2002 BEEF Quality Challenge (archive)

An annual contest to match 10 steers to one of two marketing options (carcass grids). Brought to you by BEEF magazine and Texas A&M University.

Editor's note: This is the archive version of the contest information. This same information has been optimized for the Internet and can be viewed at http://online.beef-mag.com/2001_bqc/index.htm.

The beef cattle industry is looking for ways to capture more value from its products. More and more cattle are being sold on a carcass grid or formula basis. The goal of this year''''s Beef Quality Challenge is to teach cattle producers what they need to consider when selling cattle on “the grid.”

The initial step in finding solutions to beef quality and value challenges is greater knowledge of how our industry works from gate to plate. Therefore, this challenge will explain the factors that influence the value and quality of cattle as they are sold to the packer. Secondly, we hope this contest will create a forum for discussing potential solutions to beef quality challenges.
Dan Hale, Ph.D.
meat scientist, Texas A&M University

The Prizes

Under 13 years old — $500 savings bond & trophy

14 - 18 years old — $500 savings bond & trophy

Over 19 years old — $1,500 in cash

Feedyard team — $5,000 worth of Zinpro® products

Match the Steer to the Grid

The field of 10 finished steers is pictured below. The steers have been placed into two groups (pen A and pen B). Pen A represents five steers from a central Texas auction market, and there is no pre-auction history on these cattle. The five steers in pen B were Premium Value Added Calf (VAC-45) calves purchased from a central Texas auction market. Presented with each steer picture is the steer identification number and final live pay weight (lbs.) after the 140-day feeding period in the feedyard.

On the attached entry form, match each steer to the optimal marketing option, either grid A and grid B. Details on these two marketing options are listed on the final page. Winner in each category will be selected based on the highest number of correct matches. In case of a tie, the first tie-breaker is to estimate the range in total carcass value from highest to lowest among all 10 steers. The range is calculated by subtracting the lowest total carcass value from the highest total carcass value.

How to Enter

All entry forms must be received in the office of the Texas A&M University Meat Science Section by Nov. 15, 2002. Late entries will not be considered. Other rules can be found on the entry form. You may enter either by way of regular mail, fax, the BEEF Web page at www.beef-mag.com or the e-mail address below.
regular mail:
Dan Hale
Meat Science Section
348 Kleberg Center
College Station, TX 77843-2471
Meat Science Section


The objective is to match each steer to one of two marketing options (carcass grids). In the December issue of BEEF magazine, using these 10 steers as the backdrop, we will present articles giving the results and discussing grid marketing, calf health programs, preconditioning, genetics, feedyard management, marketing and carcass and meat quality issues. Winners will be announced in the January 2003 issue.

Cattle Information Cattle Selection

Ten steers were purchased from a central Texas cattle auction; five steers have been through a VAC-45 preconditioning program and five steers are of unknown history. The VAC-45 calves were weaned 45 days and processed using an aggressive calf health program. These 10 calves are of diverse breed types, frame size and muscling, and they had an initial feedyard weight range from 598 lbs. to 850 lbs.

Cattle Feeding

All steers were fed at the Department of Animal Science McGregor Research Feedyard in McGregor, TX. The five VAC-45 calves were given an implant, dewormed and fed together (Pen B). The five unknown history steers were vaccinated against calfhood diseases, implanted, dewormed and fed together (Pen A). The cattle were fed in the feedyard 140 days and handled similarly to a commercial feedyard.

Data Collected

Each steer was weighed monthly during the feedyard phase. A log was kept on each steer to quantify health-related issues, and medicine costs were recorded. Feed efficiency was evaluated on a pen basis. Carcass data and boxed beef cutout data was collected on each steer.


Two carcass grids were developed using information from USDA Market News Reports (www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/mncs/index.htm) and industry contacts. These grids are presented on page 4.

No endorsement of products and services by Texas Cooperative Extension is implied.

What to Consider in Matching a Steer to its Grid
  • What kind of carcass will each steer produce?

    First, estimate the USDA carcass quality grade and yield grade for each calf. Also, determine if it will produce a defective carcass often referred to as an “out.” Out carcasses most often are either dark cutters, USDA Standard Grade, USDA Yield Grade 4, greater than 950 lbs. weight carcass, or less than 550 lbs. weight carcass. Notice that each grid pays premiums and discounts based off of the carcass merit of the steer. The premiums and discounts differ between the two grids.

  • What is the USDA quality grade and yield grade for each steer?

Quality Grade

A USDA quality grade is a composite evaluation of factors that affect the palatability of meat (tenderness, juiciness and flavor). These factors include carcass maturity, firmness, texture and color of lean, and the amount and distribution of marbling within the lean.

Beef carcass quality grading is based primarily on degree of marbling and degree of maturity. Marbling (intramuscular fat) is the intermingling or dispersion of fat within the lean. Graders evaluate the amount and distribution of marbling in the ribeye muscle at the cut surface after the carcass has been ribbed between the 12th and 13th ribs. Degree of marbling is the primary determination of quality grade.

