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|2002 Cattle Feeders
Annual -- Cattle Marketing
Make Your Cattle Fit The Tray
how boxed beef changed the industry?
by Larry Stalcup
Do you feed a "case-ready" product? Can your cattle "fit the tray?"
Those are questions that will likely require a "yes" answer if feeders and stocker operators are to keep up with changes at the packer, the retailer, and most importantly – the consumer's kitchen.
Revolutionary changes in the cattle business are still on a fast track as the beef industry strives to meet changing consumer demand while keeping production costs at a minimum. And make no mistake, it is essential that every segment of the business do its part in producing and processing the right product.
must be the first to continue with their efforts to produce a product that
is ready for the world of case-ready meats. Dr. Ted McCollum, beef cattle
specialist for the Texas Cooperative Extension Service in
"The case-ready movement will be as big or bigger a change than when we went to boxed beef," says Hale. "It will cause us to change the way we feed cattle on grass and at the feedyard."
will undoubtedly be limits on the types of carcasses that fit the tray,
which holds case-ready meats that require little or no processing at the
supermarket. "For example,
Wal-Mart (which has a working relationship with IBP) wants everything in
its meat department case-ready," says Hale. "The major work in the
meat department is labeling, then putting the product out for consumers.
They want the trays all the same size, similar to poultry products
that are mostly uniform at the meat counter."
Fitting those trays differs from fitting the traditional packer box, which could include six strip loins. Box weights can range from 40 to 100 lbs. Carcass weights ranging from 550 to 950 lbs. are accepted by packers. Anything below or above those weighs is discounted.
Trays, however, are much more uniform. Ribeyes, for example, need to be about 14 sq. in. big. Anything larger will not fit the tray and must be trimmed by computerized machinery-a step that adds cost and introduces inefficiency. "There is a much narrower weight range," says Hale. "They want a 700 to 800 lb. carcass. And as case-ready meats increase in demand, packers will have fewer options for getting rid of heavier cattle."
good news is that most cattle finished at
more of those type cattle to the packer will require more stringent
management at the feedyard. "In
many cases, there is a wide weight range among feeder cattle going in,"
says Hale. "By the time they
are fed, there can be a 400 lb. weight range.
Some are too big and some are too small (for case-ready
That means better sorting, either when cattle arrive, at the second implant period, or even when cattle are finished. Hale suggests using sorting systems like some alliances use, where cattle are bought within a 50 to 75 lb. weight range, making for more uniform production. More streamlined sorting, such as systems which use ultrasound or other measures to analyze cattle data, will be more common in the industry, he says.
Marketing to meet case ready needs will require more use of grids, as well. And there should be some sort of premium in the end. "If you have cattle to fit a Select market and sell on a grid basis, you will likely be able to get some benefit if you fit the grid for a particular case-ready market," says Hale.
"But as case-ready progresses, there could be discounts for cattle with carcasses that don't fit packer targets for carcasses and cuts destined for case-ready."
McCollum believes stocker operators or ranchers who take their calves to grass or backgrounding are key links in making case-ready caliber cattle. Virtually all breeds and crosses common to TCFA Cattle Feeding Country can yield case-ready-type animals.
McCollum points out that in the past, how the animal performed at the packer was of little concern to the stocker operator. Those times are gone. Now, that finished carcass will be more and more of a factor in determining the value of stockers.
could say that anything we do that increases pasture performance may
strongly affect how that animal grades and ultimately how it performs on a
grid marketing system," says McCollum.
"Stocker operators or feedyards can't just think about finding
poorly managed cattle that are big and rangy, then profiting from the
compensatory gain of those animals."
Feedyards are learning that weight relative to the degree of fat can be influenced by how the cattle were managed before they arrive. How can backgrounding affect marbling?
"If stockers had a lower rate of gain of about 1.5 lb. per day on, say, mid-winter forage, it would decrease the amount of marbling carried to the feedyard," says McCollum. "The cattle would have to be fed to a heavier weight to develop suitable marbling."
For example, if cattle receive no implant, the fat end point will likely be reached at 50 to 100 lbs. less weight because of slower gain. But if an implant is used, expect to see the fat end point reached at a 50 to 100 lb. heavier weight. Stocker operators should make sure the feedyard has this information so it can better manage days on feed more efficiently.
"So when a feedyard has information on what has occurred to those cattle previously, it can target the way those cattle are managed," says McCollum. "It will determine how much weight you will have to fight as far as discounts, and whether you will have to adjust to take a lower carcass value due to lower marbling rating."
As far as economics are concerned, McCollum urges stocker operators to use their time wisely. He says programs like the VAC 45, in which cattle are weaned 45 days before going to the feedyard and introduced to a coordinated vaccination program, have repeatedly shown more efficient profit and loss numbers. Rates of gain are higher and costs of gain are much lower at the feedyard, which means producers of those stockers will likely see a greater demand for their cattle, if not a premium.
"Stocker operators must devote more time to adding value to cattle and spend less time dealing with bad inventory," says McCollum. That will mean fewer 900-lb. steers going on feed in the case-ready world.
operator Dennis White of
says it is important for the industry to give stocker operators some
guidelines on the types of cattle that feedyards want to meet packer
demands. "There need to be
standards and documentation processes stocker operators put their cattle
through before they get to the feedyard," he says.
"That means there is an opportunity for feeders and stocker
operators to develop relationships that will benefit both."
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