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Articles from 2005 In June


"Consumer" Groups Join R-CALF's Import Lawsuit

A condemning portrait of human health risks associated with importing Canadian cattle into the U.S. was painted in broad strokes yesterday. Two prominent U.S. "consumer" groups announced they're joining the Cattlemen's Competitive Market Project (CCMP) in filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting R-CALF-USA's position in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit defending a lower court's ruling that the Canadian border must remain closed to live cattle.

Public Citizen (PC) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) joined CCMP representatives and David Domina, an attorney representing R-CALF, in a press teleconference explaining their grounds for opposing the reopening of the border. They claim USDA has ignored scientific evidence of BSE transmission and related risks associated with importing Canadian cattle.

Ken Knuppe, a Buffalo Gap, SD, rancher representing CCMP stakeholder organizations, including R-CALF, says live cattle imports from Canada represent an unnecessary risk of introducing BSE into the U.S. He says the U.S. has a large enough supply of cattle that it can meet its own consumption needs without importing cattle or beef from a country "known to have BSE."

CFA spokesperson Chris Waldrop says USDA has failed to protect U.S. beef consumers from BSE by establishing regulations and enforcement that are "little more than promise and paper checks." He says the USDA rule on specified risk material (SRM) removal is inadequate and BSE-infected materials are being fed to cattle in the U.S.

During the teleconference Domina and others representing the coalition supporting R-CALF introduced uncorroborated information about BSE and its associated risks to humans:

  • That there exists a "mathematically inescapable conclusion establishing a certain likelihood that BSE will be vectored into the U.S." within a year of resuming cattle imports from Canada.
  • That BSE is "100% lethal to humans"-- and that "anyone who comes in contact with it will die."
  • That the death of "a man in Kentucky" who recently contracted variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease linked to a "bovine blood-based hormonal treatment" has been covered up by the U.S. government and was never reported by the press.
  • That importing live cattle under 30 months of age poses more of a BSE threat than importing beef from the same animals.
Jim McAdams, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, says these points are misleading and inaccurate. He says that because current USDA rules allow beef from cattle younger than 30 months of age to be imported, "cattle under 30 months of age are not a risk given the preventive measures that are in place in Canada and the U.S."

Additionally, he says, "No animals under this age category, or even close to this age, have been diagnosed with BSE in Canada or the U.S." Furthermore, NCBA says the BSE blood transmission claim isn't based in fact.

"The objective of these groups is clear -- to convince consumers that the U.S. beef supply is unsafe," McAdams says. "In today's media conference, these groups made no statements about Canada or even the USDA Rule. Rather, they attacked the U.S. beef supply and the people who produce it. And, to think, today, cattlemen groups like R-CALF and CCPM are giving them a platform to do so."

In a related news statement, R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard says, "USDA has not, and is not, doing enough to stop the potential spread of BSE from Canada into the U.S." He adds there's a consistent pattern and philosophy at USDA, "to de-emphasize its mission of protecting the health and safety of the U.S. livestock industry while the agency aggressively pursues the unregulated traditional trade models coveted by foreign governments and multi-national meatpackers alike."

The full CCMP brief is available online at www.competitivemarkets.com.

Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit court has set July 13 (9 a.m. in Seattle) for oral arguments in USDA's appeal of the temporary injunction keeping the Canadian border closed to live cattle imports. The hearing will come two weeks prior to the trial in Judge Richard Cebull's District Court in Billings, MT, on the border reopening issue.

Blood brothers

South Dakotans had an extra incentive to donate blood in May, and an additional reason to eat beef. Every person donating blood at all United Blood Services (UBS) affiliates in South Dakota in May received a $2 Beef Certificate toward the purchase of beef at a retail outlet or restaurant, thanks to a partnership between UBS and the South Dakota Beef Industry Council.

In addition to the $2 certificate, donors received a “Beef. It's What's For Dinner…And for Donors” brochure. It explains that consuming an iron-rich diet is necessary to build healthy red blood cells, both before and after donating blood.

