Your Reading List

Using Carcass Data



Lot # 367 Sex



Kill Date


Grade Date


YG 1

Yield 59.8

When a producer receives back their carcass grades, either through retained ownership to the rail, or through programs such as the Beef Information Exchange System (BIXS) once it is fully operational, many of us are going to face the challenge of what to do with carcass data.

The answer, like most things in the real world, is “it depends” and it is extremely context-dependent. A lot of things go in to the making of a carcass. Let’s tackle the problem from the perspective of a cow-calf producer who sells calves at or after weaning, but does not feed their calves to finish. First it is important to recognize that fertility of the cowherd (live calves per inventoried female) and growth are going to have much greater impact on profitability than carcass traits will. That said there are some opportunities to extract value from the marketplace if your cattle fit well into specific programs.


Adding value to your carcass data actually starts at the ranch. If it is possible to identify sires and dams of calves individual carcass data can be a much more powerful tool for selection and improvement. Exact birthdates on calves can also provide some useful information. If individual sire and dam information is not readily attainable, then certainly breed makeup and service sires used are important things to have access to. These provide the “baseline” from which to work.


When a calf leaves your farm-gate, it may be subject to a variety of different production and marketing conditions. If you sell calves direct then you can have a good idea of what happens post-sale. If they are sold as lots through auction you may also get a feel for where they are going. Cattle that are sold through a pre-sort may get separated and sorted several different ways. Broadly speaking it is not a good idea to compare results across different feeders or finishing regimes.


Most reports should come back with a CCIA tag number, sex, kill date, grading date, lot #, hot carcass weight, quality grade and yield grade. They may also include an estimated yield and a live weight. For progeny test or research work, we collect much more detailed information such as rib-eye size and marbling score within quality grades, but for the most part this is not practical or measured in a production plant.


This is where market goals, context and home records become important. First it is important to look at the overall herd performance, and it is important to look at this using the lot and kill date information. Different feeding regimes, days on feed, implant protocols and health programs can change the way cattle perform on average. If your calves were split into different feedlots, different pens or different implant protocols after you sold them the results may vary quite a bit. This means that a single carcass record is likely not adequate information to cull a cow. Perhaps the best way to explain this is to use a few examples:

One example could be a calf that is a Y3 (low yield) but heavily marbled. Is this calf a reason to cull, or simply a calf that could have been sold a month sooner? Perhaps these are exactly the genetics you need, but they require different management. If the majority of your calf crop grades this way, perhaps there is a marketing opportunity if you can put load lots together.

Perhaps your calf crop grade nearly all “A.” This could be a genetic predisposition in your herd. Do you need to cull cows, or target a different market? Perhaps there were market conditions that were “pulling cattle forward” thus reducing the days on feed on your calves and the quality grade. This is where that information collected at home becomes important to put things into some context.

Another example would be a high percentage of dark cutters in your kill data. Was there a storm the week before the cattle were shipped? Or can some selection for disposition in your cow herd reduce this incidence?

If a single animal does not “make the grade,” do you know if they came out of the sick pen? Or had shipping fever?


General trends in your data and knowledge of your cattle can help to identify if you are marketing your calves to their best advantage. If you notice trends in the context of days on feed, or your cattle are “making the grade” at relatively young ages, there may be a marketing proposition. If you can get some idea of how they feed out, there may even be the consideration of retained ownership at some point. It is pretty useful to check market trends and prices for the weeks your cattle were harvested as it can provide some context as to why cattle were/or were not sold at a specific time.

If your cow herd is genetically structured so that it fits a specific marketplace such as lean meat (A Y1), or mainstream (AAA/AA, Y1/Y2) and you don’t want to change the mix of your cows, then pursue those markets that fit your cow herd.

With two or three years worth of data, particularly with individual sire and dam identification back at the ranch, strategic culling decisions are possible. If you are a cow-calf producer marketing calves off the cow, consider cows that make the grade for all the other traits of importance such as fertility, growth and mature size and then start trimming on carcass numbers. If you own the cattle longer, then you can put more emphasis on the carcass numbers.

Strong trends that are opposed to the market you are pursuing (even in year one) may be cause for action such as changing sire batteries, or individual sires (if you have this information).

Sean McGrath is a rancher and consultant from

Vermilion, AB. He can be reached at [email protected]or (780)853-9673. For additional

information visit

About the author


Sean McGrath is a rancher and consultant from Vermilion, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected] or (780) 853- 9673. For additional information visit



Stories from our other publications