JANUARY 1 CATTLE NUMBERS The USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service on January 27 reported estimates for numbers of cattle as of January 1. U.S. beef cow numbers were estimated at 29.9 million head, down 3 percent from a year ago. Dairy cows, at 9.2 million, are up 1 percent. Total inventory of all classes is 92.7 million head, lowest since 1952. Biggest declines in beef cows were in Texas (660,000, 13 percent), Oklahoma (288,000 head, 14 percent), and New Mexico (53,000 head, 11 percent). Those three states lost 1,001,000 cows. The remainder of the U.S. gained 34,000 cows.

Beef strip loins from a commercial packing plant were obtained, evenly distributed among U.S. Prime, High (upper 1/3) Choice, Low (lower 1/3) Choice, Select, and Standard. Sixty one-inch thick steaks were cut from loins of each quality grade. In addition, samples were obtained of strip loin steaks from Australian Wagyu cattle. All exterior fat was trimmed. Fat content of trimmed steaks was: Wagyu = 22 percent, Prime = 14 percent, High Choice = 7 percent, Low Choice = 5 percent, Select = 3 percent, Standard = 1 percent. Steaks were grilled for evaluation by consumer taste panels.

Consumers generally rated the fatter, higher-grading samples higher in tenderness, juiciness, flavor and overall liking. However, Wagyu did not rank high in overall liking, possibly due to the very high fat content which may have been related to its lower score for flavor. Prime and High Choice tended to be similar and higher in satisfaction than Low Choice, which was higher than Select and Standard for some factors but not others. Select and Standard were similar.

Overall, over 90 percent of consumers rated Prime, High Choice and Low Choice as acceptable, compared to 80-90 percent for Select and Standard. In general, fat content of lean portion, which is evaluated commercially by marbling (the primary factor in USDA Quality Grade), appears to be reasonably associated with consumer preference.

Data were collected from 1995 through 2009 from 120 video auctions conducted by the same company on 5,042,272 calves sold in 41,657 lots. Results were as follows:


Date of Sale – was between April 7 and November 6. With some exceptions, price was higher in June-July and lower in May or September-October. 

Lot Sale Weight – averaged 539 lbs from 1995-2002 and 561 lbs from 2003-2009. Price decreased as weight increased, ranging from as little as $0.70 per hundredweight (cwt) in 1996 to $11.56 per cwt in 2005, which is generally influenced by prospects for profit from stockering/feeding. 

Sex of Calf – was higher for steers than heifers in every year, ranging from as low as $6.74 per cwt to $10.20 per cwt. 

Region of Origin – with Rocky Mountain-North Central as the base price, average discount was; South Central = $1.70 per cwt; West Coast = $3.43 per cwt; Southeast = $7.26 per cwt. 

Breed description – with British and British-crossbred calves as the base price, average discounts over the 15 years were: British-Continental crosses = $0.92 per cwt; Brahman influence = $3.59 per cwt. 

Lot size – averaged 121 head with a median of 95 head. Few lots had less than 50 head. Price averaged slightly higher as lot size increased. 

Variation in weight – lots called uneven in weight averaged discounts of $0.89 per cwt.
Flesh score – compared to lots classified as light-medium to medium flesh, average discounts were: medium = $0.47 per cwt; medium to medium-heavy = $0.82 per cwt. 

Days between sale and delivery – tended to increase by about 30 days over the time of the study. In some years, there was a slight depressing effect on price as time increased between sale and delivery. 

Frame size – medium-frame calves averaged slight discounts compared to larger frames, but the discounts were never as high as $1 per cwt.
Age and source verified – for 2005-2009, when this factor was included in the sale, average premium was $1.49 per cwt. 

Horns – significantly affected price in 7 of 15 years, with discounts in those years of about $1 per cwt. 

Growth implants – did not affect price. Lots that were implanted dropped from 64 percent in 1995 to 26 percent in 2009. 

Certified natural – which was first included in the sale in 2004, increased average price by about $0.25 per cwt to $1 per cwt. 

BVD-PI free – had no significant effect on price in the two years (2008-2009) it was included. 

Certified health – included four categories:
1. Non-vac calves never received any viral vaccines
2. Vac calves received some viral vaccine(s) but were not in a certified program
3. V34 calves received viral and bacterial vaccines before shipping but were not required to be weaned before shipping
4. V45 calves received viral and bacterial vaccines before and at weaning and were weaned at least 45 days before shipping

Compared to non-vac calves,V45 averaged premiums from about $2.50 per cwt to $8 per cwt. V34 calves averaged premiums of about $1 per cwt to $4.75 per cwt. Vac calves averaged premiums of about $1 per cwt to $2.25 per cwt. All of these premiums tended to increase over the time of the study.

