August 18, 2004 | By: Laura Skillman
CAVE CITY, Ky.

A program that tracks cattle from the farm through the feedlot to the packer has provided data on about 4,000 animals and given farmers information needed to make changes in their enterprise.

The identification and tracking started in 2002 as the Five-State Beef Initiative which included Kentucky , Illinois , Indiana , Michigan and Ohio . The three-year U.S. Department of Agriculture funded program concludes in September but Kentucky is continuing the program called the Value Added Targeted Marketing Program. It is a collaborative effort of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and Kentucky Beef Network and is funded by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board.

This effort provides cost share to participating producers - 1/2 of the cost and up to 3/4 cost if they participate in the CHAPS and SPA record-keeping programs.

“We tagged about 10,000 cattle in the hopes of receiving carcass data and we actually received data on just over 4,000 head,” said Kenny Burdine, UK Extension beef marketing associate. “That represented about 400 different producers in 30 different counties.”

Burdine and John T. Johns, UK beef specialist, updated program information for attendees at the recent West Kentucky Beef Conferences.

Data from those animals was compared to the 2000 fed cattle audit, an industry average. Kentucky ’s cattle did better on average in terms of quality and yield grades. In addition, the vast majority of Kentucky cattle fall within the appropriate carcass weight and backfat range.

The data can be used to help individual producers better understand and address some issues within their herd, Johns said.

While on average, Kentucky cattle did better than the industry average, a look at individual data can show a producer a different picture, he said. One producer, for example, had cattle that from a quality grade standpoint tremendously outperformed the average, yet the feedlot lost money on them. The reason for the loss was the cattle gained slowly, had low feed conversion and had a small hot carcass weight.  There simply weren’t enough pounds to sell, he Johns said.

Producers need to be careful shooting for carcass premiums because that might not be the best thing, he said. If you reduce gain at the feed yard as a result of carcass premiums, gain is also reduced at the farm.

Another factor, the data showed was that you should not select for single traits at a time. This breeder had been selecting only for carcass quality while not putting any selection pressure on growth and final carcass weight. As a consequence, the cattle performed poorly in the feed lot and lost money for the feeder.

“Multiple trait selection is easy to do and should be done,” Johns said.

The program has also shown that while some breed variability in the herd can improve a herd’s vigor, a producer needs to be careful not to take that too far and needs to ensure uniformity in their herd.

“You need to have a designed plan for it, not just the bull of the year,” he said.

Feed lots don’t want to feed out cattle with a large variability in quality. They may do it once and they might do it again, but it will be at a big discounted price to the producer. And Johns noted the feed lots are aware of where those cattle came from.

What producers do at the farm can impact the ultimate value of their animals, Burdine said. Producers need to identify the lower performing animals in their herds, make needed changes and the end result will be that their animals will be more valuable to the feedlots therefore, more value will also be realized at the farm level.

Participating in the Value Added Targeted Marketing Program can help producers better understand how their cattle ultimately perform and provide them the chance to make changes within their operation to improve the outcome.

To learn more about the program or if you’d like to participate, contact RW Eldridge at 859-257-7272, ext. 268, Burdine at 859-257-7273 or Johns at 257-2853.

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Contact: 

Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Source: Kenny Burdine, 859-257-7273; John T. Johns, 859-257-2853