Maturity refers to the physiological age of the animal rather than chronological age. Because chronological age is virtually never known, physiological maturity is used. The indicators are bone characteristics, ossification of cartilage, and color and texture of ribeye muscle.

Cartilage becomes bone, lean color darkens, and texture becomes coarser with increasing age. The industry term “hardbone” is used to describe carcasses with advanced maturity because the soft cartilage has turned to hard and flinty bone.

More than 95% of cattle that come from feedyards produce A maturity carcasses. A maturity carcasses qualify for the USDA Prime, Choice, Select and Standard quality grades (see the USDA quality grade chart at left).

Another term used in the cattle industry is top Choice. It is very difficult to determine whether cattle will grade USDA Choice, let alone determine at what level within the Choice grade they will fall. Top Choice or premium Choice are categories often used to describe A maturity carcasses that have a marbling score of Modest or Moderate.

Yield Grade

In beef, yield grades estimate the amount of boneless, closely trimmed retail cuts from the high-value parts of the carcass — the round, loin, rib and chuck. However, they also show differences in the total yield of boxed beef cuts.

We expect a USDA Yield Grade 1 carcass to have the highest percentage of boneless, closely trimmed boxed beef cuts, while a USDA Yield Grade 5 carcass would have the lowest percentage of boneless, closely trimmed boxed beef cuts.

The USDA yield grades are rated numerically and are 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Yield grade can be estimated by looking at the shape of the steer (see drawings at right).

  • How did previous groups of cattle from my ranch perform in the cooler?

    When selling on a grid, it''''s best to have a previous track record on cattle from your operation. Unfortunately, we don''''t have that information for these cattle. The more information you have on previous groups of cattle, the more sound your marketing strategy.

  • Selling on a carcass grid.

    All these cattle will be sold on a carcass grid basis. It''''s up to you to determine if grid A or grid B is best for each steer. Cattle feeders will work several types of cattle through each grid to determine if one grid favors high cutability (lean meat yield) or high-quality grading cattle.

    Both grids A and B have substantial discounts for out carcasses. You will need to determine which grid is less punitive on each type of discount. For example, it appears that grid B will pay more for USDA Standard carcasses than grid A.

  • What''''s the base price and how do I determine the final carcass price/cwt.?

    On grid A and grid B the base carcass price is “based” on a USDA Choice, Yield Grade 3 carcass that weighs between 550 and 950 lbs. If the carcass doesn''''t fit that quality grade, yield grade and weight combination, then premiums and discounts are applied to the base price.

As an example, if you have a steer that produced a USDA Select, Yield Grade 3, 800-lb. carcass, then the carcass price/cwt. would be $100.50 for grid A ($107 - 6.50) and $100 for grid B ($106 - $6). The weight, yield grade and quality grade discounts and premiums are additive.

In other words if you have a steer that produces a USDA Select, Yield Grade 2, 955-lb. carcass, then the carcass price/cwt. would be 97.50 for grid A ($107 - $6.50 + $2 - $5) and $100 for grid B ($106 - $6 + $3 - $3).

Dark cutter and hardbone carcasses have stand-alone discounts and are not additive with quality grade, yield grade and weight premiums and discounts.

Grid A
Base live cash/cwt. $66.00 Premium/
Base dressing % 64.70% Discounts
Base carcass, $/cwt. $107.00
Base is a Choice YG 3 carcass
Prime $115.00 $8.00
Top Choice program $110.50 $3.50
Choice $107.00 $0.00
Select $100.50 ($6.50)
Standard/No Roll $95.00 ($12.00)
YG1 $110.00 $3.00
YG2 $109.00 $2.00
YG3 $107.00 $0.00
YG4 $95.00 ($12.00)
YG5 $87.00 ($20.00)
<550 lbs. $92.00 ($15.00)
950-999 lbs. $102.00 ($5.00)
>999 lbs. $92.00 ($15.00)
Dark cutter $79.00 ($28.00)
Hardbone $85.00 ($22.00)
Grid B
Base live cash/cwt. $66.00 Premium/
Base dressing % 64.20% Discounts
Base carcass, $/cwt. $106.00
Base is a Choice YG 3 carcass
Prime $112.00 $6.00
Top Choice program $108.00 $2.00
Choice $106.00 $0.00
Select $100.00 ($6.00)
Standard/No Roll $97.00 ($9.00)
YG1 $112.00 $6.00
YG2 $109.00 $3.00
YG3 $106.00 $0.00
YG4 $91.00 ($15.00)
YG5 $81.00 ($25.00)
<550 lbs. $86.00 ($20.00)
950-999 lbs. $103.00 ($3.00)
>999 lbs. $95.00 ($11.00)
Dark cutter $76.00 ($30.00)
Hardbone $81.00 ($25.00)

Quality grade, yield grade, and weight premiums and discounts are additive.