Value Discovery Program Increases Quality of Beef Supply

ISSUE: New York farmers annually feed 38,500 head of cattle for the finished beef market, valued at $26 million. Most of these 2200 cattle feeders are small and operate under very tight margins. Decreasing feed costs and increasing carcass quality would greatly enhance the competitiveness of their businesses. In addition to the economic benefits, increasing feed efficiency would decrease the amount of grain used by the industry and increasing carcass quality would provide a product more in line with consumer demands. Fortunately these two factors are moderately to highly heritable and are under the control of the nearly 6,000 cow/calf producers supplying cattle to the feedlots. Therefore helping cow/calf producers learn the quality of the cattle they supply to the feedlots will increase economic sustainability of beef farms while, decreasing feed usage, and increasing consumer satisfaction.

RESOLUTION: Twenty beef producers from New York and surrounding states sent over 160 head of beef cattle to be evaluated for feedlot and carcass performance. Using computer models developed by Cornell researchers, individual feed efficiency was determined. Feed efficiency being the amount of feed required producing one pound of animal gain. Several measures of carcass quality were also taken. The amount of marbling in the meat is characterized as Quality grade and is determined by USDA personnel. The most desired quality grade of the American consumer is USDA Choice. The meet this demand 70% of all carcasses should meet this specification.

IMPACT: The most efficient cattle gained the same amount of weight on 25% less feed. That’s a saving of $46/head and a reduction of 1200 lbs. of feed for the most efficient feedlot animal compared to the least efficient. Capturing just half of this increased efficiency through changes in breeding and selection has the potential to reduce annual feed costs paid by New York cattle feeders $886,500. Additionally it will reduce the feed required for beef production 11,550 tons in New York State alone. Less feed means less manure that has to be disposed of, reducing nutrient flow to the environment. Theoretically, if this feed in not eaten by cattle it would be available for human consumption. Meat from cattle in this program met USDA Choice only 50% of the time. Meeting the desired goal of 70% Choice would increase income $7.78/head. On a statewide, annual basis this could increase farmer income nearly $300,000. Combined with increases in feed efficiency, NY farmer income has the potential to increase nearly $1.2 million. The consumer would also benefit by receiving meat quality that better meets his/her demand.