Is your animal finished? The answer depends on its breed, frame size, sex, and even what your customers are looking for on their plate. If your customers want reasonably well-marbled beef, you’re more likely to give them what they want if you’re raising smaller framed animals. In general, smaller framed animals finish in a shorter amount of time, and can put on fat in pasture. Large framed animals, like Charolais and Limousin need a high grain diet to marble well, though it can be done on grass with intense management. A larger framed, grass finished animal will serve customers who are looking for a leaner product.
What’s Your Herd’s Frame Size?
Measure your animals from the ground to hip height and then compare the results with this graph from the Producer’s Guide to Pasture-Based Beef Finishing to get a good idea of frame size.
One of the nice things about knowing your animal’s frame size is that it can help you estimate when it has reached slaughter weight. Knowing that most of us don’t have ready access to scales, researchers developed this table of expected finished weights for grass fed beef based on what they know of finished feedlot weights and adjusted for the larger skeletal growth and reduced back fat of pasture raised animals.
Estimate Marbling and Carcass Grade With Body Condition
If you know what your customers like, either well-marbled or lean, you can use body condition scoring to give you an idea of what your animal will produce. Looking at the graph below, you can see that, at a score from 6 to 8, you can expect the top end of select up to choice and prime. Prime grade is highly marbled, tender and juicy, choice is less marbled, and select is leaner and may be slightly less tender.
If you’re new to body condition scoring, this week‘s Classic by NatGLC shows you how. It even has a link to an app from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to help you practice and then store information on individual animals in your herd.
As with many things in the grazing world, finishing cattle is both an art and a science. So as you consider this information, remember that it is a rough guide and that as time goes on you’ll be able to calibrate your own carcass results with what you see in the animals you’re raising. You might also think about this as a way to estimate harvest timing for your target market based on expected slaughter weight and animal performance.