We recently received carcass information on last year's calves. This information is extremely valuable to our breeding program, and we take the time to interpret it correctly.

As the old saying goes, “You don't know where you're going unless you know where you've been.” I feel strongly that this applies to our breeding program. Unless we know what type of beef we supplied in the past, we can't know how to improve our product.

I want to know if we have high yields and variable quality or good quality but average ribeye areas. In my opinion, this is important information for every producer who wants to produce high-quality beef.

Granted, it takes time to change your breeding program, and many factors affect the final outcome of a carcass. Some of them are out of your control. Nonetheless, it's still important to get as much feedback as possible.

It's amazing how far our industry has come with this type of information. When I was in college, the reports we received were difficult to follow and interpret.

Today, the information is concise and useful. You can see everything from yield to ribeye area. This year's information was specific enough that we were able to trace the animals back to our load sheets, which tell us exactly which pasture the calves were from.

My father, brother and I take the time to review and discuss the information we receive. If we don't understand portions of the data, we work with professionals who can explain them to us. Dad, Wes and I then talk about our options.

We make our management decisions as a group, using the data, experience and common sense to make the final call. Each of us, however, understands the decisions won't affect the operation immediately and that only time will tell if our instincts and research prove correct.

This year's data helped us determine that a particular group of sires we were using weren't performing to our standards. We compared the new carcass data with past data from this particular heard and found a trend we weren't pleased with.

We're carefully weighing our options and deciding our direction. We don't want to make a poor decision that will cost us time, money and product quality.

These decisions are neither easy nor taken lightly. Like all ranchers, we have money invested in our breeding stock, and changing our breeding program is a costly, long-term commitment. We won't make these decisions overnight.

Carcass data can be a very useful tool. It's a great way to analyze our performance as an operation and as an industry.

Mary Anne Cruse, brother Wes, their parents and grandmother operate Ru-Mar Inc., a large commercial cow/calf operation in South Florida. Her e-mail address is mccruse@msn.com.

Rumor Uproots Market

A 24-hour rumor of foot-and mouth disease (FMD) in Kansas took an estimated $50-million bite out of the industry. The March 13 news of a routine quarantine on a handful of cattle with mouth sores at a Kansas sale barn sent futures markets tumbling. Though negative test results were released the following morning, the live cattle contract fell $3.27 over a three-day period in what is a seasonally high cattle market.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, has requested that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft investigate the resulting two-week market downturn for illegal activity. USDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission already are looking into the case, investigating allegations of price manipulation and market-distorting practices, and possible violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act and the Commodity Exchange Act.