Purebred Angus cattle dominated the 2004 National Angus Carcass Challenge (NACC), but they came from such diverse areas as Texas to Montana, Idaho to Iowa. Winners were from a wide range of genetic and management programs, fed in eight feedlots in five states and harvested at eight plants in six states.

   Stan and Brad Fansher, Garden City, Kan., had their Grand Champion pen fed by neighbor and feeding partner of 15 years, Sam Hands, Triangle H Grain & Cattle Co. No one was surprised that these heifers did well—their sisters won reserve division champion in the 2003 NACC, and Fansher Angus Ranch supplies bulls for the ranch that had top value CAB-fed pen in the 2002 Best of the Breed (BoB) contest.

The winning cattle were chosen by ultrasound from a group of 150, but the entire group achieved 96 percent Choice or better. Harvested in November at National Beef Packing, Dodge City, Kan., the only surprise is that the February-born heifers spent only 65 days in the finishing yard.

NACC is an annual beef value contest, sponsored in 2004 by Certified Angus  Beef LLC (CAB), Drovers magazine, Merial SureHealth™, Farnam Company, John Deere FoodOrigins and the American Angus Association. Groups of at least 40 steers or heifers sired by registered Angus bulls have to be fed in CAB licensed feedlots, according to NACC coordinator Rod Schoenbine. Winners of the 2004 contest were announced Jan. 15 at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo., where Stan Fansher accepted $5,000 and a new John Deere 4x4 Gator®.

“I am impressed with quality overall,” Schoenbine says. “Twenty high-value entries graded more than 85 percent USDA Choice, less then 3 percent Yield Grade (YG) 4 and more than 25 percent Certified Angus Beef ®—not counting CAB® Prime.” Of 140 pens and 5,998 cattle entered, 4,909 were harvested as eligible and several pens carried over to the ongoing 2005 NACC, he explains.

The top value pen graded 40 percent Prime and another 53 percent met all criteria for the brand, which include Modest or higher marbling. “They had nearly twice as many Primes as the next closest group,” Schoenbine says, “and the second heaviest heifer carcasses.”

Virtually all were sired by four Fansher herd sires: sons of Traveler 6807, Precision 1680, Lucys Boy and Emulation 5522, says Stan. The family’s 400-cow registered herd was built upon genetics from Gardiner, Sitz and Jorgensen Angus ranches, he adds.

In deciding to finish the heifers, son Brad looked more at winning Prime premiums rather than the NACC. Hands turned to ultrasound to help avoid over-finishing the already 1,000-pound animals.

“They had maturity on their side, along with genetics and technology,” Hands says. The veteran of several carcass contests says he learned early on that the feeder cannot take full credit for quality grades. “We can either enhance or take away from genetic potential.” 

The heifers’ $107.74/hundredweight value on the NACC grid was more than a dollar above last year’s champion on the same grid, $2.09/hundredweight above the 2004 top steers and $3.25/hundredweight above the heifer division champion pen (see table). Four of them went over the YG 4 line, without which the whole pen would have tallied another dollar higher.

The Champion steers, from Woodstone Angus Ranch, New Ulm, Texas, were fed at Cattleman’s Choice Feedyard, Gage, Okla., by managers Dale and Mary Moore. They came from a herd of 500 registered cows and bulls of an old Irish line. Families noted on the Web (irishherd.com), such as Lady Elizabeth of the Manor, read more like Celtic romance than animal science, but they all trace back to the first registered Angus cattle.

Bill and Yvonne Woods keep half the cows in Texas; the other half run on family land near Hackett, Ark., looked after by John and Angela Wiggins, who backgrounded the 43 NACC steers. The Woods family accepted the $3,000 NACC award in Denver.

The only entry to avoid all discounts on the contest grid, the steers won premiums from their 7 percent Prime, 51 percent CAB showing. Only 30 percent of the 785-pound carcasses were YG 1-2, but Woods says he is “not trying to raise Limousin or Charolais. If we get too many YG 2s, we lose marbling, so we aim for YG 3 and easy fleshing mommas.” Steers sired by 14 different linebred bulls demonstrate the uniformity in that herd, he adds. Woodstone generates its own bulls and another 25 for local customers, Woods says: “We don’t just feed the bottom end.”

Moore has fed and admired Woodstone cattle for four years. “These came in at 870 pounds, converted in the 5s and gained in the 3s for 150 days, not implanted,” he reports. “If all our customers keep the records Bill keeps and use carcass data the way he does, we’ll have nothing but outstanding cattle,” Moore says. “That’s where we’re heading.” He and Woods already have plans for the 2005 NACC. “We’re going to win both the steer and heifer divisions next time,” he says.

Darnall Ranch came closest to doing just that this time, with its commercial herd and CAB licensed feedlot near Harrisburg, Neb. Forty Darnall heifers won Champion Heifer Division with 20 percent Prime and 45 percent CAB, while 40 Darnall steers came in third in the Steer Division. All were harvested at the Swift plant in Greeley, Colo.

  “They were all home-raised,” says owner-manager Gary Darnall, “and they trace back to the Performance Breeders on both the cow and bull side.” Dave and Yvonne Hinman, Malta, Mont., are partners with Bill and Jennifer Davis of Rollin’ Rock, Sidney, Mont., in Performance Breeders.

Ultrasound sorting 80 days preharvest is routine at Darnall’s 20,000-head feedlot, so the scans were taken into account. But Darnall entered a wide cross-section—16 groups in all—for educational purposes. And nothing special was done to enhance grade. “We aggressively implant everything,” he says, ending with a TBA compound.

All were calf-fed and harvested at about 14 months. “They did well, but we were surprised they came out that high in the contest,” Darnall says. He accepted the $3,000 heifer and $1,500 third-place steer awards in Denver.

Reserve Champion Steers ($2,000) and third-place NACC heifers came from Jimmy Thomas, Homedale, Idaho, who had the top heifers in 2003, all fed at Boise Valley Feeders, Parma, Idaho.

The Reserve Heifers were a “middle cut” from longtime CAB test herd cooperator Chuck Pluhar’s 600-cow commercial Angus ranch near Cohagen, Mont., fed by CAB partner Beller Feedlots, Lindsay, Neb.

The 2005 NACC features easier entry rules and a new sponsor, Alltech, a multinational biotechnology company providing natural solutions to the feed and food industries. For more information, visit cabfeedlots.com, contact Schoenbine at 330-345-2333 or e-mail rschoenbine@certifiedangusbeef.com.