Belgian Blue is a breed of Belgian origin. The sculptural, heavily muscled image of the Belgian blue is also known as double muscle. The double muscle phenotype is an inherited condition and occurs as a result of an increase in the number of muscle cells (filaments) (hyperplasia) instead of an increase in the volume of muscle cells (hypertrophy). This hereditary condition is also found in “Piedmontese” cattle. Both types of cattle have superior abilities in turning feed into muscle, which makes their meat low in fat. Although the Belgian blue got its name from the typical gray-blue tawny appearance of the species, its hair can vary from white to black.
Its appearance was first documented in 1807 by George Culley, a livestock watchdog. This breed was obtained by crossing local breeds with British Shorthorn cattle in the center and north of Belgium in the 19th century. It is possible that Charolais cattle were also used in crossbreeding. Belgian blue was first used as a dairy-beef cross breed. The modern broiler strain was developed in 1950 by Professor Hanset, who worked at an artificial insemination center in the province of Liège. The characteristic (double-muscular) mutation of the breed has been achieved by linebreeding until it has now become a constant feature of the breed.
Belgian blue has a natural mutation in the gene encoding the protein myostatin (“myo” = muscle and “statin” = stop). Myostatin is a protein that limits muscle growth. Because this mutation also affects fat storage, the meat of such cattle is rather lean. The truncated myostatin gene cannot function at normal capacity, resulting in accelerated muscle growth in the animal. Muscle gain is mainly due to the physiological change of the animal's muscle cells (filaments) from hypertrophy to hyperplasia. This type of development (hyperplasia) occurs in the fetus when the mother is pregnant, so the offspring is born with about twice as many muscle cells as normal. In addition, the birth weight of the calf is considerably higher than the birth weight of the offspring of normal cattle.
The rate of conversion of feed to meat of Belgian blue cattle is higher than other cattle. A high rate of this is due to increased protein and decreased fat composition in weight gain. However, since their bone structure and weight are the same as other cattle, they have a higher muscle/bone ratio than other cattle. They have about 20% more muscle efficiency than other cattle. For high muscle yield of this breed, a more protein-heavy diet is required to balance this altered weight gain composition. It needs such high-energy feeds during the end of fattening and cannot show the desired fattening performance if a high-fiber diet is offered.
The value of this double-muscled breed is in its superior carcass characteristics. However, due to the low fat content, the marbleization (texture) of the meat also decreases and this causes the meat to decrease in softness. On the other hand, there are those who argue that there is no change in the softness of the meat of Belgian Blue because it consists of many and short (small) muscle fibers. The amount of collagen in the meat of Belgian Blue is also low, which increases the yield of amino acids and improves protein quality.
Because the newborn calf is very large, cesarean section is routinely performed for this breed. In addition, when crossing with other carnivorous, dairy or combined species, difficult birth can be seen due to the narrowness of the birth canal.
Whether it is profitable to breed Belgian Blue is debatable due to the problems experienced during birth and the metabolic need for concentrated feeds. However, the carcass values of double-muscled animals can be increased due to the high ratio of valuable meats and the structure of the meat. The slowness of oil storage often delays cutting, resulting in increased maintenance costs. Belgian Blue cattle cannot be raised in difficult conditions as they require intensive care and management. For such reasons, the overall yield of this strain is still economically uncertain.
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