Adjusting Herd Dynamics, Feed Programs Pays

As cattle producers and feeders seek the best possible return on their investment, it would seem their best bet would be to aim their business toward branded product with the best genetics for marbling.

There’s little surprise in that, but USDA data back up a plan to target the branded beef market, which by definition is choice beef from breeds known for producing tender beef.  And the upshot of paying attention to the genetics is that even more value can be obtained from animals that produce carcasses grading prime – in a sense, overshooting the branded beef market.

This graph from the Livestock Marketing Information Center shows the cutout values of prime, branded, choice, select and ungraded beef, along with comparisons of rib and loin primal values for March compared with a year ago.

The graph also shows that prime beef will bring the greatest rewards.

While it would be accurate to say that cattle producers should aim for the prime beef market, doing so is a slow and uncertain process of collecting data on the quality yield of fed cattle at slaughter and tracing that back to certain cows and bulls.  That must be followed by culling of cows and bulls that do not produce calves that go on to grade prime at the packing plant.

That process is complicated by the investment producers have in their cows and bulls.  Even if they know which parent pairs produce calves with such marbling characteristics, they have too much invested in them to just chuck them as soon as the data begins to show a pattern.

In addition, choosing the right heifers to replace aging cows often is a gamble since there is no guarantee that even a heifer from a proven cow/bull pair will pass those carcass traits on to their offspring.  Over time, such record-based replacement decisions do pay off, but it’s sometimes harder to see the improvement.




What is easier to target, however, are certain breeds or other brand identifiers such as antibiotic-free, non-implanted or gentle handling practices.  These products either are perceived to yield better tasting beef, or customers are willing to pay more to know that the product they are buying conforms to their standards.

Branded programs often target choice-grade beef, and packers won’t pay double premiums.  So producers who adjust their production to hit these branded programs, things that are seen and more easily controlled, and still aim for the best marbling genetics can claim benefits over generic choice grade beef and gradually get more return when more of their cattle yield prime-graded carcasses.




Cash cattle markets Monday were quiet with no reported bids or offers.  Many expect seasonal beef demand to keep cattle moving higher, but futures are showing reluctance without a compelling story.

Last week, cattle were mostly $2 per cwt higher at $167 to $170 on a live basis.  On a dressed basis, cattle ranged from $265 to $267, up $3 to $4.

Boxed beef prices were higher Monday with the USDA’s choice cutout up $0.91 per cwt to $256.48 and select up $2.26 to $251.55, with 96 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Friday was $222.18 per cwt, up $0.83.