Focusing on Essential Carcass Data

Producers Joe Davis and John Grande provide insight into the value of collecting carcass data. 

editor’s note: This online content is extended from “Focusing on Essential Carcass Data”, printed in the 2018 Late Fall SimTalk. 

Joe Davis owns and operates J Davis Cattle in Westminster, South Carolina. Davis has focused on carcass data collection for many years, and currently partners with other seedstock producers to provide them with carcass data and validate their bulls’ carcass numbers.

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Joe Davis is vigilant about collecting data on all of his animals.

What value does carcass data bring to your herd?

Davis: The purpose of the cattle business is to put meat on the table. The closest I can get to measuring how well I meet those expectations is carcass data. That is really what my herd genetics are, that’s what they can produce.

How long have you been collecting carcass data? How long have you been submitting it to ASA?

Davis: We have been collecting and submitting carcass data for 16 years on almost every steer we have produced.

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Joe Davis, working cattle with his grandson.

How do you use this data to improve your program?

Davis: We use EPDs, especially the indexes, in selecting females and bulls. Carcass data is very important in validating and improving the accuracy of those EPDs.

Why do you go through the extra effort to get this data?

Davis: Carcass data is the bottom line of the cattle business. That’s the purpose of what we do. Carcass data is the product we are trying to produce. So why wouldn’t you want to know? If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

How did you get started collecting carcass data?

Davis: I began to see how decisions were made on the value of cattle, and somewhere in the first years I was doing this, I came to the conclusion that I wanted something concrete where I could be certain what the real value of that animal was. With steers, the only way to know for certain is by carcass data.

What advice do you have for someone who has never retained ownership or collected carcass records before but would like to start?

Davis: A consultant helped us get started. You have to know your genetics, you have to know that by their EPDs they have the potential of producing a productive calf, and you have to know your health protocol, and a solid health program that ensures you have built up the immunity of the calves so they don’t get sick in the feedlot. You have to ask, ‘How do I manage risk?’ You’re going to own these animals until they’re hanging on the rail. Risk management is first. You have to find a feedlot operator you trust and let them do what they do best.

To read more about Davis’s operation read this story from 2016.

John Grande runs a commercial operation near Martinsdale, Montana. Grande has also submitted carcass data for many years and participates in ASA’s Commercial Total Herd Enrollment (THE) option.

What value does carcass data bring to your herd?

Grande: We are in the business of converting grass to beef, and we sell the vast majority of our calves directly to the packer. We cannot continue to improve the quality of our cattle if we do not have objective measures on which to base breeding decisions.

How long have you been collecting carcass data? How long have you been submitting it to ASA?

Grande: We have been collecting feedlot and carcass data for 30 years and have been submitting data to ASA for 15 years. 

 

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Freeze branding at the Grande operation.

How do you use this data to improve your program?

Grande: The important step is incorporating our raw data into genomic-enhanced EPDs and incorporating those EPDs into our genetic selection. Over the last several years we have made a conscious effort to NOT use the raw data.  It can be very misleading and using the EPDs that the data goes into is much more productive.  

Why do you go through the extra effort to get this data?

Grande: We are responsible for our own herd’s genetic improvement and someone has to collect the data to move forward with the genetic evaluation in general, and specifically with improving the accuracy on the sires and dams we use. We are the only ones in the position to do the latter. 

How did you get started collecting carcass data?

Grande: We have collected carcass data in most ways you can think of. We collected data through Certified Angus Beef. We have collected data through several value-based marketing alliances including one that I helped found and operate.  I have personally negotiated grids and carcass collection with packers.  Most recently, most of our data comes through relationships between our feeder and our packer customer.

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Gathering cattle on the Grande ranch.

 

What advice do you have for someone who has never retained ownership or collected carcass records before but would like to start?

Grande: Those are two very different questions, but related. If you want to collect carcass data I strongly encourage you to make the commitment to own the cattle.  Sometimes others will promise to buy the cattle and get your data back, and sometimes they will, but the best way to ensure collection is to control the cattle yourself.  Looking then at the two separate questions, the decision to retain ownership of cattle must be based on many things including your own risk tolerance, market conditions, cash flow budgeting and the time you have to spend on it.  It works well for us but is not for everyone.  If the question is whether to collect data on cattle that are already finished, I would encourage people to ask themselves if they have a plan and a commitment to using the data to make genetic and financial progress or are just collecting data out of curiosity.

To read more about Grande’s operation, read this 2005 SimTalk article.

 

Whether you are a seedstock breeder progeny testing or a commercial beef producer, the ASA has multiple programs to help operations fully leverage the carcass data they collect.  If you are looking for a way to better evaluate your carcass records, contact the ASA for more information 406-587-4531 or carcdata@simmgene.com.