This month in brief

Now's the time to think about generating the maximum possible profit from your 2005 calves, writes “Market Advisor” columnist Harlan Hughes on page 8. In “Profiting on 2005 calves — Part 1,” Hughes suggests to begin by fully analyzing the production of your 2004 calves, and he provides a series of benchmarks on which to gauge your progress.

“Vet's Opinion” columnist, Mike Apley, DVM, critiques some common cattle treatment practices in “Seven therapy myths” on page 12. Before employing any treatment, Apley encourages producers to talk with their veterinarians and weigh the evidence to determine if the practices are worthwhile and cost-effective.

Cattle prices and production costs are going through the roof, while competing visions of the industry's future fiercely vie for support. Joe Roybal looks at these and other factors in “Best Of Times, Worst Of Times” on page 16. Also included are the results of a recent BEEF reader survey regarding important issues and concerns of the day.

Reopening key export markets to U.S. beef, the debate over the Canadian live cattle trade, and the timid first steps toward a national livestock ID program are among the front-and-center issues of 2005. BEEF associate editor Stephanie Veldman looks at these and other issues in “Industry Hot Topics” on page 26.

Five years ago, the National Beef Quality Audit drafted 12 goals in the area of end-product quality for the industry to achieve by 2005. BEEF senior editor, Clint Peck, assembled a panel of industry experts to discuss and grade the industry's progress toward those goals. The industry report card is presented in “A Bit Above Average,” on page 28.

“It may be of little eventual consequence to the beef industry what the Supreme Court decides to do with the mandatory beef checkoff,” longtime beef promotion guru John Huston tells Walt Barnhart in “Go Time For The Beef Checkoff” on page 34. Either way the Court rules, the checkoff program is likely headed for some type of modification.

Vesicular stomatitis found

Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) has been confirmed in horses in Grant County, NM. A viral disease primarily affecting horses, cattle and swine, VSV causes blister lesions in the mouth and on the dental pad, tongue, lips, nostrils, hooves and teats. The blisters burst, leaving raw tissue so painful infected animals generally refuse to eat and drink and show signs of lameness.

Two of six horses had clinical VSV signs, but none of the 110 cattle showed symptoms. All susceptible animals are being held on the premises. To learn more, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/vs/vs.html or call APHIS Emergency Management Staff at 301/734-8073.

Unscrambling The BVD Riddle

Bovine viral diarrhea (BVD). We know it's there and we know it's costing cattle feeders a ton of money. While numerous studies have looked into BVD, the consensus is that previous research has provided the industry with only partial insight into this complex disease. To get a better handle on the disease, feeders need to know more about its prevalence and cost impacts — especially in regard to BVD persistent infection (PI).

That's why Cattle Empire Feedyards, LLC, Satanta, KS, entered into a series of multi-year, multi-tier studies designed to dissect this complex disease and address the largely unasked and unanswered questions.

Cattle Empire, in the feeding business since the early 1970s, includes three finishing yards (155,000-head total capacity) and two starter yards with a capacity of 15,000 head. The operation was founded by Paul Brown and his family. Today, son Roy is majority owner and CEO, while Ron Shortridge is a partner and CFO.

“One of the most basic questions yet to be answered relates to the BVD PI prevalence rate,” says Bill Hessman, a Sublette, KS, consulting veterinarian. He and Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, Haskell County Animal Hospital, are partners in Beef Production Management Associates, LLC, a consulting group also consisting of Shaun Sweiger, DVM, Edmond, OK, and Dan Stafford, DVM, Shiner, TX.

“In order to answer the cost question, one first has to know how often a PI animal may occur,” Sjeklocha says. “Also, is there a class of cattle or a region of the country in which PI cattle are more prevalent? Is there a time of year in which PI cattle are more prevalent?”

And, of course, what are the costs associated with having a PI animal in the feedyard? What degree of treatment and prevention measures do these costs warrant?

