Beef Cattle Browsing – February 2009

Beef Cattle Browsing

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

February 2009

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.

Somewhere around half of all beef consumed is ground. But there’s a lot of variation in ground products. Ground beef sold at retail can be grouped into five categories based on percent lean (or by name of a wholesale cut implying a level of quality). Most of the ground beef in stores is a combination of lean trimmings and fat trimmings to arrive at the targeted percentages. Breakdown of the five categories is:

Category % of Total Pounds $ per Pound % of Total $
70-77% lean 32.4 2.57 27.4
78-84% lean (Chuck) 34.5 2.78 31.7
85-89% lean (Round) 16.0 3.32 17.5
90-95% lean (Sirloin) 15.9 4.07 21.4
96-100% lean 1.2 4.77 2.0

About two-thirds of ground beef is in the two fattest categories, and even at a lower price that still comprises almost 60% of the dollars spent. Price is no doubt the driving factor. However, when asked to evaluate cooked samples, without seeing the raw product, people generally rate highest those somewhere around 20% fat. (

Oregon State University researchers compared systems weaning spring-born calves at 130 (EW) or 207 (NW) days of age over two calf crops. Cows were managed on southeastern Oregon range stocked at approximately 13 acres/cow. EW occurred around August 1 and NW about October 15. Samples of both groups of cows were fitted with GPS collars to monitor activity. During the late fall and winter all cows received meadow hay of 6-7% crude protein at about 30 lb hay/cow/day (about 3300-3400 lb hay/cow/winter) along with mineral and salt. NW cows also received 7-8 lb 20% CP alfalfa hay three times weekly (350-375 lb alfalfa/cow/winter).

During the 75 days between weaning dates there were no significant differences in grazing time, resting time, walking time, distance traveled, average distance to water, or weekly visits to water. However, EW cows grazed over a wider area. Between the times of EW and NW, EW cows gained 18 lb (to 1115 lb) and 0.1 Body Condition Score (to 5.1), compared to a loss of 88 lb (to 1010 lb) and 0.8 BCS (to 4.3) for NW cows. By one month before calving NW cows had recovered and there was no significant difference in either weight or BCS (5.3 for both groups). Winter feeding costs were $28.86/cow higher for NW.

At the time of EW, all calves averaged 385 lb. NW calves weighed 488 lb when weaned. That 103 lb is a lot to give up. However, those pounds would not be valued the same, and calves usually bring less in Mid-October than in early August. Let’s look at the average prices of Medium and Large #1 steers and heifers in the USDA Weekly Summary for Texas Auctions for those two periods averaged over the last five years. Averaged over both periods, the lighter calves brought $13.80/cwt more. And averaged over both weights, August calves brought $4.30/cwt more. The EW calves sold in early August would have brought $518.36/head. The NW calves sold in October would have brought $568.67, or $50.31 more per calf. That’s $21.45 above the extra feed cost for NW cows in this Oregon study.

The authors of this report note that forage intake was not measured and that it could have been less for the dry EW cows while the NW cows were still lactating. That would have meant some grazing available for EW calves, so they might have been taken to heavier weights and brought more dollars. Or any extra forage could have been used to run a few more EW cows. A lot of things factor into considerations for time of weaning, but it’s not as simple as just looking at differences in weaning weight. Especially under drouth conditions, early weaning should be considered. (Prof. Anim. Sci. 24:29)

The term “natural” when applied to consumer products may or may not have any definite meaning, which is often misleading and confusing. That confusion may or may not have been reduced for livestock and the meat and meat products derived from such livestock with the recent publication by USDA-AMS of standards for Naturally Raised Marketing Claims. The provisions of the standards include:

Growth promotants – are prohibited from birth to slaughter including natural hormones, synthetic hormones, production promotants, estrus suppressants, beta agonists, or other synthetic growth promotants.

Antibiotics – can not be administered by any method (such as feed, water, or injection) from birth to slaughter, including low-level sub-therapeutic doses, sulfonamides, ionophores (except when used according to label recommendations as coccidiostats for parasite control and when explicitly noted on the claim), or any other synthetic antimicrobial.

