We cannot ignore any opportunity to improve beef quality," says Texas A&M University animal scientist Bill Mies, whether the opportunity is at the ranch, the feedyard or the packing plant. Rather than pointing fingers and placing blame on some other industry segment, everyone in the industry must do their part.

Dr. Mies' comments were in response to a producer's question regarding the packer's role in improving beef quality during an industry forum in August. The forum, sponsored by Pharmacia & Upjohn Animal Health, was broadcast via satellite to 41 sites nationwide. Panelists included experts from several industry segments-representing the packing and retail sectors, animal health and meat science. Dr. Mies served as moderator. This article presents a summary of some key points three of the panelists made during their presentations and in response to telephone questions from remote sites. Next month, a second article will summarize the comments of the other participants.

Tim Schiefelbein-Value-based purchasing manager, Monfort

"Some people have grids figured out," Mr. Schiefelbein says, noting that certain feedyards consistently earn higher premiums than others pricing cattle on Monfort's value-based grid.

Monfort buyers, he says, can look at a ranking of feedyards and compare their track records for providing high-quality cattle. For example, a comparison of feedyards marketing 5,000 cattle through the company's Grand Island, Neb., plant reveals a $25 per head difference in value from the top to the bottom. "Packers know which feedyards sell better cattle, and they buy from the top."

Mr. Schiefelbein lists four things a packer never wants to see:
* Heavyweight carcasses, over 950 pounds.
* Lightweight carcasses less than 550 pounds.
* Commercial grade cattle, such as older heiferettes.
* Yield Grade 4s and 5s.

Approximately 9 percent of the cattle Monfort processes have one or more of these defects, he says. A good target for the industry is to produce 70 percent Choice, 70 percent Yield Grade 1 and 2, and 0 percent "out" carcasses, he adds. Some give-and-take between quality grade and yield grade is acceptable with a total summation of 140, such as 80 percent Choice and 60 percent YG 1, 2 and 3 or vice-versa.

In 1995, when Monfort first offered a value-based grid system, the company purchased 100,000 cattle on that system. By 1996 that number increased to 500,000 and for 1999 will reach 2 million head. Cattle purchased on a value-based grid system represent 40 percent of Monfort's total kill.

Mr. Schiefelbein cites examples of producers who put carcass data to work by managing cattle to meet those goals. Schramm Feedyard, Yuma, Col., began selling cattle on a grid in 1996, and at that time produced 58 percent Choice, 78 percent YG 1 and 2, and 9.1 percent outs. Those figures have improved steadily with this year's marketings averaging 69.2 percent Choice, 73.6 percent YG 1 and 2 and 3.1 percent outs-getting close to the 70-70-0 standard.
Frank Gary-Veterinarian, Colorado State University

The industry might never eliminate some quality problems such as an occasional low-grading carcass, but injection-site problems are absolutely avoidable. Producers, Dr. Gary says, can reduce the incidence to zero.

Dr. Gary reminds producers that the 1995 beef-quality audit documented direct trimming losses averaging $7.05 per head due to injection-site damage. Lost demand due to an overall reduction of beef quality, however, was even more significant. Research shows that the effect on beef palatability can extend across an area much larger than the visible injection-site injury.

Injection-site damage does not go away over time. Research tracking injections given at branding or weaning show a high percentage of lesions as long as 400 days later. And the lesions become larger as the animal grows.

Some products are more reactive than others, but virtually all intramuscular injections cause some tissue damage. Pharmaceutical companies have invested a great deal of effort into developing products and delivery systems that minimize the chances of damage occurring. But producers need to do their part by following label instructions, using appropriate needles and sanitation procedures, and avoiding injections to high-value muscles.

Injections to the neck offer several advantages over other areas. Not only are meat cuts from that part of the animal of relatively low value, injections in neck muscles heal better over time, and the percentage of lesions declines more compared with injections to the butt.

"Producers," Dr. Gary says, "simply should not give any injections in the back half of the animal."

Colin Campbell-Technical services veterinarian, Pharmacia & Upjohn Animal Health

When animals become sick in the feedyard, Dr. Campbell stresses, survival is not the only issue. "We need to get cattle back to optimal performance. We need to think in terms of a `durable cure,' resolving health problems quickly and permanently."

In his introduction to Dr. Campbell's presentation, Dr. Mies cites new data from the Texas Ranch-to- Rail program illustrating the relationship between number of treatments for BRD and feedyard performance and carcass quality. The data, he says, show that cattle lose value every time they are treated.

The economic consequences of feedyard morbidity mean producers need to focus first on prevention, then on timely, effective treatment for sick animals. Dr. Campbell says a three-day treatment period is the minimum for respiratory pulls, and five-day treatment is best for reducing repulls. A 20-percent repull rate causes significant losses in performance and carcass value. He suggests a 5-percent repull rate as a standard to work toward.

Pull early and treat depressed calves even if their temperature is normal, he says. Feedyards sometimes make the mistake of returning calves to their pens when they don't find any fever, then have to pull the same calves again when they're much harder to treat.

Dr. Campbell suggests monitoring several indicators during treatment, with a goal of improving in each area:
* reduction in temperature
* elimination of clinical signs
* normal respiration rate
* normal depression score
* return to appetite
* normal weight gain.
Next month, Drovers will feature the comments of three other participants in the Beef Quality Forum. These will include:

* Bill Mies, animal scientist, Texas A&M University
* Gary Smith, meat scientist, Colorado State University
* Steve Harper, HEB Grocery Co.