Author Archives: blackinksteve

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A dreamer, lucky enough to see some come true. Rooted in these Kansas hills, I married schoolmate Anne, hunter, fisher, cook, mom, teacher and coach, fellow K-Stater. We make homemade wine and better Angus calves each year. Two daughters are grown now, the eldest in Ireland. Unique son a teacher, too; we’re legal guardians now. Introspective, I love words (pictures, too); trying to avoid groaners, but puns are intended. Obscure Reference Man who likes historical ballads. Well, most music except – pardon my gap – rap. Since 1998, Director of Industry Information for CAB; now Senior Editor, Producer Communications. And so help me, I care.
AZFam_2504
Following the Calves, On the ranch
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Following the Calves: Gearing up for Spring in AZ

PrintSpring comes early in the deserts of California and Arizona. You may have seen the pictures of a rare floral bloom in Death Valley last month.

On the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, Angus calves were up before the flowers. By March they were munching on opportunity grasses next to their mamas, who show by example what is safe to eat.

Today, they’re all in the central pens for branding and AI (artificial insemination for the 168 mamas) as family and friends on horseback gathered the herd this week. That’s daughter Amy Doyle with Chuck in the lead photo above.inpenAZ_2361

Eighty-eight replacement heifers, sisters from last year chosen with the help of genomic test results, are in a developing paddock a couple of miles away. “They are there to mature rather than gain more weight,” Chuck says. And they will soon get their turn for AI to a standout sire for calving ease and efficiency.

But 30 cull heifers and 119 steers made the 850-mile trip to Oklahoma in December.

Ranch owner-manager Chuck Backus sent an email to his feeding partner at Cattleman’s Choice Feed Yard, near Gage, Okla., shortly after those loads hit the trail:

“Dale [Moore],

The two trucks left the ranch at 1 PM, AZ time (MST). They should probably arrive at the Feedyard about 8 AM [Dec. 16]. All of the inspection papers and certificates are in the envelope with them.

One of the steers for your truck (ranch tag #181) was limping so we sorted him out. Today his knee was swollen and it looked like he had a puncture wound under the knee so I decided we shouldn’t ship him to you. That’s why there will be 149 instead of 150 total.”????????????????????????????????????

He retained full ownership in 67 steers with this highest Angus percentage genetics, up to 15/16 and carrying above-average potential for marbling. The “cull” load that Dale bought included some smaller and non-black calves, but still better than most.

Rancher has been to the feedyard and feeder has been to the ranch, but email and phone calls have served well this year as the calves grow and gain condition for summer marketing to National Beef.

Meanwhile, Chuck and his crew at the Quarter Circle U focus on details for the 2016 crop. Longtime trucker and cattle manager Dean Harris sees to it that the hundreds of calves across the cactus valleys are tagged with sex, dam and date recorded.IMG_2301

They will be weighed at the branding roundup when a first round of shots and electronic ID go in. No corral work this summer when trucks take the herd to Show Low pastures, but come October the detail work resumes with booster shots and weights recorded on arrival and three to four weeks later.

Of the 2015 crop that left the Superstitions in December, Chuck noted they were approved by IMI Global as age-and-source verified, Natural, NE-3 (Never Ever given antibiotics, hormones or animal-derived feeds), and non-hormone-treated cattle.

“This was the best set of calves I have ever raised – to date,” Chuck says. “That, of course, is the plan.”

We’ll check in again as this year’s calves hit the road for Show Low. Don’t miss out on what happens next — be sure to Follow the Calves!

Let’s keep building tomorrow together,

Steve

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2006_mr_TCSCF_carcass shots-1
Hot topics, Research
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Every number has a story: .53

Decades of data from Certified Angus Beef ® brand licensed packers show a typical pen-average fat thickness for finished cattle of 0.53 inch, with a range in those averages of less than .25 to more than 1 inch. Although 0.4 was long considered the target, data across the last 20 years points to barely finished cattle that may not have realized their marbling potential.

Grid marketing simply moved the target. Recent evidence suggests cattle can be fed to .6 inch of fat cover before yield grade (YG) 4 discounts start overtaking quality premiums.

