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What it takes to make a CAB steak

By Nicole Lane Erceg
“How do I get my cattle get into the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand?”
It’s a question Justin Sexten, director of supply development for the brand, is happy to answer. 
At the National Angus Convention and Tradeshow in Columbus, Ohio, his session of Angus University walked breeders through the “best practices’ for raising cattle that earn a portion of the $1.4 million paid to producers in premiums each week for cattle that meet the brand’s standards.
The first step: cattle must have a predominantly black hide.
“We hear a lot of people say cattle must be 51% black hided, but that’s not the case,” he clarified. “The specification for Angus type is, no white above the flanks, no white breaking the midline and no white behind the shoulder.”
Step two: cattle must be harvested at a licensed packing plant. CAB accesses 85% of the North American packing capacity, Sexten noted. Cattle are sorted at those plants based on the Angus live cattle specification, then certified by a USDA or Canadian grader if they meet the brand’s 10 carcass criteria. 
While each spec is vital to the end result, the one most important for producers to remember is “Modest or higher marbling score.”
“We talk a lot about marbling and how important it is to the consumer, but as you think about selection criteria and best practices to make it into the brand, this is the hardest hurdle to get over,” Sexten said. 
About 92% of the time, the reason Angus-identified cattle don’t get into the brand is due to a lack of marbling.
While the Angus genetic potential is certainly greater than most breeds for marbling, the expected progeny difference (EPD) for marbling ranges from 1.8 to -.49 across the 2018 Fall Angus Sire Summary. 
“When we recognize the variation, we can see that there are bulls that would be challenged to ultimately contribute to the brand,” Sexten said.
He recommended setting a threshold at a .53 marbling EPD and $33.97 for $G (breed average for both). That might seem like a low bar, but only about 1 in 5 Angus bulls meet the criteria. When producers begin to stack on other important traits like calving ease, the number of ideal bulls for brand acceptance wanes. 
It takes about 26 months for an animal to make it from conception to the consumer’s plate. For an enterprise creating heifers that can contribute to supplying the brand, the gap spanning two generations before that steak dinner grows to about 48 months. 
“What do you think the consumer will want in four years?” Sexten asked the crowd. “As you think about that from a genetics perspective, those decisions you make may not influence certification rates today, but they’ll certainly impact the amount of product that we have to sell four, five years down the road.”