Five National Beef Quality Audits were conducted beginning in 1991. Results of the sixth have been released. Data were collected from 30 federally-inspected fed-cattle beef packing plants in 16 states on 9,106 carcasses. Some notable findings were:

  • percent Choice and Prime was 71%, compared to 61% in 2011, and was 49% in 1995, the low point in the audit;
  • Yield Grade averaged 3.1, slightly less lean than the 2.9 in 2011;
  • average fat thickness was 0.56, compared to 0.51 in 2011;
  • average ribeye area was 13.9 sq in, compared to 13.8 in 2011;
  • average hot carcass weight was 860 lb, compared to 824 lb in 2011, and exactly 100 lb heavier than in the first audit in 1991.

Only 0.3% of carcasses were below 600 lb, but 12.4% were above 1000 lb. Carcasses outside those ranges have typically been price discounted. However, some premium brand programs have raised allowable weight without penalty to 1050 lb. Carcasses of  Yield Grade 4.0 or higher are typically discounted; 14.5 % of carcasses in the Audit were Yield Grade 4.0 or higher. Even though 71% of carcasses graded Choice or Prime, 12.4% of those were Yield Grade 4.0 or higher and so would receive some discount.

Instrument evaluation is being used increasingly for both Quality and Yield Grades. The Audit found close agreement between instrument and traditional evaluation done visually. Every Audit has estimated opportunity lost from quality problems involving Quality Grade, Yield Grade, carcass weight, hide/branding, and offal. Adjusting all Audits to 2016 prices, the loss in 2016 was $49/carcass compared to $63 in 1991. However, except for 1991, losses reported for most Audits were similar, ranging from $47 to $54.

(2016 National Beef Quality Audit; )



Cattle being finished on high-concentrate rations are prone to developing liver abscesses. Approved antibiotics are routinely fed to finishing animals (with veterinary approval under the Veterinary Feed Directive) to reduce incidence and severity of abscess. There is some concern that such use might eventually be curtailed. And, even with feeding antibiotics, condemnation of livers from fed cattle due to abscesses are a continuing problem. But do liver abscesses affect the eating qualities of beef?

From carcasses of cattle finished in a single feedlot on a ration without antibiotics, 119 strip loins were obtained. Steaks of 1-inch thickness were cut, broiled, and used for evaluation by a trained taste panel for initial juiciness, sustained juiciness, connective tissue amount, myofibrillar tenderness, overall tenderness, beef flavor identity, and off flavor. Steaks were characterized according to liver abscess scores (determined on the kill floor) of none, mild, or severe and by carcass grade of Select or Low Choice.

There were no statistically significant differences due to liver abscess score. Low Choice was significantly more desirable on all sensory factors except that flavor identity and off flavor did not significantly differ. The authors concluded “Although there were no differences in meat tenderness due to liver abscess score, liver abscesses still have a significant impact on margins in the beef industry due to decreased feedlot performance and marbling”.

(Trans. Anim. Sci. 1, 3:304; Kansas St. Univ.)



We know that cattle can vary in relative performance in different environments. Years ago, research was conducted by dividing Hereford cattle into two groups and maintaining one in Florida and the other in Montana. After several generations of genetic selection of breeding stock based on gain from birth to yearling, some animals in each location were moved to the other. Both lines performed better in Montana than in Florida. That is an environmental effect.

In Montana the line developed there had higher weaning weights than the Florida line.

But in Florida, the Florida line weights were higher. This is a classic case of what is called genotype-by-environmental interaction, which is not the same as merely an environmental effect. There are of course environmental effects at the same location. Cattle perform better in good years than in bad. But does that affect relative performance across years?

Researchers investigated this question using 7,566 records from the Montana cattle referred to above, the Line 1 Herefords maintained at the USDA research station in Miles City, MT. That line has been maintained intact since 1934. Over the period from 1935 through 2011, the yearly environmental effect on gain from birth to weaning has ranged from about 65 lb above average in good years to 70 lb below in bad years. Results revealed presence of genotype-by-year interaction.

The authors concluded this indicates that breed association genetic evaluation programs (EPD) should more fully account for potential genotype-by-environment interaction. They also suggested that seedstock producers could use the average of environmental effects in their herds to optimize their customers’ selection of breeding stock in relation to the customer’s environment.

(J. Anim. Sci. 95:3833; USDA-ARS, Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory, Miles City, MT)



The beef industry is affected by consumers perceptions and actions affecting their purchases of food. A recent survey was conducted of 1,002 people of all age, major race/ethnicity, household income, and education backgrounds. Some results were:

  • when asked to define healthy food, “high in healthy components or nutrients” ranked highest, followed by “no artificial ingredients, preservatives, or additives”;
  • non-GMO, organic, and natural ranked lowest as definitions of healthy food;
  • more than 80% listed Vitamin D, fiber, and whole grains as being healthy;
  • less than 40% listed animal protein as healthy and less than 10% listed saturated fats;
  • when asked if products had the same nutrition facts label, fresh ranked highest in being healthy, followed by frozen, with canned ranked lowest;
  • most trusted sources of information on nutrition were speaking with a registered dietitian, personal health care professional, and wellness counselor or health coach;
  • least trusted source was food company or manufacturer:
  • news articles or headlines were the greatest influencers on food safety;
  • of information provided on packaging, expiration date was most often consulted with brand names and statements about health benefits ranking lowest;
  • taste was most important influence in food purchase followed by price with brand being least important;
  • recognizing ingredients on a package and knowing where food comes from were the  most important production-related factors;
  • over half are very confident or somewhat confident the U. S. food supply is safe;
  • most important food safety issues were bacteria, carcinogens, chemicals, and pesticides with least important being allergens, GMOs, and antibiotics;
  • consumers are more confident of purchasing animal products as a result of FDA prohibition of growth-promoting use of antibiotics.

