Black-hided. It’s the initial requirement for more than 80 beef brands certified by USDA.
That also means it’s the first limiting factor for supply of programs like the largest and longest-running of those: the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand.
Total federally inspected fed-cattle harvest is the first number CAB packing director Clint Walenciak looks at. “The matrix of what drives total CAB pounds starts with that, and then it would be the percent that’s black-hided,” he says. “Then we apply our 10 carcass specifications to narrow that down even further, so that we’re running right at 24% today.”
That’s why the company has tracked black-hided numbers since 2004, and USDA now reports a percentage of “A-stamp” carcasses in the harvest mix.
“The fragmented nature of our industry means the only place we can truly capture how many cattle in the U.S. beef cattle supply are black-hided, or Angus-influenced to some degree, is at the packing plant level,” says Lance Zimmerman, CattleFax analyst.
That number has trended upward since 2004 (see chart) to level off and settle back to 62.9% last year, an obvious majority. Yet many are surprised the percentage isn’t higher.
“When you look at different surveys that estimate bull turnout in the population, they typically run about 70% Angus, and Angus bull sales continue to be strong, so some of those numbers are counter to what we’re seeing,” Walenciak says.
Indeed, the 2011 Western Livestock Journal Bull Turnout Survey had the Angus breed leading all others with 71.5%, and that was down a bit from the 2009 mark.
So is it a case of bad math?
Walenciak and Zimmerman say no. It’s a matter of looking at the number of native black-hided cattle compared to outside factors like Mexican and Canadian feeder cattle imports, Canadian finished cattle imports and fed dairy cattle.
Those four categories can have a “dilution effect,” says Walenciak. “As we see the U.S. fed [harvest] decrease the past year-and-a-half, those numbers become a higher percentage of the total.”
They made up 16.1% of the total harvest mix in 2004 compared to 18.4% in 2011.
Walenciak and his team put a value on the sway each has on the A-stamped percentage.
For example, Canada lags the U.S. in black Angus influence, so they applied a 40% black factor to total imported Canadian fed cattle for each year. They estimated Mexican feeder cattle at 20% black.