You've reached the Virginia Cooperative Extension Newsletter Archive. These files cover more than ten years of newsletters posted on our old website (through April/May 2009), and are provided for historical purposes only. As such, they may contain out-of-date references and broken links.

To see our latest newsletters and current information, visit our website at

Newsletter Archive index:

Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Beef Quality Corner - Virginia ROP Cattle Performance

Livestock Update, November 2001

Bill R. McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, VA Tech

Most Virginia cow/calf operators get little feedback on the carcass merit of the cattle they produce. A review of data generated by the Virginia ROP steer feedout program may provide some insight into how Virginia cattle perform on the rail. During 2001, carcass information was collected on a total of 210 Virginia ROP steers that were shipped to a custom feed yard last September and December. The cattle were harvested from February through August of 2001. A brief summary of the steers' performance is presented below

Va. ROP 2000-2001 Steer Average Performance
Finished Weight 1167 lb.
Days on Feed 163 days
On Feed Average Daily Gain 3.49 lb.
Hot Carcass Weight 729 lbs.
Ribeye Area 11.78 sq. in.
Back Fat.44 in.
Yield Grade 3.11
Quality Grade (Choice - or better) 64.3%

As first glance, the average performance of the cattle would appear to represent a fairly useful steer for the industry. Further examination of the carcass data reveals some wide variation and some cattle that present real problems and inefficiencies to the industry.

The 729 pound average carcass weight was partially the result of the cattle being sorted out of the feed yard for marketing to avoid price discounts on carcasses outside of a 550-950 pound window. When considering a more narrow window of industry acceptability and usefulness, a range of carcass weights from 625 to 850 pounds is considered more efficient. Of the ROP steers, 3.3% had a carcass weight below 625 pounds, while 4.8% of the carcasses were over 850 pounds.

Perhaps the area in which this group of steers most often failed to satisfy industry standards was the size of the ribeyes. Given the average carcass weight of 729 pounds, the average steer needed an additional .77 square inches of ribeye to avoid a negative adjustment to the USDA yield grade. Many industry leaders have identified 11 square inches as the minimum target ribeye size to enhance cutability and product uniformity. Roughly 27% of the carcasses in this ROP shipment had ribeyes below 11 square inches. There were no ribeyes larger than 16 square inches, the upper window of acceptability. These results confirm findings in earlier years which suggest that Virginians still need to address the issue of improving the muscling in their cattle. Improving muscling at the carcass level can be best done by focusing on bulls with positive and high accuracy EPD's for ribeye area or % retail cuts. A bull's own ultrasound measurement for ribeye size can be helpful, but it is only one measurement and will ultimately be less useful than EPD's generated from carcass data or ultrasound scanning from a number of offspring.

With the steers being sorted for marketing to avoid excessively fat carcasses, a figure of 64.3% of the carcasses grading Low Choice or better is quite acceptable. One issue explored in the 1995 National Beef Quality Audit was the ideal mix of carcass quality grades to the meet the demands of the industry. A comparison of that suggested ideal quality grade mix the ROP steers is presented below.
1995 NBQA Prime Upper 2/3 of Choice Low Choice Select Standard or Lower
Suggested Ideal Mix 7% 21% 34% 38% 0%
2000-'01 ROP Mix 1% 20% 43% 34% 2%

The comparison points out that a higher percent of the Choice cattle need to be moved up into the Prime grade and the Standard grading cattle simply need to be eliminated.

Virginia feeder cattle producers who want to sample their cattle's performance in the feedlot and on the rail may want to participate in Virginia's Retained Ownership program. The next ROP shipment is scheduled for November 28.


November 28, 2001 Shipment


Shipment locations will be designated to match consignments.

Target weight: 650 lbs
Accepted weight: 500-900 lbs

Steers Only
My consignment:

__________No. Head
__________Expected Avg. Weight
__________Weight Range

Preferred shipment location:


Name: __________________________________________

Address: __________________________________________




Phone: __________________(day)___________________(night)

Return with $10 per head consignment fee payable to the Virginia Cattle Feeder Assoc. by November 12 to:
Bill McKinnon
368 Litton Reaves Hall (0306)
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Phone: 540/231-9160

Visit Virginia Cooperative Extension