Beef exports for 2017 totaled 1.26 metric tons, 6% higher than 2016, fourth highest ever, and second highest since the BSE (“mad-cow”) crisis. Total beef value for 2017, at $7.27 billion, was 15% higher than 2016 and highest ever reported. Pork exports last year were 2.45 metric tons valued at $6.49 billion, second highest value ever. So, combined red meat exports broke all previous records. For beef products, Japan continued as highest for both volume and total value. Mexico was second for volume and third for value. Korea ranked third for volume and second for value. Honk Kong was fourth in both volume and value, Canada was fifth in both, and Taiwan was sixth in both.

NOTE: International trade is currently being debated among government officials, elected office holders, manufacturers, business organizations, agricultural producer groups, labor organizations, consumer groups, and the general public. The outcome of discussions and negotiations could possibly affect exports, of beef and many other products.

(U. S. Meat Export Federation,



The USDA requires all beef to be inspected for wholesomeness, paid for from public funds. In addition, USDA has a voluntary program, for quality and lean-yield grading, paid for by processors. Even though voluntary, most processors have carcasses graded for marketing purposes. Since 1991, around 95% of fed steer and heifer slaughter has been voluntarily graded. Before that only around 65% was graded. During that earlier period, most major packers had “house brands” such as Swift Premium. The old house brands should not to be confused with current branded beef programs such as Certified Angus Beef® the largest. House brands often used beef that would not grade Choice or Prime, mostly Select (previously named Good), which the packer simply chose not to have officially designated by the USDA grader and marketed with a house brand or simply ungraded. Partly as a result of this, during the 1980s percent Choice of carcasses officially graded was over 90%.

In 1991, when the percent graded first exceeded 90%, Choice was 79% (Prime was 2%). Percent Choice then started declining, reaching 59% in 1997 and holding between 58-60% through 2007. Then that percentage started increasing, reaching 74% in 2016, along with 6% Prime.  In addition to Quality Grading, carcasses can be graded (also at the option of the plant) for Yield Grade, an estimate of percentage red meat. [Yield Grades range from 1 (highest leanness) to 5 (lowest leanness)]. Figures for the latest year show only 29% as much beef was Yield Graded as Quality Graded. Of that Yield Graded, 34% was YG2 and 47% YG3.

(USDA Beef Grading Historical Records)



Methionine has been reported to be the first limiting amino acid in grazing and lactating beef cows. A group of 214 mature Simmental X Angus cows, which had been bred by AI, was divided into two experimental groups. One group was supplemented with 1lb/day of wheat mid-based pellets (12-14% CP) and the other with the same amount of supplement but also containing 10 mg/day of methionine hydroxy analog (MHA).

During the study period, cows were grazed from late August (23 days before average calving date) until late November on tall fescue-clover pastures analyzing 9% CP, 63% TDN, DM basis. After the study period, all cows were grazed on stockpiled fescue plus free-choice low-quality hay and 10 lb/day of 50% shell corn – 50% distillers dried grain and solubles (DDGS). At average of 87 days after calving, cows were synchronized and AIed followed by cleanup bulls. Calves were weaned at average age of 196 days.

Cows were weighed and assigned Body Condition Scores six times from start of the study to calf weaning. At the start, all cows averaged 1397 lb and 5.8 Body Condition Score (BCS). At weaning, cows averaged 1110 lb and 3.9 BCS. There were no statistically significant differences between the cow groups in weight or BCS at any time from start to calf weaning. There also were no significant differences in milk production, milk content, cycling %, AI conception %, overall pregnancy %, or fetal loss %. Calves did not significantly differ in birth weight, preweaning gain, weaning weight, sickness, or death loss. Cows supplemented with MHA did have significantly higher levels of serum methionine analog. The authors concluded “pre- and postpartum supplementation of MHA may not provide additional performance to fall-calving cows grazing cool season pastures when energy and/or protein deficiency is present, nor improve performance of calves through normal weaning”.

