Beef Cattle Browsing – November 2006

Beef Cattle Browsing

Editor: Dr. Stephen Hammack, Professor & Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Emeritus

November 2006

This newsletter is published by Texas AgriLife Extension – Animal Science. Media, feel free to use this information as needed and cite Texas A&M University Beef Cattle Browsing Newsletter, Dr. Steve Hammack.

Although a few states have implemented a mandatory system, the national program is still voluntary at this point. And it looks like that will be true for the foreseeable future, based on information from the recent meeting of the U. S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) Committee on Livestock Identification. (The USAHA is an organization of state and federal animal health officials, allied organizations, and individual members.) At the meeting, Bruce Knight, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, reiterated USDA support for a voluntary system. Knight stressed that USDA has four guiding principles on NAIS: avoid unnecessary burden to producers, avoid government growth, maintain flexibility, and keep data private. The USAHA committee recommended an initial system of ID at the animal’s point of origin and on the other end of the production cycle at slaughter, or if diagnosed with a reportable disease. This procedure was used in Canada prior to implementing a more complete system. Stay tuned. (

Arkansas researchers summarized data from nine years of the Arkansas Steer Feedout. As with other such programs, such as Texas A&M Ranch to Rail, they found that financial returns were affected by such things as sickness, average daily gain, carcass weight, Quality grade (QG), and Yield grade (YG). In addition, two groups were analyzed based on whether they fit (F) or did not fit (NF) acceptable levels of carcass weight (550-950 lb), QG (minimum low Choice), and YG (maximum 3.5). Producer-reported breed composition for percent British, Continental, and Brahman was 61%, 28%, and 8% for F and 45%, 42%, and 11% for NF. There was no significant difference between the two groups in initial weight, muscle score, cost of gain, dressing percent, or ribeye area. F had more Medium frame scores and less Large frame, higher ADG, heavier final and carcass weight, lower medicine cost, poorer YG (more fat cover), higher carcass grid value, and greater return above expenses.

In an analysis of the last four years of the program, four categories were created based on a combination of total value (weight X price/lb) initially (when placed on feed) and finally (in the carcass) as follows: high for both values (HH), low for both (LL), high initial – low final (HL), and low initial – high final (LH). HH had more Continental, less British, and less Brahman breeding. HH and HL had better muscle scores than LL and LH. The four groups differed from each other in starting weight (decreasing in the order of HH, HL, LH, LL), average daily gain (decreasing in the order of LH, HH, LL, HL), and final weight (decreasing in the order of HH, LH, HL, LL). LL had lower carcass value/cwt than the other three. HH and LH had 64% and 76% Choice, while HL and LL had 26% and 27%. Returns/head above initial calf value were: LH – $183; HH – $123; LL – $79; HL – $ 28. Not surprisingly, the cattle that made the most money were bought relatively cheap, performed well, and had good carcasses. (Prof. Anim. Sci. 22:454)

A National Beef Quality Audit has been conducted approximately every five years since 1991. In the most recent Audit, producers (seedstock, cow/calf, stocker, and feeder) ranked the following quality challenges, in decreasing order of importance: low marbling, lack of uniformity, low tenderness, poor Yield Grade/low cutability, heavy carcasses, injection site lesions, inadequate flavor, low muscling, and high fat. Packers ranked: low quality grade/tenderness due to growth implants, lack of uniformity, heavy carcasses, poor Yield Grade, carcass bruises, and hot-iron-brand damage on hides. End users (purveyors, restaurants, super markets) ranked: low marbling, high cut weight, lack of uniformity, low tenderness, excess fat, low juiciness/flavor/overall palatability, low cutability, and large ribeyes. Over the three industry segments, it would seem we need smaller, more uniform, higher quality, and leaner cattle. Now, if market signals correspond sufficiently, maybe those changes will all happen. We’ll see in 2010 when the next Audit is done. (Proceedings of the 2006 Beef Improvement Federation Annual Meeting, p. 5)

U.S. Meat Animal Research Center and University of Nebraska researchers studied factors affecting length of productive life (PL) of Hereford cows from three closed selection lines and a control line. A total of 1866 records was analyzed from females born over a 17-year period. Replacement breeding stock in the lines were selected based on either: weaning weight, yearling weight, combination of yearling weight and muscle score, or random controls. Evaluations were made of lifetime production (i.e., within six years after first calving) for: number of calves born (NB), number of calves weaned (NW), and total weaning weight (TW). Cows were culled for: 1) being open at weaning, 2) serious unsoundness, 3) not raising a live calf for two consecutive years, or 4) age, if too many cows were still in the herd after culling for the first three factors.

Heritability estimates for PL were very low, ranging from 0.05 to 0.15. Heritability of NB, NW, and TW were similar at around 0.2, and genetic correlations among those three measures were all extremely high. Genetic correlations between the three production measures and PL also were extremely high. Little genetic change occurred in any line over the course of the study in either PL, NB, NW, or TW. The authors concluded that genetic selection for length of productive life or lifetime production could be successful, but would be relatively slow because of low heritabilities and extended generation intervals. (J. Animal Sci. 82:1912)

Colorado researchers studied factors affecting total value of 1215 steer and 785 heifer carcasses marketed from 1998 to 2004 on simulated grids, with variable prices for Quality Grade (QG) and Yield Grade (YG). One price grid emphasized QG and the other YG. Within these two basic grids, Choice (Ch) was valued over Select (Sel) by $5, $10, or $20 per cwt. Also, three base (Ch YG3) prices were evaluated: $118, $131, and $144/cwt carcass. (Current average Ch price is about $140/cwt.) Overall, 29% of the carcasses were Ch YG3, 23 % were Ch YG2, and 21% were Sel YG2.

By far the most important factor affecting total carcass value was weight, ranging from accounting for 51% with $118 base and $20 Ch-Sel spread to 93% with $144 base/$5 spread. QG accounted for a range of from 4% with $145 base/$5 spread to 45% with $118 base/$20 spread. YG accounted for only 4 to 8% of revenue variation regardless of base price, Ch-Sel spread, or grid. YG was as important as QG only at low Ch-Sel spread. At higher spreads, QG was 8 to 9 times more important than YG. While all grids severely discounted poor YG, the net discounts for Ch YG4 were relatively small at higher Ch-Sel spreads. So, under these conditions there is incentive to feed longer to heavier weights to realize more dollars from more pounds and higher QG. However, there were no discounts in this study for excessive carcass weight (often set at 950 lb in most grids). Also, cattle fed longer become fatter, so feed efficiency declines. Accounting for these factors would probably have changed results somewhat. Finally, over the course of this work (1998 to 2004), average days on feed increased by 13, carcass weight increased 32 lb, and YG4-5 increased from 1.3% to 7.7%, but percent Choice and Prime varied little, ranging from 60 to 63%. (Prof. Anim. Sci. 22:41)

My colleague located in the heart of cattle feeding country, Dr. Ted McCollum, Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist at the Texas A&M Center in Amarillo, has done some calculations on how ethanol production may affect grain use. Ted notes that two100-million-gallon ethanol plants are under construction in the Panhandle, another has been announced, another rumored, and a fifth mentioned as a possibility. He combined figures for ethanol production capacity, amount of grain required for that production, amount of grain consumed in finishing a steer, and the number of cattle finished in the Panhandle each year. The Bottom Line? Five ethanol plants such as those above would require over half of the amount of grain currently used to finish cattle in the Panhandle. Note: as this is written, corn prices have reached a 10-year high. (Personal communication, Dr. Ted McCollum)

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