Every business has its myths, and if you accept the dictionary's definition-unscientific accounts, theories or beliefs-myths can be formidable enemies in making productive business decisions.

The problem for businessmen, including cattle businessmen, is that myths often sound so reasonable, so right. For example, large, fast-gaining breeds with big ribeyes are most profitable in the feedyard. Five will get you 10 down at the coffee shop that this is a reality, not a myth. But this isn't necessarily so.

I tested this question in my September column by comparing the feedyard performance of two groups of steers, one composed of high-marbling breeds and one composed of low-marbling breeds. The averages of the latter group fit this myth's profile-large (frame 6.2), fast-gaining (average daily gain 3.39 pounds) breeds with big ribeyes (12.7 square inches). The outcome was that the group was the least profitable. The idea was myth, not reality.

But, while expressing this outcome in my September column I stated that if it were to change it would be because of a yet-to-be-explored factor-feed conversion. I have now completed this analysis and present it here. And remember, this analysis is based on detailed records of individual steers fed out over a period of five years in the OK Feedout.

The reality was that the feed conversion ratio (as fed basis) did not change the negative economic outcome for the low-marbling group; it lost 7.3 to 7.0.

And the study shed light on other commonly held ideas, if not myths. First, it was not a reality that large fast-gaining breeds with big ribeyes gain weight faster in the feedyard than the alternate type. The group's average daily gain was 3.39 pounds; the alternate group's average was 3.49 pounds.

As I contemplated this analysis, I wondered whether there might be a difference in the feed efficiencies of the two groups of steers during the early and late portions of their feeding periods. The OK Feedout provides an opportunity to make this comparison because individual weights are taken at approximately 80 days into the trial (approximately midway) at re-implant time. Thus, pre-check gain and post-check gain became known factors.

Feed conversion proved to be better in the first period than in the last period for both groups, as would be expected. The low-marbling group achieved 60 percent of its gain in the first period; the high-marbling group 54 percent. The average daily gain of the high-marbling group was greater in the first period than the second period. The reverse was true for the low-marbling group.

This study has some important ramifications for you as cattle breeders, seedstock or commercial. The emerging area of grid pricing increasingly is forcing the processing industry to visualize pre-harvest cattle in terms of post-harvest
value. This means that the progeny of your breeding herds can no longer be strong only in terms of quality or yield. Their profitability depends on a balanced mix of these factors.

I want to emphasize that this study expresses only averages. It does not and cannot say that all high-marbling cattle are good and all low-marbling cattle are bad. Within the data are numerous examples of breeders who beat the averages regardless of breed. But one thing is clear, a blind focus on a particular breed or particular type can be costly. And while some breeds fit the grid better than others, you must still find and propagate the right breed strains.

If you're wondering whether this is an urgent matter, stop thinking about your competition as just chicken people or pig people. The competition is increasingly becoming your fellow cattlemen, many of whom are working feverishly to develop herds whose calves will be in demand for how well they fit the grid at harvest.

To contact Fred Knop, write Drovers or send e-mail to: fredlyn@aol.com