(J. Animal Sci. 95:5597; Univ. of Illinois)



Flavor is the primary reason people choose beef over other sources of animal protein. But research has shown there is generally little difference in flavor of beef from different breeds, quality grades, muscles, etc. Juiciness is another important factor. It varies more than flavor but still not nearly as much as the third sensory factor – tenderness. A study, funded by the Beef Checkoff, examined variation in tenderness of various muscles. Researchers used both mechanical (Warner-Bratzler Shear Force, WBSF) and taste panel methods of evaluation.

Not surprisingly, the most tender cut, by a considerable margin, was the tenderloin. Some of the other familiar cuts in the more tender range were flat iron, loin eye, ribeye, tri-tip, and inside chuck. Some on the tougher end of the range were bottom/outside round, top/inside round, eye of round, top sirloin, outside chuck, and brisket. Juiciness (from taste panel evaluation) tracks somewhat, but not entirely, with tenderness.

Although brisket is inherently on the tougher end of the range, we all know that, prepared correctly, it is a highly desirable cut to many consumers. Preparation can make or break a cut. Walk down a retail meat counter and you will see lots of round and sirloin steak. These cuts are attractive to many shoppers. They are lean and relatively inexpensive. Prepared as chicken-fried or some other means they can be a fine eating experience. But if grilled or broiled, as is done in too many cases, especially by novice cooks, the experience is not so good because those cuts when grilled or broiled can be tough and dry.




Supplements with trace minerals (typically containing copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc) are often provided to beef females on pasture. There has been some concern that variation might result in some animals not consuming enough mineral to meet their needs. May-born Red Angus-based heifers were weaned in October, backgrounded in a feedlot with trace mineral in the ration until early March, and then turned out on pasture with free-choice trace-mineral supplement for development until breeding.

At 33 days before breeding, CIDR devices were inserted to initiate heat synchronization for timed-AI; at that same time, one-half of heifers received an injection of trace minerals along with free-choice supplement, which the other one-half continued to receive. Cleanup bulls were turned in after AI. There were no statistically significant differences among the two groups in either early or overall pregnancy rates. The authors concluded “injectable trace mineral at CIDR insertion did not influence reproductive performance in heifers with adequate trace mineral status”.

(2018 Beef Cattle Report, p. 33: Univ. of Nebraska)



The current USDA pork carcass grades are 1, 2, 3, and 4. Nos. 1-4 all require “acceptable quality of lean and belly thickness” (Utility grade is unacceptable in quality and thickness) with lean to fat ratio decreasing from 1 down to 4 (basically similar to Yield Grades for beef). A proposal has been advanced to replace the numerical grades for pork with Prime, Choice, and Select. Various beef industry groups are objecting to use of these names for any other food products because of possible confusion with USDA beef quality grades.

(Texas Cattle Feeders Assoc., 3/23/18)



There is continuing discussion on the possible benefits and detriments of mandatory identification of cattle in this country. Some say this, among other things, could give consumers more information on where and how their beef is produced, would aid in traceback in disease outbreaks, and would benefit exports of beef. Some others are concerned about the complexity of ID in an industry as diverse as beef production in this country and are troubled by governmental overreach, privacy rights, etc. Most of the largest beef production countries have some system, as shown in the table below. Time will tell what, if anything, develops in the U. S.



Marbling is the most important factor influencing USDA Quality Grade. A review paper on marbling examined the relationship between marbling and grain feeding. The authors concluded, “The results of these studies indicate that grain-based diets are necessary to promote the development of marbling. Furthermore, grain-based diets increase the healthfulness and juiciness of beef by promoting the production of oleic acid in marbling and other fat depots”.



To avoid any potential residue issues and allow products to work correctly, antibiotics and other drugs should always be administered according to label directions. The use of a drug in any manner not specifically listed on the label is considered extra-label drug use. Examples would include changing the dose rate, route of administration, or for a disease or species that is not listed on the label. Extra-label drug use can only be conducted under the directions of a licensed veterinarian and requires revised administration procedures and an extended withdrawal time.

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


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