Genetics were selected years ago; calving and weaning are complete, so the next place that really matters in the beef production chain is the feedlot. Right?

Not necessarily. A sandwich relies on what's between the bread slices, and a great book must be compelling from cover to cover. Likewise, the cattle industry often counts on the stocker phase to ensure cattle quality while moving them from ranch to feedlot.

"A growing body of research shows that the stocker segment is a critical link that can influence performance and carcass characteristics later on," says Larry Corah, vice president for supply development at Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB). "Health continues to be an important variable to control, but two recent studies dial down into some specific nutritional management that could make a difference."

Kansas State University (KSU) work found that supplementing calves on smooth bromegrass pastures with a grain-sorghum ration increased subsequent marbling scores without having a negative effect on feedlot performance.

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