Updated frame size and muscle thickness grades more accurately reflect feeder cattle value.

It's now harder to make good grades in the cattle industry. Frame size grades, an important tool used to predict the weight at which an animal will grade USDA Choice, have been updated to reflect changes in the composition and production of beef cattle. The former grade standards had been in use since 1979.

The new U.S. Standards for Feeder Cattle Grades were implemented October 1.

Feeder cattle grades are based on differences in both frame size and muscle thickness. Therefore, USDA has also adjusted the minimum requirements for the muscle thickness grades. And, it's increasing the number of grades from three to four to accommodate thicker-muscled cattle and reflect current marketing practices. The updated frame size and muscle thickness grades, devised by USDA and Colorado State University (CSU) researchers, will more accurately reflect the value of today's feeder cattle.

Within the 1979 standards, grades for frame size include small, medium and large. Steers in the medium category were expected to weigh 1,000-1,200 lbs. at Choice grade. However, USDA/CSU research indicates steers were actually 1,100 to 1,250 lbs. when they reached Choice.

Similar changes apply to each category for both steers and heifers.

"The old standards of frame measurement weights have been raised from 50 to 100 lbs. in steers," says Cara Gerken, Cashion, OK, USDA livestock and meat marketing specialist. "Heifers will see the larger increase of 150 lbs. in all frame areas."

Gerken says producers will now experience tougher measurements on muscle thickness grading as well.

The old standards included muscle thickness grades of "one," "two" and "three." The new standards will incorporate a fourth category. "This change should allow for more specific description of cattle, particularly with heavy and moderate muscling," she says.