Daily Archives: March 6, 2006

Understanding the USDA Beef Grading System

Understanding the USDA Beef Grading System

Posted March 2nd, 2006
The BBQ Report

USDA Grading SystemEver wonder what the difference is between a Prime cut and a Choice cut of meat? Which one is better? How about a Select cut? Who determines the grade of beef and what are the primary considerations that factor into it. How does the grade of meat you have selected effect the taste, tenderness, and cost of your dishes? Are there factors beyond grading that are important to consider? In this article I’ll fill you in on the USDA’s grading system, and arm you with the information you need to select the perfect steak.

The Purpose and history of USDA grading

The USDA grading system is a voluntary system paid for by the beef industry. Through this program, inspectors of the US Department of Agriculture assign a grade to each beef carcass during processing to help ensure a uniform quality in the sales and marketing of beef. This is in recognition that not every cow that rolls off the line is created equal, and the prices should reflect this fact.

The program itself dates back to the early 1920’s when an organized effort was underway within the livestock and retail meat industry to establish a beef grading and stamping service by the Federal Government for all federally inspected plants that would make the benefits of such a service available to all consumers. As a result, in 1926 the Secretary of Agriculture promulgated the beef grade standards as the official U.S. Standards for Market Classes and Grades of Carcass Beef, and by 1927 a one-year, national experimental program of Federal grading of beef carcasses was underway.


Japan says unclear if U.S. beef actions would work

Japan says unclear if U.S. beef actions would work


TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s vice farm minister said on Monday it is unclear if actions proposed by Washington would help prevent shipments of banned U.S. beef to Japan.
Japan suspended U.S. beef imports on January 20, just a month after it eased a two-year-old ban on U.S. beef imposed over mad cow disease fears, when Japanese inspectors discovered banned spinal material in a veal shipment from New York.
The U.S. Agriculture Department submitted to Japan on February 17 a report that examined how the violation occurred and USDA steps to prevent a repetition.
“With regard to the cause of the violation and steps to prevent a recurrence, there are several unclear points,” Vice Agriculture Minister Mamoru Ishihara told a news conference on Monday.
The Japanese government was sending questions about the U.S. report to Washington later on monday, he added.
Japan will also seek a U.S. explanation about whether USDA properly certifies U.S. meatpacking plants as eligible beef suppliers to Japan, and whether it is properly inspecting such plants, Ishihara said.
The USDA report said a U.S. firm made an ineligible shipment because the exporter and the USDA inspector were not sufficiently familiar with the requirements of Japan’s beef export programme.
The veal was shipped by Atlantic Veal and Lamb and supplied by Golden Veal, both of which were certified on January 6. USDA personnel confirmed at the time that both understood the requirements of the programme.
In December, Japan lifted a ban on imports from the U.S. of beef and beef offal from cattle aged up to 20 months, on condition that specified risk materials that could spread the disease, such as spinal cords, were removed before shipment.

Beef checkoff, LMA reach agreement

Beef checkoff, LMA reach agreement

by Pete Hisey on 3/6/2006 for Meatingplace.com

The Livestock Marketing Association and other plaintiffs have agreed to drop all claims in their legal actions against the USDA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board in return for an agreement by CBB that it will use checkoff funds to conduct an extensive survey of cattle producers to determine how they want checkoff money spent.

Producers pay $1 per head of cattle sold under the program, part of the 1985 Farm Bill. That money is used to increase demand for beef at the state level and at the national level through CBB. LMA and other producer groups contended that the program was not responsive to many producers’ concerns, and sued CBB and USDA, which oversees the program.

Under terms of the agreement, CBB will survey at least 8,000 cattle producers.

USDA: Beef carcass weights continue to grow

USDA: Beef carcass weights continue to grow

by Pete Hisey on 3/6/2006 for Meatingplace.com

Steer carcass weights are up 18 pounds from a year ago and heifers are gaining even more, 20 pounds over last year, USDA reports. The mild winter and continued inexpensive feed, as well as continued high prices for beef, are driving the gain.

However, the glut of inexpensive chicken and lower pork costs, coupled with higher gas prices and lower real wages, along with continued closure of top beef export markets, may drive retail beef prices down later this year.

More cattle have been delivered to feedlots than at any time in the past decade, which may mean an excess of supply during the key beef selling time this summer.

Beef cow numbers rising

Beef cow numbers rising

Kearney Hub Staff Writer

COZAD — The cattle industry has entered a rebuilding cycle that probably won’t have major price effects for at least another year.

