This month, we wrap up the fifth annual Beef Quality Challenge. This year's winners are pictured below, but a special thanks to all the folks across the U.S. who participated in this year's edition of the Beef Quality Challenge.

Interestingly, all our winners this year were decided on a tiebreaker basis as a total of 10 entrants correctly matched each of the 10 steers to the marketing grid best suited to their individual attributes. Another interesting note is that all four winners of this year's contest hail from Texas. And two of our winners — Kyle Jones and Diana Jones — are mother and son.

Congratulations to our category winners, but every participant should have gained from this contest experience. The real payoff of this exercise is the better understanding gained by all participants about how our industry works from gate to plate.

This contest tested your ability to match 10 individual steers to their optimal marketing grid. Here are four major lessons:

  • When you begin to compare grids, it's important to know the current live price the packer is offering for cattle and the carcass specifications the packer requires for you to receive the base carcass price. This live cash price often reflects the average value of cattle that the packer is willing to pay for all cattle they purchase. Producers may not realize that when they take the live cash cattle price they are getting an average price for all cattle harvested.

  • The most common discount assessed on grids is for carcasses with a USDA Select Quality Grade. The most common premiums paid are for Yield Grade (YG) 2 carcasses. Determine how many cattle will fit those categories.

  • “Out” type of cattle greatly reduce the income you receive for a set of cattle in a grid marketing environment. The term outs is used for carcasses that receive the greatest discounts. The most common out carcass categories include No Roll, dark cutters, hardbone (advanced carcass maturity), YG 4, and heavy and light carcasses. Buying uniform frame size, condition and weight cattle will allow you to manage them more optimally and eliminate many of the outs.

  • Once you thoroughly understand how each grid works on different groups of cattle, match the cattle to their best marketing option. Accurately predicting the types of carcasses a pen of cattle will produce allows you to match the cattle with their optimal marketing option. Matching cattle to the right marketing option is easier if the manager has some previous history on the cattle from a particular ranch.

The take home message from the contest, then, is that you should follow your cattle through the feedyard and into the cooler, on at least a test group of cattle, to obtain as much information as possible about what you are producing. This information will give you greater power when selecting the best marketing option.

A special thanks to BEEF magazine and my Texas A&M University (TAMU) colleagues Pat Mies, David Lunt, Davey Griffin, Larry Boleman and the staff at the TAMU Research Center at McGregor for their help with this project. In addition, I also owe thanks to Mike De La Zerda and Doug Perkins of the Texas Beef Council for their contributions. And, lastly, thanks to the fine folks at Zinpro Corp. for their support of the 2002 Beef Quality Challenge.

Winners

Age 13 & Under

$500 savings bond and trophy
Kyle Jones
Cedar Creek, TX

Age 14-18

$500 savings bond and trophy
Randy Schmeltekopf
East Kyle, TX

Age 19 & Over

$1,500 in cash
Diana L. Jones
Cedar Creek, TX

Feedyard Team

$5,000 in Zinpro® nutrition products
Bret Hull, Hull Cattle
Jacksboro, TX