“I will tell you this: 13 years in the cattle feeding business will change your mind about genetics, and it will change your perspective about what this country is doing with its genetics. Yes, we have made a lot of progress; but we also have a very, very long way to go.”

That was Tom Brink’s opening statement during the recent Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) meeting in Oklahoma City. Given that BIF is an organization dedicated to improving cattle genetics, the room got a little quieter as folks sat up and paid attention.

Brink, with Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, says their 12 feedyards buy 30,000-40,000 feeders/week and annually market 1.6 to 1.7 million fed cattle, most on a quality-based grid. That, he says, pencils out to about 8% of the industry, “Which is a decent slice and we feel like we see what’s going on in the industry with genetics because of that.” And what they see is not necessarily very encouraging, he says. To illustrate that point, he showed a picture of an “average” pen of cattle. “There are probably some good ones in there, and there are some poor ones in there. On the average, our guys would look at those and say ‘they’re just cattle.’”

Brink says he hears that phrase – they’re just cattle – all the time. “There are too many of those out in the industry, and it’s not just a function of smaller herds.” Showing pictures of individual crossbred steers all from the same herd, he says the top two paid $80-$90 above pen average, while the bottom two were about $200 below the pen average in value.

Is that fixable? Yes, he says, showing a picture of a pen of Angus steers that paid $219/head above the plant average when they were harvested.