Shedding more light

Previously, Guy Loneragan of West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) found feedyard PI prevalence to be about 0.17% (1.7 PIs per 1,000 head). In his 6,000 head study, he found pens that included a PI animal had 35% higher morbidity than pens with no apparent exposure to PI animals.

“Even more interesting was the non-PI pens placed adjacent to the pens with a PI animal in them also had 35% higher morbidity,” Sjeklocha says. The landmark WTAMU study also showed 3% of railers and deads are BVD PIs.

Table 1. Performance of persistently infected (PI) and non-PI (NPI) calves
Head count Weight in (lbs.) Weight out (lbs.) Weight gain (lbs.) Days on feed ADG Consump. dry (lbs.) F/G (deads in) Cost of gain (deads in)
NPI 1,731 571 1,051 405 180 2.25 14.02 6.26 .691
PI 553 574 1,040 357 177 2.00 13.75 6.94 .767
p-value .76 .70 .04 .58 .07 .53 .02 .05
Table 2. Health of PI and NPI calves
Head count % Morbidity First relapse rate Second relapse rate Average No. of treatments Med $/Head Med $/Head treated % Mortality % Railers
NPI 1,731 49.52 46.04 55.44 1.72 25.40 52.80 6.96 6.34
PI 553 42.31 43.74 54.84 1.68 23.05 55.41 10.37 6.39
p-value 0.22 0.71 0.93 0.76 0.43 0.24 0.14 0.97

Source: Beef Production Management Associates, LLC

Cattle Empire Feedyard: BVDV PI Prevalence and Performance Study

“This tells us PI cattle are more likely to become chronics or die than non-PI cattle,” he adds. “It also shows the effects of a PI animal will cross the fenceline, and PI animals make up a higher proportion of the deads and railers.”

Such research has stimulated Brown and Shortridge to dig into more questions related to BVD PIs — and the potential for helping their feeding customers become more profitable. In October 2003, they teamed up with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., providing 2,284 head of “high-risk” calves. The 572-lb. calves came from the Southeast via five different order buyers.

Upon arrival, the calves were not commingled. They were placed into lots according to load and/or buyer. Each of the 24 study pens ranged from 60-150 head. All calves were ear-notched at initial processing and PI tested using the immunohistochemistry (IHC) test.

Seven PI calves were found in the study group (0.31% or 3.1/1,000 — nearly double the Loneragan study's rates).

“In our trial, five of 24 — or 21% of the test pens — had at least one PI animal,” Hessman says. “Three pens each had one PI and two pens each had two PI calves.”

The PI and non-PI pens were randomly placed throughout the feedyard, with the PI status of adjacent pens unknown. Health and performance parameters were tracked through the finishing period (Tables 1 and 2). Feedyard workers weren't told if pens were PI positive or PI negative.

Assessing the costs

The study's outcomes show there was a statistical difference in the weight gain, feed conversion (F/G) and cost of gain (COG) categories. Average daily gain (ADG) was very close to statistical (a p-value of 0.07 — see sidebar on page BF4). The NPI treatment group gained 405 lbs. through the feeding period.

Total difference in the COG between PI and non-PI (NPI) pens was $7.60/cwt. gained. Therefore, cattle that did not have a PI animal in their pen had a $30.78/head cost advantage (405 lbs. gained, $.076/lb. advantage) over cattle with a PI animal in their pen.

Hessman says it's important to note that because the spatial association of the adjacent pens' effects on the control group (NPI pens) was not known, this cost per head would most likely be a conservative figure.

The PI animal causes a distinct increase in mortality in the PI pen — with the majority of the mortality increase occurring in the first 30 days on feed, he says. Based on these data, it's apparent there's a substantial benefit to feeding cattle that are PI free, Hessman adds.

Questions yet to ask

Increased costs associated with PIs occurred in part from increased mortalities, but mostly from poorer feed conversion, Hessman explains.

“Pens with PI animals converted 11% less efficiently than NPI pens and the COG in PI pens was 11% greater,” he says. “Other studies have shown an increased morbidity associated with PI animals, but in our study we only saw a numerical increase in morbidity in the NPI pens.”