“Quality grade improves dramatically as weight and fat cover increase beyond last century’s targets, according to the cattle currently going through our packinghouses,” says Larry Corah, who retired as CAB vice president this year. “The share of Choice and Prime increased 10.9 percentage points and CAB acceptance rates moved up 7.5 points when fat cover increased from an average of .4 to .6 inches.”

He tells of packing data that says each increase in YG score can add 25 pounds of carcass weight while increasing marbling score up to 40 points. In the data, that moved Choice from 65% at YG2 to 92% at YG4, on average. Last year, a YG3 was most profitable, but a YG4 was much more profitable than a YG2 after all discounts and premiums.

Here is the chart from that consist study:

Untitled

Strange that cattle feeders estimate marbling in the ribeye by guessing fat thickness just under the hide, because according to the American Angus Association database, there’s virtually no correlation between the traits. Yet grid marketing of finished cattle is largely based on this acquired skill.

A couple of white papers at our CABpartners.com website address the dichotomy. Robert Maddock, meat scientist at North Dakota State University, wrote, “The relationship between subcutaneous fat and marbling” in 2013, noting it’s not much of a genetic relationship, but undeniably linked in feeding.

It is possible to manage both or even enhance marbling while keeping back fat in check if you know the genetics. Speaking of which, American Angus Association data shows the greatest marbling growth occurs while 12th-rib fat is increasing from 0.3 to 0.5 inches, with little added marbling after 0.6 inches, he notes.

Andy Herring, Texas A&M University geneticist and beef science section leader, wrote a white paper, “Genetic Aspects of Marbling in Beef Carcasses,” in 2009. He noted wide variations in marbling heritability estimates to arrive at the .45 average, but estimates for the heritability of fat thickness are MUCH more variable. Those are somewhere between 0.02 (useless to try selection) and 0.86 (this should work in no time flat). That range has many concluding it’s not about selection, but Herring thinks it is.

“There are significant genetic differences when cattle are subjected to the same environment,” he says. Across all breeds, Herring found studies that estimated a phenotypic correlation between marbling and fat thickness from slightly negative to moderately positive. But don’t get your hopes up that anyone will suggest selection for marbling will increase or decrease back fat.

“Fat thickness phenotype alone may only describe 0.64% to 9% of the variation in marbling,” the Texas geneticist explains.

Let’s keep building tomorrow together.

–Steve

PS-Have you noticed that, “Every number has a story”? Catch up on our month-long series right here:

Day one: $6.93

Day two: 2.5 million

Day three: $204.10

Day four: 12.1 million

Day five: 11/13

Day six: 8 million

Day seven: 139

Day eight: $39

Day nine: 30.1%

Day 10: 120 million

Day 11: -2.26

Day 12: 12 to 15 minutes 

Day 13: 30%

Day 14: 32 million

Day 15: $154,000

Day 16: 118

Day 17: .51

Day 18: 105

Day 19: 1650

Day 20: 36,575

Day 21: 603

Day 22: 23%

Day 23: 31

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smaller
Hot topics
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Every number has a story: 1,650

That’s the most you’d want a steer to weigh in pounds, a ballpark upper limit that could still qualify for CAB, getting under the 1,050-pound (lb.) carcass weight limit. Providing it had a dressed carcass yield of no more than 63.63% (yes, that’s a repeating decimal but still a rational number). Dressing percentage is simply carcass weight divided by live weight.

I’ve never had a steer finish that heavy, nor much above 1,400 lb., and in fact no rational cattle feeder would use 1,650 lb. as the target, because there are overweight discounts on the grid beyond that point. A fairly even finished pen of cattle will vary in weight by 300 lb., so it’s not rational to set an upper target average above 1,450 lb.

Carcass weights have trended higher for 40 years and in the 1970s, when the Certified Angus Beef brand was getting started, that extreme upper limit would have been 300 pounds lighter at about 1,350 lb. The average carcass weight from all fed cattle was often less than 700 lb.

