Whether or not producers retain ownership of calves to finished weight depends on many considerations. Knowing the expected carcass characteristics of cattle is a key factor.

SDSU Calf Value Discovery Program

The Calf Value Discovery program continues to provide producers with feedlot performance and carcass characteristics from the steers enrolled.

Much like in previous years, the most profitable cattle were those with the fastest gain, heaviest hot carcass weight (HCW), and was graded Choice or higher. Animals were shipped in semi-loads and selected for harvest based on an estimated backfat of 0.40 inches or if the animal was at risk of being discounted for heavy carcass weight (> 1,050 pounds).

Loads were shipped on May 3rd, June 8th and July 6th. Price of finished animals typically decreases throughout the summer; this year however the carcass base price during this harvesting period was similar ($204 or $206 per cwt). Even with this price structure Load #1 still produced the highest carcass value and feeding revenue (carcass value minus total feedlot costs). However, Load #2 animals resulted in the highest profit at $66.88/hd compared to Load #1 ($17.55/hd) or Load #3 (-$49.73/hd). This could be explained by the lower feeder calf value assigned to the steers in Load #2. To estimate initial feeder calf values, weighted average feeder steer prices were obtained from the South Dakota Auction Market Summary report (USDA Agricultural Market Service report SF_LS795) for the week ending November 14, 2015. These prices were regressed on selling weights resulting in the following equation:

Price ($/cwt) = 409.12 + ((Initial Wt/100) * (-51.99)) + (((Initial Wt/100)^2) * (2.86)); r2 = 0.97

Calves that were harvested in Loads 1 and 2 were profitable, hence producers’ income was higher for retaining ownership through the finishing phase when selling them as feeder calves. Load 3 had lower ADG, lighter HCW, lower marbling score, and higher feedlot costs, which resulted in a net loss (-$49.73 per head). This load would have been more profitable if sold as feeder calves.  For producers to breakeven they would have had to be able to finish these animals for less than $467 total cost per head (carcass value minus feeder calf value). 

Characteristics of top and bottom performers

Animals with similar visual appearance may exhibit substantial differences in feedlot performance, carcass traits and financial revenue, as reflected in the difference between high and low feeding revenue. Identifying the characteristics of the more profitable animals allows producers to make management and genetic changes if necessary.

Producers look for animals that fit their goals and production objectives. By evaluating each individual animal’s results this process allows producers to make numerous management decisions that will improve/maintain their operation. Taking this data and treating it as one herd with 160 steers, what are the characteristic of the top 10 and bottom 10 animals? 

First thing, the profit spread was $479 between these groups. Looking at feedlot performance some characteristics worth noting are: 1) the bottom 10 steers were considerably lighter at entry, 2) the top 10 steers were 225 pounds heavier when shipped, 3) the most profitable steers gained one pound per day more than the least profitable steers, and 4) there was only $30 difference per head in total costs. Growth rate and heavier carcass weights seem to be the key differences during the feedlot phase. 

Carcass characteristics start to explain the difference in value: 1) bottom 10 steers had 162 pound lighter carcasses, 2) top 10 carcasses had marbling scores averaging a high Choice while the bottom 10 averaged Select, and 3) yield grades and fat thickness were higher for the ten most profitable carcasses indicating that they were fatter. Looking closer at the quality grades (marbling), the top 10 carcasses were 50% Prime and 50% Choice while the bottom 10 carcasses were 20% Choice, 70% Select and 10% No Roll. 

The top 10 carcasses were valued at $568 higher than the bottom 10, accounting for most of the difference in profit. It should be noted that the difference in feeder calf value was only $60 between these groups. Illness may also explain some of these differences. Three of the bottom 10 head required treatment compared to only one of the top 10.  

Participating in the SDSU Calf Value Discovery Program

Participants in the SDSU Calf Value Discovery program can consign five or more steer calves (500 to 800 lb). Cattle will be fed in an accelerated finishing program at the Vander Wal Yards, Bruce, SD. SDSU personnel will weigh cattle periodically and cattle owners will be provided with performance updates. Cattle will be sold in truckload lots beginning approximately May 15th on a grid price basis.

  • Program Details: Visit the SDSU Calf Value Discovery Program website for specific details on the program.
  • Registration: The registration deadline is October 17th with actual delivery scheduled for November 1st and 2nd.
  • Contacts: For additional information regarding the program please contact Julie Walker (SDSU Extension Beef Specialist) 605.688.5458 or Warren Rusche (SDSU Extension Beef Feedlot Management Associate) 605.688.5452. 

Table 1. Closeout results from 2015/2016 Calf Value Discovery Program

 

Pen Average

Load #1

Load #2

Load #3

Top 10 carcasses

Bottom 10 carcasses

Number

160

41

77

42

 

 

Initial wt, lb

675

758

669

605

690

632

Feb wt, lb

1001

1133

987

900

1055

896

Final wt, lb

1413

1461

1426

1343

1493

1268

Days on Feed

209

175

211

239

214

234

ADG, lb

3.42

3.85

3.44

2.96

3.64

2.62

Feed cost, $

340.49

325.76

341.54

352.93

363.63

317.36

Total cost, $

472.17

442.95

473.44

498.37

493.79

463.68

Feed COG, $

0.48

0.48

0.47

0.50

0.47

0.53

Total COG, $

0.67

0.66

0.66

0.71

0.64

0.77

 

HCW, lb

874

894

884

836

934

772

Dressing %,

64.4

63.8

64.6

64.8

65.2

63.5

Yield Grade

2.51

2.83

2.52

2.19

3.00

1.90

REA, in2

14.5

13.98

14.92

14.23

14.52

14.08

Marbling score

475

505

474

446

627

388

Backfat, in

0.53

0.55

0.57

0.44

0.65

0.38

 

Grid Base Price, $/cwt

204.96

204.00

206.00

204.00

205.40

204.40

Net Carcass Price, $/cwt

205.04

206.34

206.90

200.09

218.54

190.78

Carcass Value, $

1,792.02

1,844.68

1,829.03

1,672.77

2,041.19

1,472.85

Feeding Revenuea, $

1,300.19

1,381.47

1,335.75

1,155.66

1,527.75

990.22

Fdr calf value, $

1,276.56

1,363.91

1,268.87

1,205.39

1,290.22

1,231.85

Profit/Lossb, $

23.63

17.55

66.88

(49.73)

237.52

(241.64)

 

Quality grade

% of carcass (n)

Prime

5.0 (8)

2.4 (1)

5.2 (4)

7.1 (3)

50 (5)

 

Choice

77.5 (124)

95.1 (39)

80.5 (62)

54.8 (23)

50 (5)

20 (2)

Select

16.3 (26)

2.4 (1)

14.3 (11)

33.3 (14)

 

70 (7)

No-Roll

0.6 (1)

 

 

2.4 (1)

 

10 (1)

Commercial

0.6 (1)

 

 

2.4 (1)

 

 

 

Yield Grade

 

1

10.0 (16)

2.4 (1)

13.0 (10)

11.9 (5)

 

40 (4 )

2

39.4 (63)

31.7 (13)

33.8 (26)

57.1 (24)

20 (2)

30 (3)

3

40.6 (65)

46.3 (19)

42.9 (33)

31.0 (13)

60 (6)

30 (3)

4

9.4 (15)

19.5 (8)

9.1 (7)

 

20 (2)

 

5

0.6 (1)

 

1.3 (1)

 

 

 

aFeeding Revenue is Carcass value minus costs associated with feedlot expenses (does not include price of feeder calf).

b Profit/Loss is Feeding revenue minus feeder calf initial value.