Beef Cattle Browsing – March 2015


We used to talk about the average beef cow as weighing 1000 lb. But that was years ago and cattle have gotten bigger over time. This is reflected in carcass weights. In 1960 the average carcass, steers and heifers combined, weighed around 650 lb or live weight of 1000-1050 lb, about that of average cows at the time. In 1995 the average carcass weighed around 750 lb. That is now around 850 lb and is projected to be around 875 lb in four years. Recently, the average steer carcass weighed around 900 lb, or roughly 1400 lb live.

This trend has resulted in some changes in beef marketing, including for premium branded products. An example is Certified Angus Beef®. When that program began in 1978 there was no limit on carcass weight to qualify. In 2006 an upper limit of 1000 lb was implemented. Recently, that was raised to 1050 lb. CAB also has a required range for ribeye size of 10 to 16 sq in. If carcass weights continue to increase, staying under that ribeye maximum will be more difficult. Time will tell how big cattle will be and how this will affect beef merchandising.



The Beef Reproduction Task Force has a list of protocols or plans for AI in beef cattle. For heifers there are three plans using heat detection only, three using heat detection followed by timed AI, two short-term plans using timed AI without heat detection, and two long-term using timed AI without heat detection. Plans for cows differ from those for heifers. For cows there are three plans using heat detection only, three using heat detection followed by timed AI, two fixed-time AI plans, and one fixed-time AI plan for Bos indicus cows only. Details can be accessed at


An analysis was conducted on data from 1992 heifers over six years in two locations. At the start, heifers averaged 724 lb and 347 days of age. Data collected included: reproductive tract score (RTS) 70 days before breeding, weight 70 days before breeding as percentage of target weight, hip height 40-50 days before breeding, ADG from 40-50 days before breeding, and age at breeding.

After adjusting for other variables, likelihood of pregnancy increased as hip height and age at breeding increased. As hip height increased time to conception decreased. However, RTS, ADG, and weight 70 days before breeding as a percentage of target weight were not associated with pregnancy or time to conception. The authors suggested that “factors relating to maturity can be used to select heifers that are more likely to achieve pregnancy and have reduced time to conception”.

(2014 Am Soc. of Anim. Sci. Southern Section Meeting, abst. no. 37; Univ. of Georgia)


In 1980 the U. S. imported about 10 times as much beef as was exported. This difference gradually declined until 2004, when the “mad-cow” scare sharply reduced our exports. Exports gradually climbed back and were about the same as imports in 2010. Since then we’ve exported more than imported, and our exports are higher priced than our imports. This results in the difference in value of our exports over imports being even greater than the difference in pounds.

The U. S. produces most of the fed, high-quality beef in the world, and it is in high demand in many countries. In addition, many by-product or variety products, such as tongue, are more desired in many countries than in the U. S.; this strengthens prices for these products. Currently, about 10% of the total value of a fed beef carcass is due to by-products/variety meats. And that figure is about 13% for cow carcasses.



In a set of lactating cows that had calved multiple times, dietary energy restriction (60% vs. 100% of National Research Council requirements) from 30 to 140 days of gestation did not affect uterine blood flow. But from 140 to 198 days, cows restored to adequate nutrition had increased blood flow. A second study with non-lactating cows that had calved multiple times reported similar results. In addition, nutrient restriction tended to increase fetal and placental size to 85 days of gestation but not beyond.

Thus, “results from both experiments suggest that the bovine placenta may be programmed to function differently after a period of nutrient restriction” and/or “the dam might become more efficient in the utilization of nutrients after being realimented as gestation advances”. The authors concluded, “maternal nutrient restriction during early gestation enhances conceptus growth and uterine blood flow later in pregnancy” and suggested that “timely management strategies might result in enhanced conceptus development”.

(2014 Western Section Am. Soc. Anim. Sci. Proceedings, Vol. 65, p. 19; No. Dakota St. Univ., Mississippi St. Univ.)


Preconditioning can increase value, especially in special sales with strict qualification requirements. Special sales were held in the fall of 2014 involving 4327 calves in 318 lots. To be certified, calves must be: home raised, bulls castrated and healed, dehorned and healed, weaned 45 days, Beef Quality Assurance guidelines followed, identified with the official program tag, and follow one of three approved vaccination programs. Details can be accessed at .

Characteristics across all lots were: 88% average flesh, 65% #1 or 1-2 muscling score, 65% large or medium-large frame, and 78% black or black mixed. Prices were reported for weight ranges of 100 lb. There were few animals weighing below 400 lb or above 900 lb for steers and 800 lb for heifers. Bonuses in $/cwt for certified were:

Weight Range Steers Heifers
400-499 $25.18 $20.32
500-599 $34.34 $17.94
600-699 $20.68 $10.27
700-799 $11.65 $9.97
800-899 $11.28

As has been found in some other such sales, bonuses were higher for steers and tended to decline as weight increased.

(Oklahoma St. Univ. – Oklahoma Quality Beef Network)


Ground beef makes up about 50% of the volume and 40% of the value of beef sold at retail. Research has determined that price is the most important factor to consumers in determining purchase of ground beef. But color is the second most important. Color tends to deteriorate, and consumer acceptance decline, after only three days in a meat counter. Color, and odor, can be affected by fat content, packaging, and exposure to oxygen. Heat from store lighting also can be a factor. Recent research compared effects of fluorescent and LED lighting. LED lights produced lower temperatures and changed meat color slower. Use of LED lighting could reduce losses in ground beef.

( ;Univ. of Missouri, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association)


Food service companies continue to implement new requirements for providers. McDonald’s recently announced it will only purchase chicken “raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine” for their U. S. restaurants. The company recognizes “animals that become ill deserve appropriate care with prescribed antibiotics but they will no longer be included in our food supply”.

In addition, while recognizing that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from cows treated or not treated with rbST (an artificial hormone), customers will be offered low-fat white and fat-free chocolate milk from non-treated cows.

While these new policies involve poultry and milk, can there be any doubt that more requirements will be implemented, by McDonald’s and others, for other production practices and other livestock?

( , 3/04/15)

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