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Beef Quality Corner -- Count to Two, No Bull

Livestock Update, September 1998

Bill R. McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

A group of over fifty cattle folks from Virginia paid a visit to Pennsylvania cattle feeders during the third week of July. The tour, organized by the Virginia Cattlemen's Association, included visits to individual cattle feeders' operations and an evening program with over 100 Pennsylvania feeders.

Pennsylvania cattle feeders continue to be an important market for Virginia feeder cattle. The trip North afforded the opportunity for seller and customer to discuss areas of concern and for feeder cattle producers to get feedback on the cattle they produce.

One of the most commonly heard complaints was the number of stags and/or bulls that get through the graded feeder cattle sales marketing process. At almost every cattle feeder's operation, there was a bull or stag among the steers. Just as a point of information a stag is a late castrated bull that has already developed some secondary sex characteristics such as masculine head, neck crest, coarse muscling. Bulls and stags suffer discounts when sold as finished cattle. One cattle feeder suggested, "You Virginians need to give away pocket knives to your producers."

It is sort of embarrassing to note that some folks either do not remember whether they castrated all their bull calves, try to sneak a bull calf through a graded sale, or simply cannot count to two. Complete castration early in the calf's life causes less stress and little or no set back in gain. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Beef Quality Assurance Task Force encourages early castration to enhance beef quality. There is no doubt that some of the problem with bulls and partial castrates results from the use of elastrator bands. The elastrator can be an effective means of castrating very young calves, but care must used to ensure that both testicles are below the band once the elastrator is removed.

The second common complaint from Pennsylvania feeders was the problem of extremely large framed steers. In watching finished cattle sell at the New Holland sale, it would seem that steers finishing under 1350 to 1375 pounds are in highest demand. Again, at almost every feeding operation visited, the owner would point out a few steers that simply do not work. The typical Pennsylvania finishing ration is lower in energy than those found in Western commercial feedyards. The moderate energy level in the rations encourages extended skeletal growth before the appropriate level of finish is achieved. This situation explains why the Pennsylvania can absorb some of our "Small" frame cattle while the same cattle cause major problems for Western feeders. It would appear that steers of a "7" frame score or higher are the culprits for Pennsylvania feeders.

Virginia feeder cattle producers must remember that they design and produce the raw product for the rest of the beef industry -- a feeder calf. If that raw product has defects, the ultimate final product will likely be defective too.

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