The Cattle Empire study also showed more treatments in the NPI group, which is different than what has been reported in other studies.

As a progressive cattle feeder, Brown is anxious to make the management changes needed to whip BVD in his feedyards. He's working to gain answers to the additional questions the initial phases of this study stimulated.

For instance, Brown says, “since there's a substantial financial advantage to feeding PI-free cattle, where can a steady supply of PI-free cattle be found?”

Also, he asks, since it's been shown the BVD virus can be spread across the fence to adjacent pens, does that mean feedyards need to develop PI-free zones in the yard?

“How serious is the threat when a calf from a PI-free pen spends time in the hospital with a PI calf?” Brown asks. “Is the virus spread more readily across the fence or through a fenceline water tank?”

Since it's difficult to locate a steady supply of PI-free cattle, he wonders if it's cost-effective to test and remove PI cattle upon feedyard arrival.

Second-phase underway

Upon completion of the Boehringer Ingelheim-sponsored study, Hessman presented the data to Brown and Shortridge, asking them to provide 20,000 head of cattle for further experimentation.

“Brown and Shortridge could see the potential for helping their feeding customers become more profitable. With the help of Fort Dodge Animal Health, they readily agreed to finance Hessman's experiment,” Sjeklocha says.

That two-phase, 20,000-head study began last August. It was designed and developed by the Beef Production Management Associates group along with Tim Murphy, nutrition consultant for Cattle Empire. It includes a starter phase and a finishing phase using more high-risk Southeast calves.

At considerable expense, Hessman set up his own laboratory for the study. He's using the Antigen Capture ELISA (ACE) test — as this test allows for a quicker return of the test results than the IHC test (which takes 7-10 days for results). The ACE test provides results in less than 24 hours. Hessman's use of the ACE test in this study has validated it for this type of use.

The study allows Hessman to compare health and performance parameters associated with having a PI animal in the pen with:

  • Pens in which the PI animals were removed.

  • Pens in which there was no apparent BVD-PI exposure.

“It also allows him to track the effects of having previously unexposed pens adjacent to pens in which the PI animal is still present and pens in which the PI animal is removed,” Sjeklocha adds.

Further, Hessman will be able to assess any differences that may occur due to fenceline and water tank contact vs. strictly fenceline contact. He can also track the effects of sending a PI animal through the hospital system.

As of this writing, the starter phase of this trial is completed and the data is under evaluation. The finish phase of the trial should be complete by August with plans to publish the results in BEEF magazine next fall.

For more information, contact Bill Hessman, DVM, Haskell County Animal Hospital, 620/675-8180 or e-mail him at [email protected]; or call Cattle Empire Feedyards, LLC at 620/649-2235.

Consider the numbers…

For readers not familiar with statistical analysis, Dave Sjeklocha, DVM and feedyard consulting veterinarian from Sublette, KS, says scientists generally require a “p” value of 0.05 or less for a difference to be considered significant.

Taking this into consideration, it's somewhat surprising to see in the Cattle Empire BVD-PI study that none of the health parameters had a significant (true) difference, even though there is a numerical difference.

“It's plausible that had this trial included more cattle than the 2,284 head, the health parameters may have shown a significant difference,” Sjeklocha says. “However, there are some significant differences in the performance data.”

Weight gain, conversion and cost of gain are all statistically significant, favoring pens with no PI cattle in them. Average daily gain is very close to being statistically significant.

Sjeklocha wrote an article for BEEF in August 2003 called “Question Everything.” It explained statistics and their application to cattle production.

Mandatory NAIS date revealed

USDA unveiled its strategic plan for implementing its National Animal Identification System (NAIS) on May 6. The plan is make premises ID and individual ID mandatory by January 2008, and tracking of all commerce mandatory by January 2009.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a news conference that USDA published the paper in the Federal Register and is encouraging comments from producers and the beef industry.

