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Heavy carcass weights mean more beef

By Jennifer Carrico

FEEDING QUALITY FORUM— Shawn Walther (above left), owner and president of Professional Cattle Consultants, discussed the effect of increasing carcass weights on the different parts of the cattle industry during the Feeding Quality Forum in Grand Island, Neb. Mike Sands (above right), vice president of Informa Economics, told attendees that cattle inventories will continue to be low through 2014. (Journal photos by Jennifer Carrico.)

"How big is too big?" is the question on the minds of cattle feeders. Shawn Walter, owner and president of Professional Cattle Consultants in Hydro, Okla., said carcass weights continue to climb.

Walter spoke about the implications of heavier carcass weights on feeders, packers, food service and consumers, during the Feeding Quality Forum in Grand Island, Neb., recently.

"Most packers can handle carcasses up to 1,050 pounds but above that tends to be a problem," he said. "Over the past 50 years, carcass weights have continually increased. At some point we will need to see this slow down."

Days on feed for feedlot steers have been decreasing over the past couple years, but it may be affected by placement weights in 2012. The placement weights have decreased for 2012 due to the drought.

Walter said it's important for weights to come down in order for producers not to be discounted for heavyweight carcasses.

"The question on why carcass weights are continuing to rise needs to be answered, but we aren't sure if the driver is the cowherd genetics or how we are feeding the feedlot cattle," he said.

Through the years there has been a difference in cow versus steer weights. From 1960 until 1980, cow sizes were smaller, yet the steer weights continued to be larger. From 1990 until 2000 both cow and steer weights were considerably higher. From 2000 to 2010, weights decreased, but were still steady to equal on size.

"Recently, growth genetics are moving toward a larger cow size. That is not likely to change very quickly," he said.

Having bigger cows impacts carcass size. Bigger cows require more feed but also wean heavier calves. Adequate nutrition is needed for these cows to stay in good body condition for breeding.

Walter said while cattle that are on feed longer have heavier carcass weights, they also graded better than those cattle with light carcass weights.

"Since 70 percent of the beef is sold in the beef, cattle that are most profitable are the ones with the heaviest carcass weights," he said. "It's important to maintain profitability by increasing carcass weights."

Heavier carcass weights also affect packers, both positively and negatively. Heavier average carcass weights allow packers to spread fixed costs per head over more pounds and they have more ground beef and trimmings to sell. However, the extremely large carcasses can slow or stall the chains in the packing plant.

Retail and food service don't mind the larger carcasses because they give them more product to sell and more pounds of ground beef. However, they also are then challenged with larger cuts to deal with and how to serve them.

"The food service providers are more concerned with consistency than the size of the carcass," said Walter. "As long as it's high quality, they will deal with the size."

Overall, he said he doesn't expect a huge change in the cowherd. Higher priced corn will likely be more of a factor in feeding cattle to heavy weights.

"I think we will likely see more sorting and production systems to avoid outlier cattle and make more consistency throughout the carcasses," he added.

Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at jcarrico@hpj.com.

Date: 9-24-2012

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