Beef cows and heifers that have calved are up about 1% from 12 months ago, to 41.9 million head. Beef cows are also up 1%, at 32.5 million head, and dairy cows are unchanged at 9.4 million head. The 2018 calf crop is projected to up about 2% over last year. Steers over 500 lb remained unchanged, while heifers over 500 lb are up 1%. However, replacement heifers are down 2%. Cattle on feed are up 4%. Expansion appears to be slowing, but production of beef is still projected to increase, placing downward pressure on future cattle prices.




The most important factor affecting calving difficulty is birth weight of the calf in relation to size of the dam. Genetics influences birth weight. Birth weight was one of the four traits (along with weaning weight, yearling weight, and maternal ability which is often called “milk”) originally evaluated with Expected Progeny Difference (EPD), an estimate of genetic transmitting potential. Birth Weight EPD includes records not only from an individual but also from relatives and progeny. So, if Birth Weight EPD is available for an individual it should be used in genetic selection instead of the individual’s actual birth weight, which can be highly influenced by non-genetic factors.

Birth Weight EPD is just an indicator of calving ease. As breed genetic evaluation programs evolved, EPD was developed for actual calving ease. EPD for calving ease includes the effect of birth weight and so should be used instead of Birth Weight EPD. And when EPD for calving ease is available, it should be used alone without considering Birth Weight EPD.

Most breed associations report two estimates of calving ease. One is Direct Calving Ease EPD. It should be thought of as a factor of the calf, i. e., how easily is the calf born. This is the EPD that should be considered in predicting ease of birth of a sire’s calves. The other is Maternal Calving Ease EPD, i. e., how easily a female gives birth. In sire selection, Maternal Calving Ease predicts calving ease of a sire’s daughters.

Direct and Maternal Calving Ease are different traits. Just because a sire has a desirable Direct Calving Ease EPD does not mean his daughters will necessarily be easy calving. This is a common misconception. In fact, most research shows a negative genetic relationship, ranging in magnitude from low to medium depending on the particular study. So, if you are selecting terminal sires (with no replacement heifers to be saved) you should concentrate only on Direct Calving Ease EPD. But if you save heifers, you should consider both Direct and Maternal Calving Ease. You can find sires with desirable EPD for both Direct and Maternal, but it will not be as easy as when looking for Direct alone.



High-grading branded products are an important part of beef production and are increasing in volume. Grassfed beef sales also are on the rise. Initially, high-grading programs concentrated on steak and roast from the rib and loin. That means other products must be fabricated from well over half of the remaining carcass. Among those other products is ground beef, which accounts for some 40-50% of beef sold.

In a study, ground beef was produced from three sources: Angus, grassfed, and commodity. Angus and commodity were 80% lean-20% fat and grassfed was 85% lean-15% fat. Multiple lots of 5 lb chubs were obtained from retail stores or a commercial processing facility, frozen and stored for up to 14 days, followed by 5 days thawing. Patties weighing 4 oz. were then formed, frozen, stored for 8 days, thawed, and grilled to internal temperature of 160° F. Cooked product was evaluated by a panel of 98 consumers for liking and acceptability.

Juiciness, tenderness, and texture did not significantly differ among the three sources for either liking or acceptability. Grassfed rated lower for overall liking and tended to rate lower for flavor and texture liking. For flavor acceptability, commodity rated higher (91%) than grassfed (74%) while Angus (83%) did not differ from commodity or grassfed. For overall acceptability, Angus (95%) rated higher than grassfed (82%) with commodity intermediate (92%). The authors concluded from their results that “Ground beef palatability and acceptability are influenced by the source and diet of beef”. (NOTE: While considering these results, based on sale volumes and trends, some portion of consumers appear to prefer grassfed product, for whatever reasons.)

(Kansas St. Univ. Cattlemen’s Day 2017)



A survey responded to by 548 people asked questions about how large bales are baled and fed. The majority of respondents were cow/calf producers. Results were:

  • 67% used net wrap,
  • 26% used twine,
  • 6 % alternated between wrap and twine,
  • 54% always removed wrap or twine before feeding whole bales in bale feeder or on ground,
  • 11% always removed wrap or twine before grinding or processing,
  • 24% always did not remove wrap or twine before feeding or processing,
  • 11% sometimes removed wrap or twine before feeding.

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A group of 688 Brahman-crossbred calves was received in a commercial feedyard. Cattle were sorted into pens of either steers or heifers and assigned to groups as follows:

  • programmed exercise (PRO), moved from pen to drive alley and encouraged to move for 20 minutes;
  • free exercise (FREE), moved to drive alley and allowed free movement for 60 minutes;
  • no exercise (CON).

PRO and FREE were exercised 3 times/week between 7am and 10 am at least 1 hour after feed was delivered for a total of 12 sessions. Behavior was observed daily over the 30-day receiving period.

There were no significant differences among the three groups in feed efficiency, mortality rate, or treatment for respiratory disease symptoms. CON had higher ADG than PRO or FREE. As the 30-day receiving period progressed, all groups spent more time lying and resting and less time feeding, drinking, ruminating, and walking. The authors concluded these results “suggest that exercise can affect production but not affect health or behavior”.

(J. Anim. Sci. 96, Suppl. S1, p. 17; Texas A&M Univ.)



How often do you see or hear something about “the spread” in beef carcass prices?  Quite a few people in the cattle business know “the spread” refers to the difference in carcass price between USDA Select and Choice quality grades. This difference has varied over recent years from near zero to around $25/cwt carcass, averaging somewhere near $10. There is also a spread between Low Choice and upper two-thirds Choice or higher brands, the most prominent of which is Certified Angus Beef® (CAB). That spread is much more consistent than Select-Choice”, not varying much from $10. There is also a spread between upper two-thirds Choice and Prime. Those producers able to merchandise these differences can realize meaningful effects on the bottom line.



Residual feed intake (RFI) measures feed consumption relative to predicted feed requirements for maintenance and growth. High RFI animals consume more than predicted in achieving a given level of weight gain (and so are less efficient) and Low RFI eat less (and so are more efficient). Researchers wondered if subclinical infection might affect RFI. A group of 103 Brangus heifers was fed for 70 days. Individual feed consumption was measured and heifers were weighed every 14 days. On the last weigh day, blood samples were collected and analyzed for measures of subclinical infection.

After the 70-day period, RFI was calculated and heifers were divided into Low RFI and High RFI groups. As expected from prior research, feed consumption was lower for Low RFI and ADG did not differ. There were no differences in blood analyses. The authors concluded based on their results that “RFI is independent of a confounding influence of subclinical infection”.

(J. Animal Sci. 96, Suppl. S1, p 18: Auburn Univ.)



Management of horns in beef cattle is important for animal welfare, animal handling, handler safety, and animal value. The easiest way to manage horns is using polled genetics; quality polled genetics can be found in all major beef breeds. Using homozygous polled bulls in Bos taurus cattle will result in a 100% polled calf crop even if the cows have horns; in Bos indicus influenced cattle the expression pattern is sometimes different, but most calves will be polled. Stocker and feeder cattle with horns should be dehorned or tipped as early as possible using methods that minimizes stress.

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

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