It seemed rational to discuss finished weights as highly correlated with mature cow size. Those discussions are still going on, but it’s less and less clear which is the driver, steer weight or cow size.

carcass weightsConsider how irrational the average steer weight is getting, leaving projections like the graph shown here far behind. A record of 930 lb. was set in October, and at the same dressing percentage as our opening example, that meant the AVERAGE steer for the week weighed more than 1,460 lb.

That’s not the kind of irrational number you get when trying to find the square root of 2 or pi, but it surely means we are seeing more discounts for carcasses that violate the 1,050-lb. limit.

When CAB started, there was no weight limit, but the first of those was set at 999 lb. in 2006. And as grid heavyweight discount limits moved up from 950 to 1,000, to 1,050 and even 1,100 lb. in some markets, the CAB limit readjusted to the 1,050 limit a year ago. During those eight years, average carcass weights increased by two or three times that margin.

These words have been written by rational observers every few years for decades, but I will join in: Finished cattle weights will likely not increase significantly more in the years to come.

If there is any more logic now than in the years before, it is that we have finally entered a robust rebuilding phase that will begin to add more cattle to the harvest supplies, thus reducing the market pressure to make them bigger, and perhaps, finally leaving the upper weight limit capped where it stands today.

I agree with Paul in setting the ideal carcass weight in today’s market at 900 lb., which means a finished live weight barely over 1,400 lb. for steers. A great many other factors such as feed and cattle prices and genetics say 1,350 lb. is a more practical average target for my steers.

Do some math and figure out your target. And let’s keep building tomorrow together.

–Steve

 

If you want to catch up on our month-long blogging adventure, “Every number has a story,” check out these links:

Day one: $6.93

Day two: 2.5 million

Day three: $204.10

Day four: 12.1 million

Day five: 11/13

Day six: 8 million

Day seven: 139

Day eight: $39

Day nine: 30.1%

Day 10: 120 million

Day 11: -2.26

Day 12: 12 to 15 minutes 

Day 13: 30%

Day 14: 32 million

Day 15: $154,000

Day 16: 118

Day 17: .51

Day 18: 105

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slidMarbling Scores illustrated (c)NCBA
Hot topics
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Every number has a story: .51

I could have put up .46 or .43, the average marbling EPD (expected progeny difference) for current registered Angus sires and dams, respectively. But we reach a lot of commercial producers who are shopping for bulls.

And .51 is the average marbling EPD for non-parent bulls this fall, like the ones you’re bidding on and/or buying at private treaty across the country. This is not reaching for some shockingly high number, because the average EPD for Angus cattle born last year is .56 and the top 25% of all non-parent bulls today start at .66 with ribeye EPD at .65.

slidattemptAre you building your herd’s future on at least average carcass EPDs? Why would you aim for less than average?

Believe it or not, some people consider marbling controversial, especially if they don’t have at least average marbling in their herds. We’ve heard “too much marbling will wreck your cow herd,” and “the only way to get above-average marbling is single-trait selection.” Research disproves both objections.

Good thing, too, because most consumers love marbling.

Looking at data from 15 years ago, an Iowa State University study said, “The current trend to rewarding higher quality-grading cattle will have the added benefit of reduced cow cost.”

CAB has on several occasions helped sponsor research on the impact of selecting for superior marbling. The most recent of those was just a couple of years ago by Virginia Tech animal scientists Jason Smith and Scott Greiner, noting the data say we can have above-average marbling and above-average maternal traits in the same herd.

Some folks point out known genetic relationships to justify a fear of keeping up with at least average marbling. It is antagonistic to muscling and carcass weight, for example. True of course, but lighter birth weight and calving ease are also antagonistic to those and other growth traits. Focused selection overcomes the natural antagonisms.These cows do it all.

Others may say marbling is “only” 45% heritable, so environment and management are more important. If they ever try to feed more marbling into a steer that lacks the genetic potential, they see how nature works, however. What it really means is that you have a 55% chance of messing up the potential, but you have 100% chance of falling short of average results if you start with less than average potential.