“We are growing the herd again,” Agricultural Marketing Specialist Dillon Feuz of Scottsbluff said Wednesday at a Cornhusker Economies Management and Outlook Conference in Cozad sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. “Usually when you see these turn-ups, you see a couple more years of good prices.”

Feuz said U.S. beef cow numbers are up by 1 percent from a year ago, totaling 33.3 million. Dairy cow numbers also are up slightly.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the estimated 97.1 million head of cattle and calves as of Jan. 1, 2006, was 1.7 percent more than a year ago and the largest number since 2001.

Feuz said ag economists must look back to the 1960s to find a tight calf supply similar to the past couple of years. He said the tight supply and larger feedlot capacity have created a high demand and high prices for feeder calves.

According to the UNL publication “Cornhusker Economics,” 550- to 600-pound feeder steers sold for an average price of $126.16 per hundredweight a year ago and $140.88 on Jan. 27. Feuz said in a written report that feeder calf prices will remain relatively high in 2006, but decline to about $120 by the fourth quarter, when the anticipated larger 2006 calf crop will be available.

Cattle feeders are paying more than they’d like for calves, he said Wednesday, but they still can make profits because of low feed prices and beef demand that has remained high despite fewer exports since the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was confirmed in December 2003.

Heifer replacements are up 4 percent in the past year, Feuz said. At 5.9 million head, it’s the largest number of heifers held as beef cow replacements since 1997.

That’s another demand for calves and a sign that cow-calf producers are rebuilding herds, he said. As calf numbers increase in the next year or two, calf prices can be expected to drop.

For now, “cheap corn is still in place and higher-priced calves are still in place,” Feuz said.

Those conditions and expectations in 2005 of higher beef prices in the future were incentives for producers to feed calves longer and to heavier weights. That resulted in more pounds of beef on the market, which Feuz said was reflected in downward price pressure toward the end of 2005.

In a report done with UNL Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist Darrell Mark, Feuz wrote that fed cattle prices are expected to be at or below 2005 levels throughout the first half of 2006. Futures-based price forecasts suggest that slaughter cattle prices will remain in the low $90s through April and then seasonally decline into July.

Feuz said there could be lower prices in 2007 “particularly if we don’t gain enough export markets to offset that (increased) production.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. inventory of hogs and pigs has grown steadily since 1998, Feuz said, and export markets have been “tremendous” as pork gained markets lost to U.S. beef.

Forecasts of higher pig crops and farrowing intentions mean “we’re setting ourselves up for an increased supply of pork … in the second or third quarter,” he said.

The Mark-Feuz report says, “Given the high pork production and soft demand expected for 2006, look for prices to average 10 percent lower or more in 2006.”

Feuz said poultry production is another major market factor.

“They (poultry producers) continue to expand production and most of the time, they figure out how to do it at a cheaper price, which makes it difficult for beef and pork,” he said.

Because chicken is selling below the five-year average, a boneless, skinless chicken breast can cost less than ground beef. Feuz said fast food restaurants are promoting their “chicken between the buns” products now because profit margins are greater.





by: W.E. Beal

An ultrasound machine is a powerful tool that allows a veterinarian or rancher to essentially “climb inside the cow” to look at the ovaries and uterus.

During an examination an ultrasound transducer is passed into the rectum of a cow and placed over the reproductive tract. The ultrasound machine displays a black and white image of the ovary or uterus. Ultrasound reveals far more detail than can be gained by traditional rectal palpation. The most practical uses of ultrasound in reproductive management of beef cows are for pregnancy diagnosis and fetal sex determination.

Early Pregnancy Diagnosis

Ultrasound pregnancy diagnosis has been reported to be 100 percent accurate by 20 days after breeding. In “real life” however, it is more practical to wait until day 25 to 30 of pregnancy to detect an embryo. By that time the embryo is a little larger and more easily spotted on the ultrasound screen. The efficiency (speed with accuracy) of detecting early pregnancy with ultrasound is markedly increased when the embryo can be detected more easily. Therefore, when scanning large numbers of cattle, it is more practical to scan cows that are at least 26 days pregnant.

Pregnancy detection with ultrasound offers several advantages over rectal palpation when used 20 to 100 days after breeding. In addition to allowing earlier detection of pregnancy, fetal aging during that period to predict calving date can be more precise if fetal body parts are measured on the ultrasound screen rather than estimated by hand. Reducing the handling of the pregnant tract by using ultrasound rather than palpation should also reduce the risk of inducing embryonic death when searching for early (< 45-day) pregnancies. After 100 days into pregnancy the fetus has usually descended too far into the cow to be reached with the ultrasound transducer via the rectum, therefore, many of the advantages of ultrasound over rectal palpation by hand are lost after that time.

