Seeing the beef production system first-hand fosters understanding and advocacy, and the process begins within our own community. To facilitate that experience, Drovers/CattleNetwork periodically hosts Beef Systems Tours as a service to our advertisers. Our goal is to help the people who market products to farmers, ranchers and veterinarians experience multiple aspects and segments of U.S. beef production, so they can develop accurate and effective messages for their customers and the general public.
During the week of May 5, we held our 2014 Drovers Beef Systems Tour in northern Colorado, travelling out of Fort Collins to visit cow-calf, seedstock, feedyard, farming, research, livestock market and beef-packing operations in the foothills and on the High Plains.
Following are a few highlights from the first day of the tour. Subsequent articles will cover our visits to Knievel Farms, JBS-Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, JBS beef packing and New Belgium Brewing.
Click here to view the first article in this series, covering visits to Rabbit Creek Angus ranch and the Maxwell Ranch.
Colorado State University
At noon on the first day of the tour, the group arrived at the Colorado State University (CSU) Agricultural Research Development and Education Center (ARDEC), near Wellington, Colo. The session began with lunch, featuring delicious barbeque brisket sandwiches prepared by the CSU Meats Judging Team, which caters meals and holds meat sales to raise funds. During lunch, CSU meat scientist Dale Woerner, PhD, provided an update on consumer trends and beef research initiatives.
Woerner says domestic beef demand is running about 1 percent above a year ago, in spite of high retail prices, and almost all segments of the beef-production chain are earning good profits. With high prices though, come high expectations, and domestic consumers and export customers increasingly demand high quality, consistency and improvements in beef safety. Marbling, he says, remains the number-one indicator of eating satisfaction. In CSU research, just 15 percent of consumers find “Standard” grade beef acceptable, compared with 29 percent for Select, 62 percent for Choice, 88 percent for upper Choice and 99 percent for Prime.
Researchers continue to evaluate specific beef muscles for tenderness and flavor, and work with processors to develop commercial applications for new beef cuts. Woerner says the “pectineus” muscle from the round, currently called the “round petite tender,” is the most tender cut on the carcass and one of the leanest. Nine cuts from the round are more tender than strip steaks, and six round cuts qualify as lean or extra lean, with 2.5 grams of fat or less in a 100-gram serving. Heavier carcass weights allow processors to add value by isolating and marketing these cuts, rather than including them in lower-value roasts or ground beef.
Next, CSU animal scientist Jason Ahola, PhD, led the group on a tour of ARDEC’s cattle facilities, including the university’s feed intake unit, used to evaluate cattle for feed efficiency. The unit features 24 eight-head pens, each with a Grow-Safe feedbunk to measure individual feed intake. The system uses radio-frequency (RFID) ID tags and RFID readers on each bunk, coupled with scales under each bunk to continuously weight the feed. Every time an animal puts its head into the bunk to feed, the system records its identity along with the time it spends feeding and the amount of feed it removes from the bunk. The team weighs each animal every two weeks, using data on individual gain and intake to evaluate feed efficiency.
CSU uses the facility to collect feed efficiency data for internal research and for commercial ranchers and seedstock producers. Groups of cattle typically spend a three-week warm-up period adjusting to the bunks and rations, then spend 70 days in the feed-intake test. Owners pay for feed and yardage, plus $1.20 per head per day for the data collection. The tests reveal wide variation in feed efficiency, and the trait is heritable to about the same degree as growth traits.
Leachman Cattle of Colorado, Wellington, Colo.
A short drive up the road took us to Leachman Cattle of Colorado, a large seedstock marketing operation located at the Horton feedyard near Wellington. Cattle manager Ryan Peterson explained that the company works with cooperating seedstock producers around the country to market Angus, Red Angus, Charolais and Stabilizer bulls under the Leachman brand. Stabilizers are a multi-breed composite using Angus, Gelbvieh, Simmental and South Devon genetics. The company markets about 1,200 bulls each year through its annual sale in Colorado and additional sales in California and other regions.
Bulls from cooperating herds come to the Wellington facility after weaning for performance testing prior to sale, and the team collects large volumes of data on growth, feed intake and carcass traits based on ultrasound scans. The Leachman operation installed its own facilities for measuring individual feed intake, which operates in a similar way to the Grow Safe system at CSU, and Leachman also sends some bulls to CSU for feed-efficiency evaluation.
Peterson notes that the volumes of data collected to support an array of EPDs on bulls can overwhelm bull buyers. To simplify the process while focusing on the real-world value of bulls, the company developed its proprietary $Profit index, which provides a single number, based on economically important EPDs, indicating the returns a bull will generate in a herd.
Recently, Leachman has worked with Verified Beef in Montana to develop the “Reputation Feeder Calf” program, which includes a genetic-merit scorecard for calves, based on the average EPDs of bulls used in a herd over the past 10 years. The program helps ranchers market calves on an objective measure of genetic value, along with age, source and process verification. Leachman also is engaged in long-term projects with Decatur County Feed Yard in Kansas, measuring genetic progress in terms of performance, carcass traits and overall profitability in cattle from herds using Leachman bulls.
Centennial Livestock Auction, Fort Collins, Colo.
On the way back to Fort Collins, the group stopped at Centennial Livestock Auction to learn a bit about livestock marketing. When we arrived, a goat sale was underway, and the group was able to watch the bidding process as various lots of billies, nannies and kids passed through the sale ring. While at the auction, we discussed the importance these markets play in facilitating sales of all classes of livestock for area producers. The group also learned about the role of brand inspectors and accredited veterinarians in verifying the origin and health of cattle prior to transport.
See the print version of this article and more in the digital edition of the June-July issue of Drovers/CattleNetwork.