How Do We Stack Up?

Wayne R. Wagner
Extension Livestock Specialist
WVU Extension Service

This article was published in the February 2001 issue of the West Virginia Farm Bureau News

West Virginia is not among the top 10 states in beef production. Only two of the top 10 are east of the Mississippi (Kentucky, No. 8; and Tennessee, No. 10). Tennessee has 1.085 million beef cows compared to about 200,000 cows in West Virginia. So, what do we have in our favor? Not too many people come here to see our cattle, and few in the industry consider West Virginia a "beef" state. Our own statistics suggest that 75 percent to 80 percent of the state is forested. That leaves little space for beef production, and practically all our production is either cow-calf or stocker.

You may be aware that with the assistance of the West Virginia University Extension Service and the West Virginia Cattlemen's Association, beef producers can feed a sample of their production through the West Virginia Feedlot and Product Information Program (WVFPIP). Cattle in this program are being fed at two feedlots and marketed through two alliances. These two alliances are USPB (US Premium Beef) and Decatur Alliance (soon to be Future Beef).

A summary of the Decatur Beef Alliance for all cattle fed from Oct. 1, 1999, to Sept. 30, 2000 lists one lot of WVFPIP cattle that had an adjusted net return in the top 15 percent for the feedlot. Adjusted net return puts all cattle on an even market so the time of year the cattle are marketed does not affect value.

In my opinion, Decatur County Feedyard feeds better than industry-average cattle so to finish in the top 15 percent is quite an accomplishment. In addition, this lot had a dry matter (DM) feed conversion of 5.6 pounds feed per pound of gain. The feedyard averaged 6.1 pounds, and the national average is probably between 6.5 pounds and 7.0 pounds. A rule of thumb is that for every 1 pound improvement in DM feed conversion, feed cost for calves in the feedlot is reduced by approximately $50 per head.

Last year, the WVFPIP cattle were sent to the feedlot earlier than usual because of the drought. There were 82 steers sent to Decatur, and one calf died. At the end of October 2000, 169 steers and 56 heifers were sent to Decatur County Feedyard and 111 steers and 54 heifers sent to Triangle H. We are still waiting for a feedyard summary from Triangle H so we can make similar comparisons.

However, we do have the closeouts for each pen (2 pens/steers and 2 heifer pens). The first pen of WVFPIP steers had 145 head and a DM feed conversion of 6.1 pounds. They were on feed 186 days and gained an average of 626 pounds for an average daily gain (ADG) of 3.37. The first pen of heifers had 86 head and had a DM feed conversion of 7.1 pounds. They were on feed an average of 201 days and gained 578 pounds per head for an ADG of 2.87 pounds. Feed conversion on the other pen of steers and heifers was more difficult to measure because these cattle had been on wheat pasture before entering the feedlot. The steers gained 737 pounds and had an ADG of 3.14 pounds. The heifers gained 698 pounds for an ADG of 2.79.

The table shows the distribution for quality and yield grade for the 1995 National Beef Quality Audit and cattle harvested from WVFPIP in 2000. Averages for Prime, upper two-thirds Choice, Low Choice, Select, and Standard from Decatur in 2000 were 2.5, 13.4, 41.5, 40.2, and 2.4 percent, respectively.

The distribution for quality grade in the steers from Triangle H were 2.8, 21.8, 41.2, 31.0, and 3.2 percent, respectively, for Prime, Upper two-thirds Choice, Low Choice, Select, and ungraded. Percentages for heifers were 0.8, 21.5, 48.5, 26.9, and 2.3 for Prime, Upper two-thirds Choice, Low Choice, Select, and ungraded, respectively.

The distribution for yield grade (YG) in steers was 1.9, 34.8, 59.2 and 4.1 percent for 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively. The distribution for YG in heifers was 11.5, 50.8, 35.4, and 2.3 percent for 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively.

The WVFPIP cattle marketed through Decatur in 2000 were similar to the feedyard average in ADG, HCW (hot carcass weight), percent Choice and better, and percent YG I & 2. Death loss and percent Standard for the WVFPIP cattle were slightly higher than the feedyard  average but better than the national average. There were no discounts in our cattle for carcass weights that were either too heavy or too light. The average was 747 pounds, which I think is where you want steers to be.

This suggests that at least some West Virginia cattle are capable of competing with cattle from anywhere in the country.  Even if we do not have the numbers of Texas or the reputation of Montana, we do not take a back seat to them in the kind and quality of cattle produced.  The WVFPIP cattle far exceeded the national average for Choice and above and had about half as many standard or ungraded carcasses.