A group of producers recently got the unique opportunity to get an inside look at how their calves are processed and shipped to the retail meat case. They came away from the recent Beef 706 program learning a lot more about what happens to their cattle once they leave the ranch.

The program, sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas Beef Council, had a group of Brangus producers come to College Station to learn how cattle are graded, fabricated and packaged before being sent to the retail meat case.

"Beef 706 helps teach cattle producers about the food side of their industry," said Dr. Dan Hale, an AgriLife Extension Service meat specialist and workshop coordinator. "The goal is to see transfer from steer to a carcass and finally as retail cuts sold to the consumer. They are taught during the process not only how to evaluate a live steer, but also carcasses. They follow a steer all the way through the process and learn where the value cuts are in an animal."

Producers begin the workshop with a briefing on how to evaluate a live steer, learning the various grades assigned to beef, such as prime, choice, select, standard, commercial, utility, cutter and canner, as well as evaluating the age of a carcass. Participants also learned about yields grades on a beef carcass.

"A feedlot buyer looks at a pen of cattle and determines which way to market those cattle," Hale told the workshop attendees. "They are trying to direct your cattle to the right fit on the grid for profitability."

Once the classroom portion was finished, the participants viewed a steer and were asked to evaluate the animal, giving best judgment on quality and yield grade. Next, the producers went back into the classroom and watched videos of eight different steers, ranking each steer in a team exercise.

Hale explained the cattle would either be marketed on a traditional live price per hundredweight for the entire pen, or additional value could be put on the cattle by pricing them on a grid basis or boxed beef cutout value. A quality grid for cattle is a high-end designation such as prime, certified or top choice. The cutability grid prices the finished feedlot cattle based on yield and cutout value.

Teams of participants then suited up and went into a beef fabrication area where they began cutting up one side from their assigned steer, fabricating it into wholesale cuts for the rest of the afternoon.

"These were cuts that ultimately would go to a retail grocery store. The (participating) cattle producers determined they don’t want to be meat cutters all their lives; they are glad they worked with cattle," Hale said. "Also they’ve learned about where value is in cattle and ultimately why we raise cattle for a food product that has to not only be high in protein and nutrient dense, but also has to taste really good for the consumer."

The final day of the workshop was spent sampling cooked portions of meat from the steers that were graded by the class, analyzing for taste and texture. Attendees also learned more about beef research going on among Extension and Texas AgriLife Research and the economics of purchased cattle from the feedlot and the value of the cuts of beef sold to grocery outlets.

Hale said the program carries out the mission of AgriLife Extension in educating beef producers more about the industry they serve.

"I think this is a really good way to extend what we learn," Hale said. "This program began out of a survey through the National Beef Quality Audit; the survey looked at what beef producers did that might impact quality of beef served to consumers and impact consumer confidence. When we found out that information, AgriLife Extension put this program together to extend that information out to the cow-calf producer."

 For more information about Beef 706, visit http://meat.tamu.edu/beef706.html. To register for the next Beef 706 course, call the Texas Beef Council at 512-335-2333.