Understanding yield and quality grades when marketing cattle


Understanding yield and quality grades when marketing cattle

When selling market cattle on grade and yield or packer contract, producers may receive a break-out sheet with words or abbreviations such as PRIME, CHOICE, or SELECT, potentially with a number posted behind it. These terms indicate the different grades or values paid for each carcass, but how are they determined?

Beef grading was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1916 as a set of standards to provide a basis for the National Meat Market Reporting Service. Beef grading is voluntary, and some processing plants may have their own codes to express carcass value. Beef grading should not be confused with inspection, as beef grading measures value and not wholesomeness and safety.

Beef grading has two components: Quality Grade and Yield Grade.

Quality grade is a value used to estimate potential palatability by evaluating the carcass’s maturity and the amount of marbling (intramuscular fat) within the ribeye. There are different uses and values for carcasses from cattle harvested at different ages, hence the need for different Quality Grades. A carcass from a “young” beef animal could receive a Quality Grade of Prime, Choice, Select, or Standard, depending on the amount of marbling within the ribeye.

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