Accurate early pregnancy diagnosis is valuable in an A.I. breeding program because it can be used to verify early breeding and enable movement of pregnant cows out of confinement, thereby decreasing feed costs. For example, in one large purebred herd on the Oklahoma/Kansas border 1,800 cows are gathered off wheat pastures and confined in pens on Oct. 1 to begin the breeding season.

In the breeding pens the cows are fed harvested feed and supplement. Between 25 and 35 days after A.I. breeding each cow is pregnancy checked with ultrasound, and pregnant cows are quickly moved out of the pens and back onto wheat pasture to reduce feed costs. This ranch paid for a new ultrasound machine with the savings on feed cost after one month.

Ultrasonography offers the unique opportunity of determining if an embryo is alive by viewing the heartbeat of the embryo during pregnancy diagnosis. We have studied embryo loss in beef cows on several ranches. We found that from 25 and 65 days after breeding 4 to 8 percent of the cows that were pregnant lost an embryo. Hence, although early pregnancy diagnosis with ultrasound is possible and has advantages, re-checking pregnancy at 90 days or later is advisable. At the ranch described above cows turned out on wheat pasture were still observed once a day to pick up any heats that occurred due to embryo loss, and they were re-checked by palpation before the calving season started.

If a cow is examined with ultrasound and observed to have a dead embryo in her uterus (no heartbeat) at 25 to 65 days after breeding, we have found that treatment with a drug (e.g., Lutalyse, Prostamate or Estrumate) to regress the corpus luteum and expel the dead embryo is followed by a heat two to seven days later.

Surprisingly, breeding at that heat has been more successful (50 percent preg rate) than we expected. Hence, detection of a dead embryo with ultrasound that might be missed by rectal palpation can be followed quickly by a return to pregnancy if the animal is treated and rebred.

Fetal Sex Determination

One of the most talked about uses of ultrasound technology is for determining the sex of a fetus at 60 to 80 days of pregnancy. Most often this information is used to merchandise cows or heifers more effectively. A cow sold with a heifer calf at side and known to be pregnant carrying another heifer would be a great deal for a buyer looking to build a cowherd. Conversely, pregnant commercial heifers carrying bulls would be a way to maximize return on the investment when every heifer has a steer calf at weaning next year. Either way, the buyer who knows more about the product he is purchasing usually feels more secure about his decision to purchase.

Male and female fetuses can be identified beginning 55 days after breeding by looking for the penis and scrotum on the males and the absence of those structures along with a vulva on the females. The accuracy of fetal sexing is high (> 99 percent) when the procedure is optimized by proper timing. Sex determination prior to 60 days is more difficult because the size of the genital structures is small. Therefore, determining the sex becomes easier as the fetus gets older.


Japanese scientists extract liquid motor fuel from cattle dung

Japanese scientists extract liquid motor fuel from cattle dung

Yahoo News
Fri Mar 3, 2:32 PM ET

TOKYO (AP) – Scientists in energy-poor Japan said Friday they have found a new source of motor fuel – cattle dung.

Sakae Shibusawa, an agriculture engineering professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, said his team has extracted 1.4 millilitres of a gasoline-like liquid fuel from every 100 grams of cow dung by applying high pressure and heat.

“The new technology will be a boon for livestock breeders” to reduce the burden of disposing of large amounts of waste, Shibusawa said.

About 500,000 tonnes of cattle dung are produced each year in Japan, he said.

Liquid fuel from cow dung is unheard of, said Tomiaki Tamura, an official of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency. Japan relies almost totally on imports for its oil and gasoline needs.

The team, helped by staff from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology near Tokyo, produced fuel by adding several unspecified metal catalysts to the dung inside a container and applying a 30-atmosphere pressure and heat of up to 300 degrees Celsius, Shibusawa said. Details of the catalysts could not be disclosed, he added.

The team hopes to improve the technology so that it can be used commercially within five years, Shibusawa said.

In a separate experiment revealing another unusual business potential for cow dung, another group of researchers has extracted an aromatic ingredient of vanilla from cattle dung, said Miki Tsuruta, a Sekisui Chemical Co. spokeswoman.

The extracted ingredient, vanillin, can be used as fragrance in shampoo and candles, she said.

Tsuruta said the vanillin was extracted from a dung solution in a pressurized cooker in a project co-organized by a Japanese medical research institute.