Beef Cattle Browsing – May 2009

Beef Cattle Browsing

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

May 2

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.

We’re just not producing as much high quality beef as we used to. How many times have you heard that? Texas A&M researchers investigated that idea. In 1960, about 65% graded Choice. In 1987, that was over 90%. In 2005, it was 55%. That is based on the percentage of carcasses submitted for grading. Why was the percent so high in 1987? Prior to that, the grade below Choice was Good. Consumers had apparently decided that Good wasn’t good enough. Retailers found no benefit from selling Good grade beef. Consequently, packers had just about quit having Good carcasses graded; they marketed them under house brands or just sold them ungraded. In 1987, Good was changed to Select, retailers started marketing with that name, so packers submitted more Select carcasses for grading.

A better picture of changes in carcass quality could be obtained by looking at the total amount of beef produced, not just the amount submitted for grading. Using as the base the total amount of beef inspected, Choice made up about 33% in 1960. (That was before large scale commercial feedyards came on the scene, so a much lower percentage of beef came from fed cattle.) In 1987, Choice made up about 50%. In 2005, it was about 46%. So, the authors concluded there is little evidence of declining amounts of Choice beef. Rather, the amount of Select has increased because more beef of that quality is now submitted for grading. (Prof. Anim. Sci. 24:619)

Publicized estimates of benefits from using renewable or alternative fuels have been challenged by some who say that important factors are omitted from estimates. The Environmental Protection Agency has announced proposed standards for 2010 and beyond. In these proposals, reductions from 2005 greenhouse emissions would be required as follows: renewable fuels such as corn-based ethanol = 20%; advanced biofuel = 40-50%; biomass-based diesel = 50%; cellulosic biofuel = 60%. Reductions would include consideration of all relevant factors including production and transport of the feedstock; land use change; production, distribution, and blending of the renewable fuel; and end use of the renewable fuel. Implementation of proposed standards is projected to decrease commodity prices as follows: corn = $0.15/bu; soybeans = $0.29/bu; Beef = $0.93/cwt. Report at

Oklahoma State University researchers compared Angus steers placed on feed at weaning or after grazing wheat pasture for 164 days. The study included two sets of cattle in consecutive years. Feeding and carcass results are shown below:

Initial weight, lb * 502 979
Days on feed * 169 88
Dry matter/day, lb * 19.8 24.5
ADG, lb/day # 3.76 4.05
Feed : gain, lb * 5.26 6.67
Final weight, lb * 1140 1331
Ribeye area, sq in * 12.24 13.48
Fat thickness, in 0.56 0.56
Yield Grade 3.1 3.2
Marbling Score 571 589

Significantly different: *=<.01, #=<.05

Sold live, calf-feds made $26.47 more per head, which tended to be significantly different. However, when sold on a carcass-value grid calf-feds made $10.56 more per head, which was not significantly different. The authors concluded that “producers have the flexibility to select the most economically beneficial system based on current market and production conditions without compromising carcass quality.” (Prof. Anim. Sci. 24:232)

USDA-Aphis has released a report on the projected benefits and costs of a National Animal Identification System. Benefits include:

  • enhance animal health surveillance and disease eradication
  • reduce of economic impact of disease outbreaks
  • reduce cattle producers’ animal disease testing costs
  • maintain export market access
  • enhance global market competitiveness
  • increase transparency in the supply chain
  • improve value-added and certified program efficiency
  • enhance animal welfare in response to natural disasters
  • reduce risk of unfounded liability claims
  • minimize damage to individual producers and industry as a whole.

For the cattle industry, costs were broken out by cow-calf, dairy, stocker, feedlot, auction, and packer. Use of RFID ear tags was assumed. RFID costs per head sold for cow/calf operations ranged from $2.48 for 5,000+ head operations that are currently tagging to $7.17 for less than 50 head operations not currently tagging. Of the total cost to the industry, about three-fourths is associated with tags and tagging cost (including labor, weight shrink, etc.) with one-fourth coming from tag reading costs. A full-traceability ID program is estimated to cost an average of $5.97 per head marketed, with about three-fourths of that in the cow-calf segment. The USDA is currently holding listensing sessions throughout the U.S. to “hear from a diverse range of stakeholders all across the country regarding their concerns, and any potential solutions, regading animal disease traceability in the United States.” Also, the public can provide feedback on NAIS to USDA at Access the 30-page summary of the report on benefit-cost analysis. 

The USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System has reported results for 2007-08. A survey was made of approximately 4,000 operations in the 24 states containing 80% of the nation’s cow herds and 88% of the cows. Highlights were:

  • operations with over 200 cows were more likely to target breed-based marketing
  • over 80% of herds kept some records
  • veterinarians were considered the most important source for both general and genetic information
  • about 2/3 of operations used some form of identification, primarily plastic ear tags
  • calf age or weight was the primary factor determining when to wean
  • larger operations were more likely to provide calf health information to buyers
  • about 1/2 of the operators had heard of the Beef Quality Assurance program
  • the majority of operators attending BQA training were either already using BQA practices or implemented them after the training (

A USDA-Miles City, Montana researchers studied developing heifers on corn silage-alfalfa hay-protein/mineral in four consecutive years. Heifers were weaned at about 6 months of age. Starting about two months later, half of the heifers were allowed ad lib consumption and the other half were allowed 80% of the amount consumed by the full-fed group. Feeding continued for 140 days. All heifers were synchronized and artificially inseminated at 14-months of age followed by cleanup bulls. Results were as follows:

Postweaning ADG, lb 1.45 1.06
13.5 month-old wt, lb 744 695
19.5 month-old wt, lb 911 889
13.5 mo.-19.5 mo., ADG lb 0.92 1.08
Puberty @ 14 mo., % 69 58
Age @ puberty, days 398 418
Weight @ puberty, lb 741 697
Pregnancy, % 91 87

Pregnancy rate from AI did not differ. Overall, similar reproductive performance was realized at a savings from limit feeding of 22% in amount of harvested feed. (J. Animal Sci. 85:Suppl. 2, no. 162)

A new Texas AgriLife Extension publication on the trichomoniasis regulations can be accessed at The regulations state that a bull “can be certified as virgin only if it has not been commingled with female cattle and is accompanied by a breeder’s certificate.” Some confusion has arisen over what constitutes a “breeder’s certificate.” Dr. Rick Machen, Professor and Extension Livestock Specialist at the Texas AgriLife Center in Uvalde, co-author of the publication linked above, obtained the following clarification of breeder’s certificate on May 14 from the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC):

  1. A statement that a bull is in fact less than 24 months of age and a virgin.
  2. Can be on ranch letterhead, vet clinic letterhead, plain paper, or written on the health papers. TAHC strongly prefers that it be dated and signed by the owner of the bull. If the owner is not available, TAHC will accept the certifying veterinarians’ signature. Does NOT need to be notarized.
  3. Should be attached to the health papers.
  4. TAHC is developing a form for breeder’s to download and use for certification.

The Agricultural Research Service of USDA has granted a license to a Canadian firm interested in marketing a Directional Virtual Fencing system. The system locates cattle by GPS and then sends sounds to an animal. The level of sound can be varied. Sounds can range from “familiar ‘gathering songs’ sung by cowboys during manual roundups to sirens designed to get cows to move or avoid entering forbidden areas.” Animal movement can be tracked by computer. A prototype is being developed with a stereo headset around each ear of the animal. ( downloaded 3/27/09)

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