Over the past two months, between bull sales and carcass ultrasounding registered cattle, I have had several conversations regarding ribeye area (REA) and marbling estimates in cattle. For those seedstock operations concerned with this year's measurements, or those noticing year to year variation in group averages for carcass traits, I encourage everyone to not only evaluate weather, range conditions and management from birth to 12 months of age, but more importantly, what were the conditions in the fall prior to that calf's birth? Nutrition and management of the cow herd during pregnancy can potentially influence muscle development as well as marbling in the yearling animal, whether it's a yearling bull, replacement heifer or feedlot steer.

Research conducted during the last two to three years has improved our understanding on how muscle and adipose (fat) is developed in beef cattle. One of the leading muscle biologists in this field is Dr. Min Du – a professor in the Animal Science Department at the University of Wyoming. One of the unique aspects of his research is that we can directly apply much of this information to both managing our beef herds, as well as using the research results to help explain some of the year to year variation in carcass characteristics that challenge our industry.

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