Cattlemen's Carcass Data Service (CCDS) at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU), Canyon, TX, helps provide carcass data collection for cattle producers. After being operated by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) since 1992, the service was moved to WTAMU two years ago.

Ted Montgomery, animal science professor and director of WTAMU's Beef Carcass Research Center, says CCDS is experiencing continual increases and analyzes between 35,000 and 40,000 head per year.

Though separate, CCDS maintains an ongoing relationship with NCBA. Montgomery says the operation is sanctioned by NCBA and the information generated is used as a tool for several NCBA programs.

"CCDS is completely self-supporting," Montgomery says. "Through user fees and some university support, we're able to pay all the bills, workers compensation, student salaries and related expenses."

Type Of Data Data collected by CCDS includes:

* eartag number

* ribeye area

* fat thickness

* marbling score

* final quality grade

* hot carcass weight

* estimated percent kidney, pelvic and heart fat

* calculated yield grade

* maturity

Producers using CCDS must retain ownership of cattle to slaughter or make the collection of carcass data a condition of the sale. Cattle must have a legible eartag at slaughter to facilitate sequencing through the slaughter plant. Information is sent to the producer within 10-14 days.

Value Of Data The cost to obtain data through CCDS is $300 for a slaughter group from one to 50 head or $6/head for groups larger than 50 head. Montgomery says if a producer doesn't have a lot of cattle, he can partner with others to keep data collection costs as low as possible.

"The value of this data to producers is knowing more about the genetic makeup of their animals and carcass traits, which are quite high in heritability," he says. "It also helps the commercial producer learn if his management techniques are working and if he's building a better carcass. The primary benefit is having a better handle on information and this data gives you some idea of where you need to improve. We compare producers' individual data with an average of all the cattle going through our program. Once the producer has reviewed it, he'll have some idea where to concentrate on improvement.

"Even if the results may not specifically add value to cattle, the information can help a producer make more intelligent marketing decisions," Montgomery adds.

Montgomery says CCDS is like a laboratory that does blood work. Once the results are in, the producer has to make the decision about which course to follow. He adds that CCDS has even collected meat samples and tested for tenderness. It's rather costly, but if producers are willing to pay for it, the staff will go this extra mile.

National Effort Use of CCDS isn't limited to producers in the Texas Panhandle. CCDS has 14 employees across the country that coordinate orders and collections at various sites. Montgomery says half are university or Extension personnel. The work at WTAMU is conducted primarily by graduate students. Ty Lawrence, a graduate student from Dalhart, TX, assists in managing the on-campus office.

Customers are varied, Montgomery says, but generally fall into six groups:

* Seedstock producers who want to find out how bulls perform.

* Researchers testing products.

* Producers interested in value-based marketing.

* Producers who have entered cattle in a performance contest.

* Pharmaceutical companies testing products or treatments.

* Commercial cattle producers.

"Adding value to its clients' cattle through the use of information is one of the goals of CCDS," Montgomery says. "We simply want to make accurate carcass data available to producers."

CCDS can be reached at 800/298-2687 or fax 806/651-2278.