(2017 Food & Health Survey, )



The People’s Republic of China banned imports of beef from the U. S. in 2003 in response to the detection of BSE (“mad cow disease”) in Washington state. China has now agreed to accept imports of beef from the U. S. There are some hoops to jump through in order to qualify to export to China, and some of them are rather tight. Because of relatively high cost of meeting requirements, industry officials say the majority of products will probably be high-valued steak and roast cuts and some variety meats not in high demand in the U. S. but valued highly in China and some other counties

The specified requirements for exports to China include:

  • Beef and beef products must be derived from cattle that were born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S., cattle that were imported from Canada or Mexico and subsequently raised and slaughtered in the U.S., or cattle that were imported from Canada or Mexico for direct slaughter;
  • Cattle must be traceable to the U.S. birth farm using a unique identifier, or if imported to the first place of residence or port of entry;
  • Beef and beef products must be derived from cattle less than 30 months of age;
  • Chilled or frozen bone-in and deboned beef products are eligible for shipment.  For a complete listing, refer to the FSIS Export Library; and
  • Carcasses, beef, and beef products must be uniquely identified and controlled up until the time of shipment.

Only eligible products may be issued an FSIS Export Certificate.  The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) verifies that cattle meet the specified product requirements, as outlined in QAD 1030AA Procedure, through an approved USDA Quality System Assessment (QSA) or USDA Process Verified Program (PVP).  These programs ensure that a company’s requirements are supported by a documented quality management system and are verified through audits conducted by AMS.

(USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service; )



Anybody selling calves or even just watching a local auction knows that comparable lighter-weight animals almost always bring more per pound than heavier. We often think of that “slide” in terms of dollars. But the dollars vary depending on what average prices are at the time. When cattle are high, the slide in dollars is larger than when prices are low. A more useful way to look at slides is on a percentage basis.

Derrell Peel of Oklahoma State University recently looked at slides at combined Oklahoma auctions from 2000 to 2016. Over that period the average slide for steers (heifers) was

  • 475 lb = 8.5% (6.4%)
  • 575 lb = 6.7% (3.7%)
  • 675 lb = 4.0% (3.9%)
  • 775 lb = 4.5% (5.3%).

The slide was higher for steers than heifers at lighter weights but was slightly lower at heavier weights. These percentages can be used to calculate the slide in dollars for specific weights.

Let’s say the current average of your market for 575 lb steers is $150/cwt, so the slide is $10.05/cwt (6.7% x $150) If your average sale weight is 615 lb that is 40% of the range from 575 to 675. Price for your 615 lb steers would be adjusted down by $4.02/cwt (0.4 x $10.05). Total value would be $862.50 for a 575 lb steer and $897.78 for your 615 lb steer. You received $35.28 more for that 40 lb heavier calf, which means the extra weight was worth $0.88/lb, not the $1.50/lb price of the 575 lb calf.

We often overlook what is actually received when we talk about increasing calf weight. You should be able to produce heavier calves by changing genetics, improving nutrition, weaning older calves, backgrounding after weaning, or other means. If you can produce more pounds for less than the cost of producing them then it’s profitable. Like many other things, it’s a matter of return versus cost. You can’t look at one without the considering the other. Highest profit usually results from optimizing both production and cost, not from maximizing production or minimizing cost.

(Oklahoma St. Univ. Extension Cow/Calf Newsletter, 9/18/2017)



One-inch thick steaks were cut from 117 strip loins. Marbling was evaluated for texture and classified as fine, medium, or coarse. Steaks were from carcasses grading Select, Low Choice, or Top (upper 2/3) Choice. Steaks were grilled to medium level of doneness (160 deg. F. internal temperature) and evaluated by a trained taste panel.

There were no statistically significant differences among marbling textures for tenderness, amount of connective tissue, or off flavor. Coase texture samples were significantly juicier, and higher in beef flavor intensity. There was no significant effect among quality grades for amount of connective tissue, tenderness, or off flavor. Top Choice steaks were significantly juicier than Select with Low Choice being intermediate. And Top Choice had significantly higher beef flavor intensity than Select or Low Choice which did not differ.

(Kansas St. Univ. Cattlemen’s Day 2017, p. 30)



A good nutritional program is an important part of BQA. Animals that are in poor nutrition are more likely to get sick and less likely to respond to vaccination. Determining hay quality is critical in developing an appropriate and cost effective winter feeding and supplementation plan for cow-calf producers. During September and October is a good time to take hay samples. Samples should be taken from each cutting or load of hay. Visit with a beef cattle nutritionist for lab recommendations and to determine the most appropriate tests for your hay samples.

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

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