There’s an abundance of Choice beef as the U.S. enters the summer grilling season. In fact, USDA reports that for the week ending Feb. 28, 63.24% of steers and heifers slaughtered graded Choice. That’s the highest level since records began back in 1997, reports the CME Group in its Daily Livestock Report.

Just why is likely a combination of at least four factors, the report says.

  • First, packers and feedlot operators indicated this winter’s climate was generally quite favorable to feeding cattle.
  • Related to that factor, carcass weights have moved higher and steer weights are currently up as much as 25 lbs., or 3% over year-ago levels. In fact, a Kansas State University feedlot survey reports steers and heifers on feed have been gaining weight at a much faster pace than a year ago, with steers gaining an average 3.62 lbs./day in January, a 5% improvement from a year ago and 15% improvement from January 2007.
  • Third, more cattle are grading Choice as more packers use mechanical or objective grading systems, rather than just human inspectors. Livestock Marketing Information Center analysts this week noted that over the last few years, due to objective grading systems, some packers have moved away from reporting Yield Grade (YG) data and to focus solely on reporting USDA Quality Grades. Thus, in early 2008 the percentage of packers reporting YG data dropped to about 75%, and, as of February 2009, only half of packers were providing YG data.
  • The last factor is genetics. More Choice-grading cattle breeds have been added to the nation’s herds over time boosting the supply of Choice beef in the marketplace.