The National Agricultural Statistical Service of USDA has reported national cattle numbers as of January 1, 2017. Total cattle, at 93.6 million head, were up 2% from one year ago. There were 40.6 million cows and heifers that have calved, up 3%. There were 6.4 million beef replacement females, up 1%. (Replacements were 16% of calved cows and heifers, about the long-term replacement rate in beef herds.) Milk cows were at 9.4 million, up slightly. Calves below 500 lb were up 2%. These increases in calves and number of females that will produce calves projects to a larger beef supply over the next few years. As experts currently predict, this larger beef supply will probably place pressure on calf prices.

(USDA-NASS, released 1/31/17)



The science of genomics is finding increasing use in beef cattle genetic evaluation and prediction. Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) has been used by most of the larger beef cattle breed associations for over 40 years. EPD uses phenotypic performance records (weight, etc.) of an animal and its close relatives and to estimate the total genetic component of performance, which could be transmitted to progeny. More recently, molecular techniques (genomics) have been developed to examine an animal’s DNA to relate information in the animal’s genome to its overall genetic transmitting ability. This still requires collection of phenotypic records to relate genomic findings to actual performance data, and the more data available the better. As Dr. Larry Kuehn, U. S. Meat Animal Research Center, said in a recent presentation, “When we go from less than a thousand animals to several thousands, genomic predictions can explain about 50% of the genetic variation for important traits”.

How useful is genomic information from one breed in predicting in another breed? Dr. Kuehn presented an example in two breeds. A study showed that, in a large group of Angus, the correlation between genomic prediction and actual performance was 0.36 for weaning weight and 0.51 for yearling weight. But, when using genomics from the Angus group to predict performance in Red Angus, the correlations were 0.16 and 0.08. And this was in two breeds that are more closely related than most. More breeds have developed or are developing genomic prediction from data collected within the breed.

Most breeds now incorporate an individuals’ genomic data into EPD calculations for some traits. This increases accuracy and predictability of the EPD, and experts say it is currently the most beneficial way to use genomics. Used wisely, genomic information can help producers make better decisions on genetic selection.

(National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium Seminar, October, 2016)



Optaflexx® (ractopamine hydrochloride, RAC) is approved for feeding cattle in confinement the last 28-42 days before slaughter at rates from 70 to 430 mg/hd/day to obtain increased weight gain, improved feed efficiency, and increased carcass leanness.

In two studies, as has been found in earlier research, feeding RAC significantly increased final weight, ADG, feed efficiency, and carcass weight but did not significantly affect any carcass factors except weight. In comparing feeding RAC for either 28 or 42 days, the researchers concluded that “feeding RAC improves growth performance and carcass weight, with an optimal duration of feeding RAC being 28 days”.

(J. Animal Sci. 95:485, Univ. of Nebraska)



Official inspection of beef for wholesomeness and safety is required. Quality grading by the USDA, in which marbling is the primary factor, is optional on the part of the processor. Not all beef is assigned a quality grade. Over the last 20-25 years, about 80% of inspected beef has been graded for quality. Of that graded amount, Choice and Prime made up 59-64% from 2000 to 2008. In 2009 it increased to 67% and steadily rose to 78% in 2015.

Most major breeds have been selecting for higher marbling for some time. For example, genetic change for marbling in Angus has increased steadily and consistently going back to1972, when breed-wide genetic evaluation began. So, changes in overall national Choice-Prime percentage trailed breed-wide genetic change. This might be explained by the fact that the nation’s beef herd today consists of a higher percentage of Angus than was once true; and Angus has been shown by the U. S. Meat Animal Research Center to rank highest in marbling of the 18 most numerous beef breeds.

Similar trends can be seen in high-quality branded beef programs, most of which require upper 2/3 Choice or Prime quality grade. Certified Angus Beef® is the largest high-quality branded program. Inadequate marbling is the most prevalent reason for a carcass failing to be accepted for CAB. At one time the acceptance rate for CAB was around 15%, but is now near 30%. Price premiums for Choice carcasses compared to Select vary over time but long-term average around $8-10/cwt. And CAB brings significant premium over Low Choice. If quality grade in the nation’s beef supply continues to increase, it will be interesting to see if and to what extent premiums might be affected.

(USDA, American Angus Association, CAB Partners, U. S. Meat Animal Research Center)



“Organic”, “grass-fed”, “natural”, “naturally raised”, “hormone free”, “antibiotic free”, and “humanely raised and handled” are just some of the claims seen these days on food products, including beef. In some cases there are third-party verification procedures to support such claims. For instance, there is a program administered by USDA with strict requirements for “USDA Organic” labeling. However, a product can be called simply “organic” with no restrictions.

