Everyone in the beef chain seems to agree we need more of it.
That’s the simple explanation for a trend that shows hot carcass weights (HCW) have increased 200 pounds (lb.) in four decades. But for all the opportunities that presents, there are many challenges.
John Stika, president of Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB), talked about both at last month’s Harlan Ritchie Beef Symposium during Midwest American Society of Animal Science meetings in Des Moines, Iowa.
“The production side is looking for something bigger to cover their increased costs,” he said, “but the retail and foodservice sides are looking for [more units of] something much smaller that’s easier to manage from a portion-control standpoint and a unit-cost standpoint.”
Increasing HCW is like adding many more finished cattle. Stika noted Cattle-Fax estimates show such increases from last November into March have made up for 256,000 head of cattle.
As the nation’s cowherd keeps falling back, increasing HCW is good news overall for beef marketers.
“They would rather have big beef to sell than no beef at all,” Stika said.
CAB data and supporting records from the National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) show that the market is getting more high-quality beef in that mix, too.
Carcasses accepted for the Certified Angus Beef ® brand this year have a 7-lb. heavier HCW than average.
“If they gain better, they eat better, they’re healthier,” Stika said. “Their carcass weights tend to be up and their grades tend to coincide with that.”
Data on more than 2 million head in the NBQA records indicate cattle with a marbling score of Modest or higher were 14 lb. heavier than average.
That’s not a new trend, Stika said. “But it’s a hot topic right now because we’ve seen a more rapid increase in carcass weight than what we’ve historically been used to.”
From 2008 to 2012, the Angus-influenced or A-stamped cattle increased 34 lb., to last year’s 846 lb.
Economics and genetic improvement are the main drivers.
“If I’m a feedyard operating today at 20% to 25% excess capacity, and I look at the replacement costs of what I have to buy—feeder cattle to replace a pen of cattle that I ship out—the economics, at times, begin to work rather nicely that I just feed those cattle longer,” he said.
Many packing plants in an industry at 10% to 15% excess capacity have tried to increase efficiency by increasing the upper limit on HCW and decreased discounts for those just over the line.