August 2005 // Volume 43 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW4

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Use of a Cattle Feeding Profitability Prediction Contest in Beef Extension Programming

A beef cattle feeding profitability predication contest was established in conjunction with the Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Project, an 11-year-old program similar to many cattle feeding Extension programs offered across the nation. This contest was initiated to demonstrate the value of knowing the genetic and profit potential of calves prior to deciding to feed these animals or market them at weaning or after stocker grazing. It also stimulated renewed interest in the Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Project and expanded the audience reached by this educational effort. Results of this contest indicate that it was successful in achieving its objectives.

Jane A. Parish
Assistant Professor
Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

W. Blair McKinley
Extension Professor
Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, Mississippi


Over the last 11 years, beef producers from Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana have retained ownership through the feedlot of over 6,700 head of cattle in the Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Project. Carcass information collected includes carcass weight, marbling score, ribeye area, fat thickness, USDA Yield Grade, and USDA Quality Grade. Similar cattle feeding data collection projects are offered as Extension programs across the United States. These projects allow beef producers to assess feeding performance and carcass characteristics of their cattle and make any needed changes in their breeding, health, and management programs. They also provide the opportunity to evaluate retained ownership as a viable marketing alternative.

Contest Participation and Guidelines

As an enhancement to the Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Project, beef cattle producers were recently challenged to predict which three calves in the Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Contest would be most profitable beyond the farm gate. Pictures, weights, and live prices for 10 randomly selected steers in the 2003-2004 Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Project along with contest guidelines appeared in the January 2004 and April 2004 issues of Cattle Business in Mississippi, published by the Mississippi Cattlemen's Association. Contest cattle pictures, guidelines, and entry forms were posted on the Mississippi State University Extension Service beef cattle Web site <> as well as being included in the April 2004 issue of the Mississippi Beef Cattle Improvement Association newsletter.

The purpose of the contest was twofold: 1) to demonstrate the value in knowing the genetic and profit potential of a set of calves prior to making cattle feeding decisions and 2) to stimulate renewed interest in the Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Project and expand the audience reached by this educational effort. Beef cattle producers were encouraged to participate in the Farm to Feedlot Contest regardless of whether they consigned calves to the Farm to Feedlot Project. Eighty-two percent of the contest participants had never consigned cattle to the Farm to Feedlot Project.

The contest guidelines were as follows:

  1. Contest steers are part of the 2003-2004 Farm to Feedlot consignment and are of varying types and breeds.
  2. Initial weight is the pay weight in Mississippi the day of shipment.
  3. Beginning steer value is defined as the value of cattle in Mississippi the week of shipment.
  4. Cattle will be fed, handled, and marketed similarly to any other pen of steers at a commercial feedlot.
  5. Feedlot average daily gain and health status data will be collected.
  6. Cattle will be marketed when the feedlot manager has determined an appropriate harvest end point has been reached (March May 2004).
  7. Carcass data collected on each steer will include USDA Quality Grade, rib eye area, fat thickness, and USDA Yield Grade.
  8. For contest purposes, cattle will be priced on a grid basis. The grid will favor cattle that grade USDA Choice or higher and produce a USDA Yield Grade of 3 or less. The grid severely discounts for USDA Yield Grade 4 and higher, USDA Standard Quality Grade, dark cutters and hard bones.
  9. For contest purposes, net return will be determined by subtracting expenses (initial feeder calf cost, feed costs, animal health costs, etc.) from the income generated by selling the carcass to a packer on a quality grid basis.
  10. Contest divisions include youth (18 years of age and younger), college, and adult. The winner in each division will be the contestant with the highest calculated net return over three steers. Tie Breakers will be used in the event of ties.
  11. Contest entries are limited to one per person.

Contest participants were asked to predict which three steers would have the highest net return from feeding and list the identification numbers of those steers on the contest entry form. The fill-in-the-blank tiebreaker questions included:

  1. The pen of 10 contest steers will produce carcasses that are _______ % USDA Choice.
  2. The difference between the highest and lowest net returns among the 10 contest steers will be $_______.
  3. The difference in hot carcass weight between the lightest and heaviest steers among the 10 contest steers will be _______ lbs.

Contest Results

Contest results indicated that total cost, carcass weight, and Quality Grade were important factors in determining feeding profitability. Selecting the most profitable cattle through a finishing phase using visual appraisal and a known starting weight turned out to be quite challenging as evidenced by the wide variety of answers submitted on the 10 contest steers (Table 1).

Table 1.
Accurateness of Responses in Predicting the Three Most Profitable Steers in the Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Contest

Steer Ranking for Net Returns

Net Returns

Contest Steer Identification

% Responses Selected as One of the Three Most Profitable Steers


































- $105.58




- $136.35



Summary and Conclusions

At the annual Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Project wrap-up meeting held in July 2004, contest results were announced, and a presentation that included a question-and-answer session on the results was conducted. Questions posed to the audience included the following:

  1. Did perceived breed composition influence predictions of which calves would be the most profitable?

  2. Would it have made a difference if health histories of the calves were part of the initial information?

  3. Would knowing more about the genetic potential of the calves have helped to identify the more desirable calves to feed?

  4. Finally, how well do you know the genetic and profit potential of the calves on your own farm?

The consensus was that recording and using information on calf genetics and health histories was of utmost importance in producing and retaining ownership of feeder cattle through a feedlot phase.

Contest results were also reported in the August issue of Cattle Business in Mississippi. Division winners won their divisions outright, and each received a whole beef tenderloin, complements of the Mississippi Cattlemen's Association. The information generated by this contest continues to provide educational material for presentations at local beef production and cattlemen's association meetings. The Mississippi Farm to Feedlot program remains a valuable opportunity for beef producers to learn more about cattle performance in the feedlot and on the rail.