The entries are in and being evaluated. When you compare your estimates to the actual feedlot and carcass results presented here, many will say "Who would have thought that?" That's normal. One aim of this Beef Quality Challenge Contest is to demonstrate the difficulty of visually judging the quality of a pen of feedlot steers.

The Official Card While Pen A was a clear winner in most factors, that pen didn't meet current perception of what a pen with economic value should look like. Feedlot and packer results show that Pen A did the best and Pen C the worst in several measured feedlot and carcass parameters.

In the entry forms so far submitted, Pen A was often scored the poorest for death loss, percent Choice and percent Yield Grade (YG) 1 and 2 compared to the other three pens. Pen D was often scored the highest by the participants for many of the traits.

This shows that the visual appearance of a pen is not enough to judge cattle. In fact, preconceived ideas such as "black cattle always grade Choice" or "Bos indicus cattle can't grade Choice" may work against the evaluator.

In The Feedlot The Pen A steers had the best cost of gain (COG) and the lowest death loss. Pen B had the best dressing percentage. Pen C had the highest death loss and lowest dressing percent. Pen D had the second best numbers for death loss, dressing percent, morbidity and COG.

The morbidity and death loss of all pens were higher than the quoted industry average. This is because each pen was purchased from a different auction market and experienced adverse weather during the feeding period. The background of the cattle was unknown, a risky venture when buying these kind of cattle. ADG and COG among these steers are typical of what is found among these types of cattle.

In The Cooler Carcasses are often evaluated by packing industry targets. Today's packer targets are: Carcass weight - 550-950 lbs.; YG 1, 2 and 3; and Quality Grade (QG) Prime, Choice and Select.

Any carcass that doesn't hit this target is termed an "off" or an "outlier." Outliers include dark cutters, blood splash, YG 4 and 5 and QG Standard. Another important number to packers and feeders, especially when buying and selling cattle on the rail (in carcass form), is the number of steers with a USDA QG of Choice and YG 1 or 2.

All four pens had a mixture of steers with widely different frame sizes, muscle score and fatness. And, every steer in each pen was marketed to the packer on the same day, creating wide differences in carcass quality.

In other words, not all cattle produced a 700-lb., YG 2, Choice carcass. The difference in weight from the lightest to heaviest carcass for the four pens was: Pen A - 377 lbs.; Pen B - 434 lbs.; Pen C - 396 lbs.; and Pen D - 421 lbs.

Not only were there significant ranges in carcass weight but the two bar charts show the variety of carcass quality grades and yield grades produced from these pens of steers.

Using the percentage of cattle that hit the packer targets, the percent of carcass outliers and the percent of carcasses within a pen that qualified for both USDA Choice and YG 1 or 2, Pen A came closest to hitting the packer targets and the desired quality endpoint described in the National Beef Qu ality Audit (62% Choice, 38% Select and 0% Standard).

The other three pens fell out of the packer's target. Pen B had relatively few USDA Standards, but the most USDA YG 4s, and some heavy weight and dark cutting carcasses. Pen C had no YG 4s but the most Standards. Pen D had a high percentage of Standards, along with some YG 4s and dark cutter and heavy weight carcasses.

Although these percentage carcass outliers may seem small, they add up to big losses, not only to the owners but the entire beef industry. When determining a live cash price, packers figure that they will purchase a small percentage of outliers they will have to turn around and sell at very reduced prices. Therefore, every feedlot steer and heifer purchased receives a small indirect discount to compensate for this loss. The industry's objective is to eliminate this discount by hitting the quality targets outlined in the 1995 National Beef Quality Audit every single time.