A draft of the plan can be found at www.usda.gov/nais, and includes a tentative timeline for the program's implementation.

“The system will include the integration of three components — premises ID, animal ID and animal tracking,” Johanns said. “It will allow state and federal animal health officials to manage disease surveillance and control programs more effectively and more efficiently.”

Key milestones to implement the NAIS Plan

  • July 2005 — All states be capable of premises registration and the animal ID system be operational.

  • April 2007 — Premises registration and animal ID “alerts” to build program awareness as mandatory date approaches.

  • January 2008 — Mandatory premises registration and individual animal ID required.

  • January 2009 — NAIS be fully implemented and all animal movement fully reported.

Profiting on 2005 calves Part I

Now is the time to think about generating the maximum possible profit from your 2005 calves. It begins by fully analyzing the production of your 2004 calves.

According to the most recent North Dakota Farm Business Management (FBM) Record Summary, North Dakota beef cow herds generated an average of $190/cow in profit in the production of 2004 calves (Figure 1).

In Figure 1, profit is defined as earned net income (ENI). A ranch family contributes three resources to the cow herd — unpaid family and operator labor, management, and equity capital. ENI measures the dollar value these three resources earned from beef cows.

Understand charges for these three resources aren't included in these herds' cost calculations. Instead, they are the collective bottom line residual claimant in these beef cow profit center analyses.

ENI is based on the assumption ranchers don't pay themselves for unpaid family labor, management or equity capital invested in the business. These ENI numbers are the bottom-line numbers for these North Dakota beef cow producers.

The North Dakota data also shows considerable variation between ranchers (Figure 2). Sorted by ENI, the high 20% generated $309/cow — 162% of the group average. The lowest 20% generated a $45/cow average — 24% of the average.

Over the next few months, we'll go through the process of comparing your numbers against these North Dakota benchmarks. We'll discuss the key production and economic factors you must measure from your herd. If your production and business records can't generate these numbers, you need to rethink your records process.

Herd performance data

The most common missed profit opportunity among my clients is low reproductive performance, as measured by percent calf crop weaned and/or pounds weaned/female exposed. According to Integrated Resource Management (IRM) Guidelines, both measurements must be based on females exposed to the bulls.

Let's look at some key production measures relative to the North Dakota FBM herds. The center group of FBM numbers in Figure 3 are benchmarks readers can use to analyze the reproductive performance of their beef cow herds.

The price reported in this summary is based on all calves sold. Actual weight sold, when compared to reported weaning weight, suggests some form of short preconditioning/marketing program.

I generated a calculated weaning price to have a calf price comparable to the IRM-Financial And Reproductive Management System analyses I use with my clients. The calculated price is the reported price adjusted back to actual weaning weight. With these two prices, an economic evaluation of preconditioning programs can be conducted.

Why can these North Dakota herds generate a $190 ENI, while many producers can't? Because they're capturing missed profit opportunities.

One could presume the Northern Plains is a low-cost region, given the reported summer pasture costs. These pasture costs are based on the going rental rate — not actual land ownership costs. But, my North Dakota FBM associates say these low costs might be due to the management level of these operators.

These 124 producers are members of the North Dakota Farm Business Management Association, a statewide adult education program sponsored by the North Dakota State Department of Education. The state hires specially trained business management specialists to work with farmer/rancher members, and focus specifically on business management training. Besides conducting yearlong management training, the specialists also provide in-depth, yearend analysis of members' total farm or ranch businesses.

Individual profit center analyses, such as the Figure 3 benchmarks, are an integral part of these yearend analyses prepared with FINPACK software. The software has a 30-year history and is supported by the University of Minnesota Center for Farm Financial Management (www.cffm.umn.edu). It's the best ranch analysis software available.

Harlan Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. He lives in Laramie, WY. Reach him at 701/238-9607 or [email protected].

