Swapping beef quality and yield grade terminology to market cattle may hurt profits

Brownwood Bulletin
Scott Anderson

Why is it that a beef steak at a food-chain restaurant tastes different than one at a high-end restaurant? It could be because of the quality grade purchased by the owner.

In the marketplace, there is greater value for higher-quality grades of beef. Too often, consumers don’t understand the difference, but they are not alone.

The terminology of quality grade and yield grade are often used interchangeably to describe cattle, but in fact they differentiate the two carcass traits.

Beef producers, and those thinking of entering value-added beef enterprises, need to recognize the difference and how each is utilized in the cattle industry. Knowledge of how quality and yield grades are applied may increase profitability.

Know your quality grade

When it comes to quality grade, it is all about the eating experience of beef. According to USDA, quality grades are based on two main criteria: the degree of marbling or intramuscular fat in the beef, and the maturity or estimated age of the animal at slaughter.

There are eight total quality grades: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner. They have been used by the beef industry since 1927.

The first three quality grades — Prime, Choice and Select — are the most commonly recognized by consumers and are considered food-grade labels by USDA.

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service offers the following definitions of all eight grades for both beef producers and consumers.

Prime. Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels.

Choice. Choice beef is high quality, but it has less marbling than Prime.

Select. Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than higher grades. It is fairly tender, but because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades.

Standard and Commercial. These grades of beef are frequently sold as ungraded or as store-brand meat.

Utility, Cutter and Canner. These grades of beef are seldom, if ever, sold at retail. Instead, they are used to make ground beef and processed products such as canned soup or frozen meals.

Determine beef yield grade

Through yield grades, individual animal value is determined, and thus profitability is impacted. Producers can utilize these USDA yield grades to market their cattle.

Yield grade is an estimate of the percent retail yield of the four primal cuts of beef, including the chuck, rib, loin and round. Morris shares how the following traits are used to determine yield grade:

Backfat thickness (BF). When determining carcass yield, back fat carries the most influence. A USDA grader will determine the total thickness of fat based on the total fat of the carcass.

Rib-eye area (REA). The rib-eye area consists of muscle situated between the 12th and 13th ribs. This area is noted in square inches and typically measures between 11 and 15 square inches.

Kidney, pelvic and heart fat (KPH). The estimated percentage of kidney, pelvic and heart fat is the internal fat around these organs. Typically, most carcasses host anywhere from 1.5% to 4%.

Hot carcass weight (HCW). The hot carcass weight consists of an uncooled carcass minus the hide, head and all internal organs. In most fed cattle, this dressing percentage will be about 63% of the live cattle weight.

University of Tennessee graphic on yield grades

After assessment, the yield grade is determined and given a USDA yield grade from 1 to 5. A yield grade of 1 offers the largest amount of beef, whereas a yield grade of 5 offers the least.

Producers who understand yield and quality grades are better equipped to make decisions about genetics, nutrition, health and production practices, as well as product marketing.

Stay safe from salmonella in backyard poultry

When collecting eggs from the backyard chicken coop, make sure they don’t come with a side of salmonella.

So far this year, 672 people across 47 states have contracted salmonella infections from backyard poultry flocks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But sanitation precautions can mitigate disease risk for owners and chickens, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Poultry Specialist Dr. Craig Coufal.

Some outbreaks are worse than others, but hundreds of infections happen every year. Many people, especially new producers who are unfamiliar with poultry, don’t take simple steps to prevent exposure. The numbers can fluctuate, but every infection is preventable as long as people are mindful when they handle the birds or fresh eggs and meat.

In 2020, CDC investigated 17 multistate outbreaks of salmonella illnesses. Of the 1,722 cases with one of the outbreak strains, 333 people were hospitalized and one death was reported. Almost one-quarter of those infected were children younger than 5 years of age. Epidemiologic and lab evidence showed contact with backyard poultry was likely the source of these outbreaks.

As many as 30 salmonella serotypes have been identified as being carried by poultry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Poultry carrying salmonella bacteria usually appear clean and healthy but can intermittently shed many different salmonella serotypes that cause illness in people.

Humans can get salmonella from touching poultry or anything in their environment and then passing those germs into food or mouths. So, it is important to wash hands immediately after visiting the coop. He advised using soap and water as warm as is tolerable. Young children will likely need supervision, and hand sanitizer should be substituted when water is not available.

Other safety precautions include keeping a specific pair of shoes to be worn in the coop only and removing those shoes after exiting and before going anywhere else. Removing clothing worn inside the coop or while handling birds before entering the home is another good idea to reduce the chance of exposure.

Children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65 years and people with weakened immune systems should not handle, touch or hold live poultry due to their increased risks. No adult or child should ever kiss a baby chick, duckling or chicken.

The number of children under age 5 being infected always jumps out at me. But the data makes sense because parents think it is cute for the kids to hold or pet the birds, but then the child puts their fingers in their mouth and are potentially infected. It’s playing with fire.

Eggs collected from backyard poultry should be washed thoroughly under warm running water. They should be dried carefully using cloth or paper towels without touching hands or kitchen surfaces before storing in the refrigerator. Sanitizing wipes are another option to clean up eggs before storing.

It’s also important to prevent transmission between neighboring flocks. Poultry farmers or neighboring backyard enthusiasts should not share equipment or materials, according to Coufal. However, if borrowing a tool, it should be cleaned and sanitized with bleach before and after use. Changing shoes and clothes after visiting another poultry flock is also recommended.

Where birds are purchased from may also make a difference. Reputable sources like those certified by the National Poultry Improvement Plan sell birds from flocks tested for several diseases.

When you buy birds at a flea market or in the want ads, you really don’t know where they are coming from. There are no assurances of testing for diseases or the health status of the bird.

People infected with salmonella begin displaying symptoms six hours to six days after ingesting the bacteria. Symptoms include diarrhea, and fever and stomach cramps generally last four to seven days.

Most people recover without treatment, but severe cases may result in hospitalization or even death.

Testing in backyard flocks is not prevalent, so again, the focus needs to be on hygiene and exposure prevention, especially for those with weaker immune systems.