I like the way Dick Beck of Three Trees, Sharpsburg, Ga., puts it in perspective:

“Of course we should keep working on the cowherd, but why would you walk away from making progress on a trait that’s easily improved? To say I’m going to improve 90-day conception rate by 5%, that is a tough, tough goal. But improving the quality grade of my next calves by 5%, I can do that in my sleep, and it doesn’t take away from my efforts to improve on those tough goals.”

So let’s not be antagonistic to selection for marbling. Embrace the taste! Let’s keep building tomorrow together.

–Steve

We’re more than halfway through our month-long blogging adventure, “Every number has a story.” Catch up here:

Day one: $6.93

Day two: 2.5 million

Day three: $204.10

Day four: 12.1 million

Day five: 11/13

Day six: 8 million

Day seven: 139

Day eight: $39

Day nine: 30.1%

Day 10: 120 million

Day 11: -2.26

Day 12: 12 to 15 minutes 

Day 13: 30%

Day 14: 32 million

Day 15: $154,000

Day 16: 118

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Scott Jillian
Hot topics, Research, The Meat Market
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Every number has a story: -2.26

You might say it’s an even number, divisible by 2. But what relevance can we find in -2.26, a negative carried out to two decimal places?

You’d never guess it unless you just read the article, but that’s the estimated “own-price elasticity” of the Certified Angus Beef ® brand.

Still, that does not clarify it much for most of us. After many conversations with Missouri economist Scott Brown last year, I think I can help explain. He worked with graduate student Jillian Steiner to produce the ground-breaking white paper, “Should beef quality grade be a priority?”

Scott BrownThe researchers are shown in the photo above and Brown (right) explains the concepts at a University field day last fall.

But it will never be an easy number to chat about.

It’s a key measure of demand, which can be relatively more — or less – elastic. If the number comes out to an absolute value less than 1, it is often called inelastic.

To make it cloudier, there’s a paradox here. Premium priced goods are typically considered luxuries with fairly elastic demand (like -2.26). But beef is a perishable good, and further affected by its price/value relationship: as you pay more, you are more keenly aware that “you get what you pay for.”

Prime demand is very similar to that for CAB, according to the Missouri study, both luxuries that defy their elastic demand estimates (Prime at -2.33) to increase sales as prices move higher.

On the other hand, Select beef has a -1.24 elasticity, which is closer to inelastic, but in the protein market dynamic, it is the most vulnerable to substitution or a switch to pork or poultry.

The other fun side of this research is called “price flexibility,” calculated by simply dividing 1 by the elasticity number. Prime price flexibility is -.43 and it is -.44 for CAB, but -.81 for Select.

So what? So, the closer to 0, the less impact on price when production goes up. You have probably heard some concern about how much more premium beef this market can take, and maybe we should ramp up more Select beef.

Not according to demand data. To do the math and illustrate with a huge change in supply for a very dramatic effect, let’s compare a 50% increase in supply of Prime versus Select beef. Prime cutout last week was $238 per hundredweight and Select was $207, a spread of $31. CAB was $227 by the way, if you want to do the math in the example below.

That increase in Prime supply would mean 50% of -.43, or a 21.5% reduction in price to net just $187, but 1/-1.24 equals the -.81 price flex number for Select, and 50% of that is a 40.5% reduction in price to net just $123, so the spread would more than double to $64.

In the unlikely event that you crave more numbers from this study right now, there are many more in the links to the study provided above!

As we build our herds, it is even more unlikely we will produce 50% more beef anytime soon. But the numbers say the best way to build a future with sustainable beef prices is to aim high, for Prime and CAB.

–Steve

 

PS — You can follow along as we blog our way through November. Here’s what you may have missed in our “Every number has a story series”:

Day one: $6.93

Day two: 2.5 million

Day three: $204.10

Day four: 12.1 million

Day five: 11/13

Day six: 8 million

Day seven: 139

Day eight: $39

Day nine: 30.1%

Day 10: 120 million

Day 11: -2.26

Day 12: 12 to 15 minutes 

Day 13: 30%

Day 14: 32 million

Day 15: $154,000

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