Figure 2. North Dakota's 2004 Farm Business Management Herds
Per Cow
Item Low 20% Average High 20% Your Herd
Adjusted Gross Income1 $582 $637 $684
Pasture cost $85.64 $81.72 $70.32
Winter feed costs $189.07 $158.56 $136.61
Vet & medicine costs $17.69 $14.50 $14.01
Livestock costs ($):
Supplies 11.63 9.68 9.53
Fuel & oil 14.23 13.29 10.66
Repairs 31.22 22.00 15.05
Custom hire 4.33 3.53 10.66
Livestock leases 4.76 1.67 2.29
Marketing 4.55 4.47 4.68
Operating interest 9.24 6.44 4.68
Total direct costs $372 $316 $278
Overhead costs ($):
Hired labor 5.67 9.77 6.23
Farm insurance 11.26 8.82 5.90
Utilities 12.01 8.51 5.98
Interest 16.86 12.23 11.33
Machine & bldg. depreciation 18.45 17.84 17.98
Miscellaneous 16.24 10.67 7.00
Total overhead costs $80.49 $67.84 $54.42
Replacement heifer costs2 $84.68 $63.55
Total costs/cow $538 $447 $333
Earned net income/cow $45 190 309
Cost to produce Cwt. of calf (UCOP) 103 81 58
Average weight of calves sold (lbs.) 588 588 619
Reported average price for all calves sold $108.18 $113.41 $115.03
Suggested heifer price discount $5.00 $5.00 $5.00
Suggested price for steers sold $111 $116 $118
Suggested price for heifers sold $106 $111 $113
Average weaning weight (lbs.) 528 559 591
Price slide at weight sold -$11.40 -$12.00 -$9.00
Calculated steer price at weaning $122 $128 $127
Lbs. weaned/exposed female 470 507 548
1Reported gross income with “transferred in” taken out.
2Set equal to the “transferred in” removed from gross income. The income effect is the same.
Figure 3. Herd performance data
Per cow
Item ND-FBM Your herd
Number of cows 149
Pregnancy % 98.6
Pregnancy loss % 1.8
Culling % 17.3
Calving % 95.0
Weaning % 90.6
Calves sold/cow % 94.0
Calf death loss % 5.0
Avg. weaning wt. (lbs.) 559
Lbs. weaned/female exposed 507
Feed cost/cow $240
Avg. wt./beef calf sold (lbs.) 588
Avg. steer price/cwt. sold $113
Price slide at wt. sold -$8.73
Calculated steer weaning price $122
Cull sales as % of gross income 19

My Top 10 Clicks

Joe Fuller
Vice President,
Marketing & Customer Service
Camp Cooley Ranch
Franklin, TX

  1. www.cattlefax.comCattle market information.
  2. www.beefcowcalf.comCow-calf production and management info.
  3. www.msnbc.comConsumer news.
  4. www.weather.comWeather Channel.
  5. www.angus.orgAmerican Angus Association.
  6. www.campcooley.comCamp Cooley Ranch.
  7. www.charolaisusa.comAmerican International Charolais Association.
  8. www.int-brangus.orgInternational Brangus Breeders Association.
  9. www.cattlenetwork.comIndustry news and markets.
  10. www.superiorlivestock.comElectronic cattle marketing.

A Bit Above Average

The U.S. beef industry broke into a cold sweat one day back in the late 1980s. It looked around and realized beef was no longer king of the dinner table. The conclusion was consumers were paying too much for beef products that didn't meet their standards.

Today, all indications are that — from embryo to dinner table — significant improvements have been made in meeting consumer expectations. And while some people are critical of progress (or lack thereof) in some areas, many feel work over the past five years has kept pace with efforts initiated nearly 15 years ago.

In 1991, led by the then-National Cattle-men's Association and a group of meat scientists, the industry began studying beef's fall from grace. Checkoff-financed, the first National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) dissected the predicament of end-product quality and put a value on “non-conformance.”

No segment escaped scrutiny. The benchmark study pegged industry-wide losses due to quality defects at $279.82/fed animal harvested. It then became a blueprint for improvement of such deficiencies that include:

  • Injection-site blemishes.

