Value Added Calf (VAC) 45 Three of these five pens were preconditioned through a VAC 45 program before they reached the feedyard. That means the cattle were weaned at least 45 days before reaching the feedyard and they underwent an intensive health vaccination program.

Most calves are healthy when they leave the ranch, but stress caused by weaning, transportation, changes in environment, etc., decreases the level of resistance to disease and increases exposure to disease. Vaccination programs raise the level of resistance to viruses and other pathogens before a disease challenge occurs.

It's critical to administer proper vaccines and allow adequate time between shots, boosters and shipping (before the stress occurs). Specific vaccination product information can be found at http://animalscience-extension.tamu.edu/frameset.html.

VAC 45, which was developed through observations in the Ranch to Rail program, is designed for producers with resources to background weaned calves for at least 45 days prior to shipment. This program maximizes the calf's preparedness to enter various marketing and production channels.

There are two vaccination options in this program. One is based upon a pre-weaning vaccination followed by revaccination at weaning, 4-6 weeks later. The other is based upon vaccination at weaning followed by revaccination 14-21 days later.

The type of vaccines used depends upon whether the calves are nursing or weaned at vaccination. In both options, the cattle are backgrounded at least 45 days after weaning.

Uniformity of Cattle in Each Pen In order to manage feedlot cattle more effectively it helps to have uniform groups of cattle within each pen. Uniformity means more than color or breed. Often, it has a great deal to do with weight, frame size, body condition and muscling level.

Information on the genetic ability of cattle to grow efficiently and to produce valuable carcasses would be important information if available. However, this information is often not available.

Therefore, as an alternative, feeders attempt to group cattle in pens according to projected outcome based on initial live weight and visual appraisal of frame size and muscling. As you look at the pens, try to determine if the pens look uniform to you.

Frame size, or skeletal size, can be determined by evaluating an animal's height and length in relation to its age. This indicates the ability of the animal to grow and the expected size of the animal once it has reached maturity.

Feeder cattle are classified as Small, Medium or Large in frame size. It's the feedyard manager's job to finish cattle to their appropriate endpoint. Small-framed cattle will be ready for the packing plant earlier than large-framed cattle.

Feedyard pens with cattle of varying frame sizes will be ready for market at different times. Therefore, if they are harvested on the same day, the pen will produce carcasses with a wide array of carcass weights, yield grades and quality grades. This will result in many discounted carcasses. In addition, feedyard performance may be compromised if marketed too early or too late.

Feeder Steer Size Finished Weight Small Below 1,000 lbs. Medium 1,000 to 1,200 lbs. Large Over 1,200 lbs.

Thickness of muscling refers to muscle development in relation to skeletal size. Muscle thickness classifications are No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3; with No. 1 exhibiting the greatest thickness.

Cattle with a thickness score of No. 1 will have a higher muscle-to-bone ratio, and thus a more desirable (lower number) yield grade. Areas where differences in thickness of muscling are apparent include the thickness of the round and chuck and width of the rib and loin down the back or midline.

Body condition refers to the amount of finish, or the fat covering, on an animal. Thrifty (healthy) but thin cattle will often grow more rapidly in a feedyard due to compensatory gain.

Cattle with compensatory gain often have had restricted nutrition for part of their life, and when they are later fed a finishing ration in the feedyard they compensate for the earlier dietary restriction by gaining weight rapidly. It's been suggested that, at a constant weight, thin cattle will gain faster and more efficiently than cattle already on a high plane of nutrition.

An animal with a more "fleshy" body condition (fatter) will characteristically show more fat over the rib and loin, underneath in the flank and brisket regions, as well as in the crotch and around the tailhead.

How will they do on this carcass grid? Each pen will be sold on a carcass grid basis. Selling cattle in this manner rather than on a live cash basis better reflects their true quality. The grid used for this contest was established using information from feeders in the Texas Panhandle.

When the grid was established, the live cash price for a finished steer or heifer was $66/cwt. live weight. In the December issue of BEEF we will tell you which cattle are more suited to selling on a live cash basis or a carcass grid basis.

To arrive at the income from the sale of the carcass to the packer, multiply the carcass-grid price/cwt. by the hundreds of pound of carcass weight (i.e., for 750-lb. carcass multiply by 7.5). This grid appears to favor either cattle with a high USDA Quality Grade (Prime and Top Choice) and/or cattle producing USDA Yield Grade 1 or 2 carcasses.

On this grid discounted carcasses, particularly dark cutters, will have considerably lower value. From this information, we will determine the average carcass value/cwt. When these cattle were sent to the packer the spread between USDA Choice and USDA Select was narrow which will make USDA Yield Grade more important than when the spread between Choice and Select is wide.