As more feedyards market cattle on a value basis, many consider sorting at some stage as a means of delivering more uniform groups and avoiding discounts. They also are looking for ways to better estimate the actual value of calves entering the feedyard based on predictions for performance and carcass value.

Research at Iowa State University suggests that sorting feeder calves at weaning
can affect their feedyard performance and their net worth when finished. Feedyards might be able to use early sorting to identify cattle for specific markets, and adjust management practices to meet market specifications.

Animal Science Professor Allen Trenkle says researchers sorted three groups of steer calves, totaling 480 head, into smaller and larger frame sizes. Then they sorted those groups into groups with more and less backfat. The calves were all from the same ranch and were the same age at the time of sorting.

In the feedlot, Dr. Trenkle says, the larger steers and steers with less fat had faster rates of gain and tended to have superior feed efficiencies. Steers with more initial fat were fed fewer days. The larger framed steers and steers with less fat had heavier carcasses, less carcass backfat, more Yield Grade 1 carcasses and a lower percentage of Choice carcasses. They also had greater value per carcass when evaluated using a grid paying premiums for quality and yield grades.

The greatest profit to the feedyard came from the smaller framed steers and those with less initial backfat. For similar profit, researchers calculated that the larger steers should have been discounted as feeders $3.50 per hundred compared with the smaller steers and the steers with more fat discounted $5.00 per hundred compared with those having less initial fat. The results of this study, Dr. Trenkle says, suggest that sorting based on initial fat thickness may have more potential for enhancing the value of finished cattle than sorting based on frame score.