  • Hide damage from brands.

  • Excessive external fat.

  • Dark cutters and bruising.

  • Inconsistent size and weight of cattle, carcasses and cuts.

  • Liver condemnations.

  • Inadequate tenderness and insufficient marbling.

The beef industry went to work. By 1998, beef demand rose 3.32%. Subsequent audits charted the industry's progress. The 1995 NBQA pinpointed per-head loss at $137.50; in 2000 it was $114.92. Most of the reductions were due to fewer injection-site lesions, bruises and dark cutters.

The 2000 NBQA list of successes in improving the value of fed steers and heifers included:

  • 86.3% were appropriately branded or not hot-iron branded.

  • 96.2% were free of excess mud.

  • 77.3% were polled or dehorned.

  • 88.4% of carcasses were free of major and critical bruises.

  • 93.5% graded Select or better.

  • 88.3% had Yield Grades (YG) of 3 or lower.

  • 97.5% of top sirloin butts were free of injection-site lesions.

  • 85% of fed cattle were harvested in plants that are using multiple-hurdle decontamination systems.

  • 47 states had Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) programs.

  • 52 USDA certified/process-verified beef programs had been developed.

  • Quarter-inch trim beef was the industry standard.

By the end of 2004, the Beef Demand Index, which measures several specific factors including per-capita consumption and consumer spending for beef, had risen 25% since 1998. Cattle-Fax estimates the overall increase in beef demand since 1998 has added $22/cwt. to the price of fed cattle.

Making the grade

Recognizing the improvements in fed beef quality, the 2000 NBQA project leaders knew there was still room for improvement. Therefore, they drafted 12 goals the beef industry should try to achieve by 2005. Following are the grades for each goal as averaged from the individual panelists, listed on page 32, along with their comments:

  1. Eliminate USDA Standards: C+
    • Not a realistic goal. Of much greater economic significance is the gradual erosion since 1990 of cattle qualifying for Choice.

    • Most carcasses qualifying as Standard grade are never assigned a quality grade.

    • There are still too many low-quality, non-conforming carcasses that don't fit any meaningful branded-beef program.

    • Increased grid marketing has placed pressure on eliminating Standards. Continued emphasis on marbling in breeding programs and a tendency to move away from breeding cattle for extreme growth as a single trait have all helped.

  2. Eliminate YG 4 & 5 carcasses: C-
    • Has the gradual erosion in percent Choice, coupled with market signals that reward heavier carcasses, encouraged feeders to feed quality grade performance into cattle, unintentionally resulting in more YG 4s?

    • Increased hot-carcass weights and a substantial Choice-Select spread will continue to be an industry problem.

    • YG 4s and 5s have increased by more than fourfold since 2000.

    • Many argue ribeye size hasn't kept pace with increased carcass weights, resulting in higher percentages of YG-4 carcasses.

    • Packers have been desperate for volume and haven't sufficiently discounted these cattle to stop their production.

  3. Eliminate injection-site lesions from whole-muscle cuts, including the chuck: B+
    • Work remains on eliminating chuck lesions in fed cattle and round lesions in market cows.

    • With more value cuts coming from the chuck, this may become a concern.

    • The industry continues to make good progress in this area.

    • Work at USDA's Meat Animal Research Center, and continued training via state Beef Quality Assurance programs on alternative injection sites, has helped alleviate many problems seen in the chuck.

  4. Eliminate side-branded hides: C+
    • Not much progress in reducing hide defects due to brands. Have any states changed their laws?

    • In brand states, historical and emotional issues of brands outweigh most incentives.

    • Elimination will be an uphill battle.

    • Relocation of brands is unlikely in most instances without a greater incentive.

  5. Reduce horns to less than 5% of the fed-cattle supply: B
    • The industry has responded positively to reduce prevalence and length of horns.

    • The willingness of the commercial cattleman to pay more for “homozygous polled” bulls has influenced the seedstock producer to concentrate on this trait.