NOTE: These results deal with cattle sold in large lots over a video auction. They may or may not apply to local auction marketing.

Harvard University recently published “Healthy Eating Plate.” It included fish, poultry, beans and nuts for sources of protein but excluded red meat. Several studies have shown that red meat is important and not just for protein:

• A study published last month by the Baylor College of Medicine and USDA-ARS Children’s Research Council showed that people who ate lean red meat took in more Vitamin A, B, and C, niacin, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium, as well as protein.
• A study published last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a diet with lean beef, compared with lean white meat, decreased LDL cholesterol, the type known to contribute to cardiovascular disease.
• A British Nutrition Foundation scientist recently reported that children around 6 months old in Britain often are iron deficient, which the scientist attributed to parents replacing milk with fruit and vegetable puree during weaning.
• A University of Washington study reported that humans absorb two to three times as much iron from red meat as from other dietary sources.

Researchers hypothesized that beginning a fixed-time AI program by administering prostaglandin might increase pregnancy. A total of 501 multiparous postpartum beef cows at three locations received one of the following protocols:

• PG-CIDR =  prostaglandin (PGF2α) injection, followed three days later by GnRH injection and CIDR insertion, followed six days later by removal of CIDR and prostaglandin injection, followed by AI 66-72 hours after CIDR removal
• 5-DAY CIDR = GnRH injection and CIDR insertion, followed five days later by removal of CIDR and prostaglandin injection, followed four to eight hours later by another prostaglandin injection, followed by AI 70-74 hours after CIDR removal.

Ovulation response was evaluated at one of the locations using ultrasound at time of GnRh and 48 hours after GnRh. Among cows with follicles >10 mm diameter, more (P = 0.03) PG-CIDR (88 percent) ovulated compared to 5-DAY CIDR (68 percent). More (P = 0.04) PG-CIDR (64 percent) were pregnant compared to 5-DAY CIDR (55 percent). Pregnancy was not influenced by location, cow age, cycling status, or Body Condition Score. The authors noted that GnRH initiation of a new follicular wave had been shown to depend on stage of the estrous cycle and concluded that the PG-CIDR protocol improved synchrony of follicular waves resulting in improved pregnancy.

A group of 841 finished steers from five locations was commingled and visually classified as British (B), Continental (C), British X Continental (BC), Bos indicus (Bi), British X Bos indicus (BBi), Continental X Bos indicus (CBi) or Dairy (D, mostly Holstein) based on frame size, muscle expression, hide color and breed characteristics. Three experienced live animal evaluators scored each steer for fat thickness at specific locations (cheeks, jowl, brisket, turn over the top, 12th rib, tail pones, lower quarter, cod and flank), estimated Quality Grade, frame size, neck length, body depth, body thickness, forearm muscle and disposition. Carcasses were then evaluated for carcass weight, ribeye area, fat thickness, kidney-pelvic-heart fat (KPH), Yield Grade, marbling and Quality Grade.

Breed/Type vs. Live Estimates 
*12th rib – B, BC fatter; C, CBi thinner 

*flank, tail pones, lower quarter, turn over top – B fatter; C, Bi, CBi thinner 

*brisket – B fatter; Bi, CBi thinner 

*cod – B fatter; C, Bi thinner
*cheeks and jowl – B fatter; Bi thinner
*frame size – B shorter 

*neck length – Bi, D longer 

*body depth – B deeper; C, CBi, D shallower 

*forearm muscle – B, BC, BBi larger; Bi, D smaller
*body thickness – B, C, BC, BBi thicker; Bi, D narrower 

*disposition – D calmer ; Bi, BC more excitable

Breed/Type vs. Carcass Factors
*carcass weight – CBi heavier; B, Bi lighter
*fat thickness – Bi, CBi thicker; C, BC, BBi, D thinner 

*ribeye area – C larger; B, BC, BI, BBi smaller 

*KPH – Bi higher; BC lower
*Yield Grade – B, Bi numerically higher (lower leanness)
*marbling – B higher; C, BC, D lower

There was a significant relationship between live estimates and actual Quality Grade, but live estimators tended to predict lower marbling score than was determined in the carcass. However, live estimate of Quality Grade was the best single indicator of marbling score across all breed/types. Perhaps the most surprising results in this study were that straight Bos indicus and Bos indicus cross cattle were intermediate in marbling score and Bos indicus crosses were intermediate in disposition.  end_mark

References omitted due to space but are available upon request.

Dr. Stephen Hammack is professor and extension beef cattle specialist emeritus from Texas A&M University. This originally appeared in a Texas AgriLife e-newsletter.

Dr. Stephen Hammack
Professor & Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Emeritus
Texas AgriLife Center - Texas A&M System