Of course, topping the market is top of mind with producers as the fall calf marketing run draws closer. To that end, University of Illinois animal scientist Dan Faulkner says management is the top factor in ensuring that calves will grade well at harvest – and a lot of that management starts at the ranch.

To illustrate just how paramount management is, Faulkner says data he’s studied indicates management – be it health, vaccination and nutrition protocols – influences cattle quality grade six times more than genetics.

As one management tactic to help enhance quality grades and ultimately price premiums, Faulkner, who is one of the leading researchers on early weaning and quality grades, says early weaning can help initiate marbling in young calves so long as they are put on a high starch diet (i.e. grains) at a young age. He suggests 16% protein and also suggests the feed should contain an ionophore.

Faulkner says, “If you are going after a quality market, a high grain diet at a young age is the key concept.” He suggests early weaning between 80-150 days.

A Year For Creep Feed
Additionally, many in the industry are suggesting creep feeding as a viable option this year – despite high feed prices.

Faulkner explains why. He says, “Feedlots are wanting more weight on the calves.” He explains that in the days of cheap feed lighter calves brought more money. But, with today’s higher feed prices, feeders are wanting to buy more weight on calves rather than having to pay for feed.

Some research also suggests that creep fed calves wean easier, because they already know how to eat from a bunk. Also, they tend to stay healthier, which translates into more performance in the feedyard.

Likewise, creep feeding may help reduce pressure on pasture forages, and may enhance breed back rates of cows because calves are supplemented and not nursing as much.

All total, Faulkner concludes that the extra nutritional boost to calves at an early age can put them on the path to produce a high quality grade.

Capturing the Value
If you are able to manage your herd to produce high quality calves, Certified Angus Beef (CAB) officials believe there is a huge market potential ahead.

CAB’s Larry Corah says the company is always seeking more cattle to qualify. He reports that by the end of 2008 CAB will likely handle 615-625 million lbs. “That’s a lot of product,” says Corah.

But he adds that by 2020 CAB could be a 1 billion lb. company. The caveat being – “If we can get product,” says Corah.

CAB is seeing domestic and international demand. And, they are banking on the European and Pacific Rim markets eventually opening, which Corah says would mean “lots of possibility.”

However, he tempers that by saying, “The hard part – our biggest challenge – is where do we find 1.3 million cattle?”How can producers help tap the CAB premium market in the future? Corah offers these tips:

  1. 1. Use Angus genetics. Corah says, “As the Angus percentage goes up in your cattle, the chance for CAB acceptance increases.”
  2. Pay attention to herd health. This helps ensure quality cattle.
  3. Production systems have an effect on quality of cattle. Corah says production systems with a low level of nutrition will have problems.
  4. Improperly used implants can have negative impacts on carcass quality. Corah stresses being careful with the timing, dosage and number of implants.
  5. He adds that the recently introduced beta-agonist products like Zilmax also decrease quality and tenderness. It is designed to increase weights at the feedlot, but it shouldn’t be used if you are aiming for a high quality grade market.

The Certified Angus Beef program has developed a “Best Practices Manual” to help cow-calf producers identify how to produce high quality cattle for the CAB brand. To request the manual contact Marilyn Conley at 800-225-2333 or mconley@certifiedangusbeef.com.