Animal byproducts – can not be fed, either mammalian, avian, or aquatic derived from slaughter/harvest processes including meat and fat, waste materials such as manure and litter, and fish meal/oil. Vitamin and mineral supplementation is permitted.

These Naturally Raised standards apply only to pre-slaughter production practices. And they apply only for AMS-certified claims of natural raising. Also, the term “natural”, as seen on products, deals only with post-slaughter production practices and can still be used. So, an animal might be AMS-certified Naturally Raised but, depending on processing, not result in a “natural” product. And “natural” products may not, and in most cases will not, come from an AMS-certified Naturally Raised animal.

Additional information can be seen by consulting the U. S. Federal Register Volume 74, No. 12, January 21, 2009, pages 3541-3545.

Humped cattle, called Bos indicus, Zebu, or, in this country “Brahman-type”, are native to tropical and sub-tropical regions. Forages in such regions are often low in quality and sometimes in short supply. On such diets, animals have an advantage if they can get by on lower amounts of energy. Brazilian researchers studied the energy requirements of Bos indicus and Bos indicus-cross cows. Nellore (the dominant Bos indicus breed in Brazil) were compared to Nellore-Angus and Nellore-Simmental, all maintained in the same degree of body condition. During the dry, non-lactating period, straightbred Nellore cows required 5% less energy for body maintenance. And during the lactation period, Nellore needed 10% less for maintenance and 23% less for lactation. This may somewhat explain any ability of Bos indicus to function better than non-Bos indicus when dietary energy becomes restricted. (J. Animal Sci. 87:740)

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service has released the 2007 Census of Agriculture. Compared to the 2002 Census, number of beef cattle operations declined 4% (dairy operations declined 24%) and the number of beef cows went down 2%. Average number of beef cows per operation was 42.9 in 2007 and 41.9 in 2002. There were 79% of the beef cow operations with less than 50 cows, containing 29% of the total cow numbers. Texas had over 16% of the beef cows in the U. S. followed by Oklahoma with 6% and no other state with over 2%. (USDA-NASS)

The Biobullet is a method of administering pharmaceutical products using an air-powered delivery system and biodegradable projectiles containing the product. Biobullets penetrate into muscle and are gradually absorbed. Oklahoma State University researchers wanted to know how this method compared to typical injections in effects on tissue damage and tenderness. British-Continental crossbred steers were obtained from one owner who managed them from birth. Steers had no prior treatment for the BRD complex and had received no injections on the right side before arrival at the Oklahoma State feedyard averaging 843 lb where they were divided into six experimental groups. Three groups were needle-injected with either antibiotic, BRD complex, or saline solution control. The other three groups received Biobullets with either antibiotic, BRD complex, or placebo control. Biobullets were administered at a distance of 20 feet from the animal. Half of each group received injections in either the neck or outside round. The feeding period was either 101 or 122 days.

Injection-site lesions were present in at least half of all applications, including controls. There were no statistically significant differences in identifiable injection-site lesions due to either drug or injection method; Biobullets in the round did tend to have more lesions than needle injection. There also were no significant differences in tenderness due to drug or method; there was a tendency for BRD to reduce tenderness. The authors noted that the Biobullet method may reduce stress where multiple handling is necessary to treat animals. However, just as with the traditional needle method, Biobullets should be applied forward of the point of shoulder to comply with Beef Quallity Assurance guidelines. (J. Animal Sci. 87:716)

Cloudy, according to Dr. Steve Amosson, Extension Agricultural Economist at the Texas A&M System AgriLife Center in Amarillo. In the fall of 2007, there were 213 ethanol plants in production or under construction and more were planned. Some of those under construction are now operating, but no new ones are being built or even planned. Why? The combination of declining price margins for ethanol and the credit crisis basically stopped financing of plant construction. Otherwise, serious overbuilding would probably have occurred.

However, federal government mandates for gradually increasing amounts of ethanol are still in force. Amosson says two things will probably happen; the mandated levels will not be realized and the price of distillers co-products will decline further. That will make such products more attractive for livestock feed, giving an advantage to feeding close to supply. As with some other factors affecting beef cattle production, politics will probably be the primary driver in the ethanol issue. (, 1/20/09)

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