National Beef Quality Audit results assess the quality of fed steers and heifers

The 2011 National Beef Quality Audit is the first to assess instrumental grading data in addition to traditional carcass assessments.

The 2011 National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) was able to assess 9,802 carcasses from 28 beef packing plants in the cooler. Results from the cooler assessment indicated 88.3 percent of cattle were native, 9.9 percent dairy type, and 1.8 percent Bos indicus. Resulting averages for the cooler assessment were hot carcass weight of 824.6 pounds, adjusted fat thickness of 0.51 inches, ribeye area of 13.8 square inches, kidney/pelvic/heart fat of 2.3 percent, and USDA yield grade (YG) 2.6. Overall, carcasses were 63.7 percent steers and 36.2 percent heifers. Heifers were found to have slightly different averages vs. steers with more fat thickness (0.56 vs. 0.48 inches), smaller ribeye area (13.6 vs. 13.8 square inches), lighter carcasses (776.3 vs. 852.7 pounds), and lower YG (2.9 vs. 3.0), respectively. Quality grade distribution was slightly different for heifers vs. steers as well with USDA Prime (2.4 percent vs. 2.0 percent), Choice (59.8 percent vs. 58.6 percent), Select (30.2 percent vs. 34.0 percent) and no roll (7.7 percent vs. 5.4 percent). Fat thickness, carcass weight, and USDA YG increased as USDA Quality grades increased while ribeye area decreased. The overall percentage of carcasses grading USDA Prime or Choice was 61 percent, and that was higher than results from previous audits. Carcass weight was also at an all-time high of 824.6 pounds.

The 2011 NBQA was the first to look at instrumental grading data and utilized data from 2,427,074 carcasses from 17 beef packing plants owned by four major companies over a year’s time. Data was taken every other month over the period of November 2010 to November 2011. Over 95 percent of carcasses had a ribeye area that was between 10.0 and 16.99 square inches and a nice bell-shaped curve resulting and peaking at 21.9 percent between 13.0 and 13.99 square inches. Peak months for carcasses grading Choice were January and March and the least amount of carcasses graded Choice in November 2010 and 2011. The greatest percentage of heifers (44 percent) were marketed in March and the least (38 percent) were marketed in November 2010. This data was the first look at seasonality in NBQA results.

When comparing USDA Quality Grades from the cooler assessment (grader) and the instrumental assessment, results were 2.1 vs. 2.7 percent Prime, 58.9 vs. 61.5 percent Choice, 32.6 vs. 31.5 percent Select, and 6.3 vs. 4.3 percent other, respectively. For YG, cooler assessment vs. instrumental averages, percentages were YG 1 (25 vs. 15.7), YG 2 (46.5 vs. 41), YG 3 (23 vs. 33.8), YG 4 (4.6 vs. 8.5) and YG 5 were both 0.9.

The NBQA is funded with Beef Checkoff dollars to assess consumer attitudes about beef. It is used as a benchmarking tool for quality improvement strategy. Michigan State University Extension programs shared results from the 2011 NBQA with beef producers during recent meetings.

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