosses. This is just conjecture, since I've not really studied it. Perhaps using a smaller Belgian Blue with say a Charolais that could handle a larger calf could help with calving ease. You are right though, that double muscled genetics are not the wave of the future for the average farmer.
    the problem with useing doubled mussled bulls is calving ease.Maine Anjou beef Australia will not register any cattle that have double mussle genetics for this reason .Who wants to pull calves if you can avoid it.