    • Polled feeder cattle tend to sell for a few dollars/cwt. more than horned feeders.

  6. Develop and implement a standardized electronic individual animal ID system: D+
    • The retail and foodservice sectors are already sending signals to the industry. It's time to get our oars in the water.

    • A few alliances are progressive in individual ID, but the U.S. beef industry has a long way to go in ID and traceability.

    • The cattle industry must work toward compliance and adhere to standards regarding animal ID.

    • The U.S. critically needs an animal tracking and disease surveillance system to be globally competitive. It will take us years to develop an effective system.

    • The industry understands the value of animal ID and is moving forward to a national program. NCBA is playing a lead role in this effort.

  7. Develop an information system to allow each producer to conduct a quality audit for his/her own herd: C
    • More producers are documenting production practices, especially those participating in a coordinated system or certified/verified program.

    • I would like to see every producer take an animal through a “Gate-to-Plate” session.

    • More data must be shared throughout the production and processing chain.

    • The emphasis has been on animal disease and confidentiality issues. Animal ID will help.

  8. Assure 100% of seedstock animals are accompanied by meaningful genetic data for production and end-product traits: B+
    • Look at sale catalogs.

    • Breed associations are doing their part, but too many commodity producers' goal is still simply a live calf from every dam.

    • Increased use of EPDs focusing on specific factors is extremely beneficial.

    • Some breeds are developing tenderness EPDs and several are reporting indexes related to profitability.

    • Selling bulls without data isn't a profitable enterprise today.

  9. Assure that 100% of cattlemen complete BQA training: B
    • Many states have embraced BQA training and continue to reach producers with best practices.

    • BQA training has dramatically improved U.S. beef's safety and quality.

    • Significant progress but more to do.

    • Voluntary training offered by states is simplified through use of on-line systems.

  10. Eliminate bruises that result in a devaluation of subprimals: B-
    • The proactive approach the industry is taking to improve handling and transportation will have a significant positive impact on reducing bruising.

    • The goal is a challenge to quantify, and even harder to eliminate.

    • Awareness of proper animal handling techniques and facilities is significantly higher than in 2000.

    • Grid selling and BQA both contribute to this as bruises are trimmed before carcasses are weighed for sale.

  11. Improve transportation and handling equipment of cattle. B
    • All industry sectors have been proactive in their efforts to improve animal handling and transportation. Several large foodservice chains routinely audit animal handling practices of suppliers.

    • Most associations are conducting cattle care and handling workshops for members.

    • Capital investment has been the biggest hindrance in reaching this goal.

    • Manufacturers have made a sincere effort to change equipment to facilitate NBQA guidelines.

  12. Continually improve the eating quality of beef: B
    • The industry has developed relatively high quality heat-and-serve products.

    • Improved product quality includes the emergence of several branded beef programs that focus on application of technologies and/or control of processes to improve eating quality.

    • New value-cuts from the chuck get high marks from consumers for flavor, juiciness and tenderness.

    • Some packers and processors have implemented postmortem technology to further ensure the quality of beef for customers and their consumers.

    • The product is getting better and the emphasis on tenderness by many branded programs is helping get the message out.

When all the judges' grades for the 12 goals were averaged into an overall grade, the industry averaged a B-minus for its progress over the past five years. Not bad for an industry that's still as segmented as it was in 1991. Where would you grade the industry on its progress over the past 15-20 years?

The BEEF magazine panel

BEEF recently solicited help from a cross-section of specialists to “grade” the industry's progress toward the 12 “goals by 2005” outlined in the 2000 National Beef Quality Audit. The panelists included:

Glen Dolezal, Excel Corp., director of new technology applications.

Bob Rolston, Maverick Ranch Natural Meats director of live cattle procurement; and Travis Hoffman, Colorado State University (CSU) BQA coordinator.

Bill Mies, eMerge Interactive, Inc., vice president.

Charlene Schuster, Montana Beef Council executive director.

Daryl Tatum, CSU animal science professor.