In 2009, the USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service started a program for verification and marketing called Never Ever 3 (NE3). The program was rescinded in November, 2015, because, as stated in an announcement by USDA-AMS, the agency did not have “clear statutory authority” to implement the program.  Never Ever 3 allowed a marketing label claim for animals that had never been administered antibiotics or hormones or fed animal by-products, even though feeding animal by-products had been illegal for years. You might currently see claims of Never Ever or other such terms. There are also claims for some or all of the provisions that were part of Never Ever 3, such as “hormone-free”, “antibiotic-free”, “organically fed”, etc. Some of these terms make no sense; much of what we eat, not just beef, has naturally-occurring hormones. Regardless, marketers are free to make such claims.




Statistical significance is a feature of research reports and also is often found in industry/popular publications derived from research. Statistical significance means how confident we can be that results are “real”, i. e., likely to be repeated if measured in another similar group of cattle. Two primary factors influencing statistical significance are the number of animals being studied and their variability. If a study involves large numbers of uniform animals, then a small difference is more likely to be statistically significant.

But what does statistical significance mean in applying research results to livestock production? Even if some effect is “real”, if it costs more to implement than it returns then it is not economically important. On the other hand, if an effect is large enough to be economically important but is statistically nonsignificant then that practice should not be used, at least without additional, reliable information. In applying research results to their operations, producers should understand the difference between statistical significance and economic importance.

(J. Animal Sci. 94:4959, Kansas St. Univ.)



Stocker cattle programs often incorporate a growth implant. Revalor-G (which contains 40 mg trenbolone acetate plus 8 mg estradiol) is an implant approved for weaned pasture cattle, steers, and heifers. It is not intended for use in animals intended for subsequent breeding. Research reports indicate effects on reproduction varied in heifers implanted beyond weaning. Additional comprehensive research was conducted to evaluate effects.

Over three locations, 3,342 crossbred beef heifers of approximate 12 months of age, averaging 524 lb were either 1) implanted with Revalor-G or 2) not implanted as controls and both groups grazed together for 164 days. After 82 days grazing, all heifers were synchronized for estrus followed by artificial insemination and then clean-up bulls for 25 days. Pregnancy determination was made 45 days after bulls were removed.

At the end of the trial, implanted heifers were statistically significantly heavier, by 15 lb. However, pregnancy rate of implanted heifers was significantly lower at 46% versus 64% for controls. This effect continued with the next year’s breeding; implants had 93% pregnancy and controls 96%. Even this small difference was statistically significant, a reflection of the large number and uniformity of the animals in the study.

These effects on weight gain and reproduction should not be viewed alone. The authors note that increasing numbers of producers are developing more heifers than they need for replacements. In some cases this may involve developing an entire heifer crop and then retaining only early breeders. Those not retained could be marketed as bred heifers or feeder heifers or finished for slaughter by the producer. The authors concluded that “when pregnant heifer value exceeds feeder heifer value it is unlikely that additional weight gain in culled heifers will compensate for the decreased pregnancy rate. However, when pregnant heifer value is comparable to feeder heifer value, the additional weight gain from the implant increases the value and efficiency of stocker heifers”.

(Prof. Anim. Sci. 33:92, Univ. of Nebraska)



Over the last 40 years the USDA Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) at Clay Center, Nebraska, has evaluated over 30 breeds of cattle used for beef production. In recent years, the Center has compared their results with those from breed association genetic evaluation programs, which include all animals within a breed. MARC updates their comparisons each year. The three summaries below, which include breeds with genetic evaluation programs, can be accessed on the Texas A&M Animal Science Department Extension beef website (

1 – Most recent EPD breed averages, which can be used to compare how an individual ranks within its breed. These can not be used to compare breeds.

2 – Comparisons of breeds.

3 – Adjustment factors to compare EPD of individual animals of different breeds.



Consumption of colostrum shortly after birth is critical to calf survival and health. During

calving season, monitor newborns to ensure they are nursing. If calves haven’t nursed within the first 10–12 hours after birth provide assistance to ensure adequate consumption of colostrum; in some instances, you may want to provide colostrum sooner.

Before calving season begins it is a good idea to have an esophageal tube feeder and a source of colostrum on hand. Commercial colostrum products vary in the amount of immune globulins they contain, so make sure to get a product that is designed for replacement and not just as a supplement.

(Jason Banta, Ph. D., , Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Beef Quality Assurance  Coordinator)

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