A story worth telling

A few weeks ago I wrote about my thoughts about slaughter weights for barrows and gilts in coming years. Most readers will recall my conclusion that weights will continue to increase for a variety of reasons.

Today I saw an article by Dr Larry Corah, emeritus beef cattle extension specialist at Kansas State University. In the article Dr Corah talked about beef industry trends the past 30-40 years. He showed USDA steer and heifer slaughter data from 1980 to last year that showed the steady and dramatic increases in slaughter weights in the beef industry.

Out of curiosity, I dug into the USDA data sets and compared them to what I’ve reported for barrow and gilt data. For barrows and gilts, the relationship between years and carcass weight increases is (R2) is 0.985 going back to 1977. This means 98% of the variation in carcass weight can be explained by knowing the year of slaughter.

For steers and heifers going back to 1970, the R2 values are also greater than 0.95. In 1970 the average carcass weight of steers and heifers was 683 and 573 pounds, respectively. These increased to 872 and 800 pounds, respectively in 2014.

As a man in my mid 20’s in 1975, I could carry a quarter of beef on my shoulder at a local locker plant when the side was split. I doubt if many young men can do the same today since the side from a steer carcass went from 340 pounds then to 436 pounds today. That’s 50 more pounds in a quarter!

Half of a hog carcass was 81 pounds in 1977 and 105 pounds in 2015. In both species, the growth in carcass weights came at a time when fat was reduced and lean meat percentages increased dramatically. Edible lean per pound of carcass in both species has increased resulting in much greater efficiencies of red meat production into the food chain.

These dramatic and predictable increases in carcass weights and improvements in efficiencies are a reflection of our ability to better provide for our animals in the housing systems we’ve constructed (i.e. less environmental stress), our ability to make faster genetic progress, our ability to better manage chronic diseases and our improved understanding of the nutritional needs of our animals at all stages of production. This is a story we should be proud to tell the world’s consumers!

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