Ultrasound helps beef farmers make better marketing decisions

Using ultrasound on cattle to identify carcass characteristics is helping beef farmers maximize their profitability.

A project led by Beef Improvement Opportunities (BIO) has shown that ultrasound technology can accurately predict specific carcass characteristics, such as weight, back fat and marbling, which directly affect how much a producer is paid for an animal.

“Historically, beef cattle have been marketed based on a visual assessment of the animal, but that’s not an accurate way to determine carcass characteristics,” explains Jason Koudys from BIO. “Ultrasound is a proven technology that is actually more accurate than grading in assessing carcass merit, which directly impacts profitability. “

How is the research being conducted?

This project was designed to bring ultrasound technology used in this way to Ontario.

It is already employed successfully in Western Canada to sort animals for different marketing dates – and to highlight its value to producers.

Thirty beef farmers from across Ontario participated in the two-year project, with approximately 9,000 animals scanned and recorded in a database. BIO conducted 13 demonstrations and exposed the concept to a large number of beef producers.

What is the research showing?

Producers selling mainstream commodity beef see value in assessing fat cover and managing their feed more efficiently.

However, the technology will be most beneficial to producers who sell into speciality value chain programs or retail their own beef, like Mike Buis of Chatham, who has cattle going into commodity, target market and freezer beef streams.

“This is putting more money into our pockets at the end of the day because it allows us to hand-select the best animals for our markets,” he says. “Each of our markets has specific needs and this way, we can maximize premiums and eliminate discounts.”

What impact could this technology have on Ontario beef farmers?

With current high feed costs, producers can face losses of up to $300 per head if they leave cattle on feed beyond their optimum slaughter date. And if target markets are available, animal-specific marketing can mean a difference of up to $65 in profitability per animal.

“Savings of $30 to $40 per head can be found in almost any pen of cattle on feed if they’re sorted using the ultrasound technology,” says Koudys.

“I’ve been looking at cattle since I could walk and this has shown me that just because an animal looks finished on the outside, didn’t mean it was finished under the hide,” adds Buis. “For us, one day’s worth of feed pays for the cost of the ultrasound.”

Where can I get more information?

Information is available from BIO at (519) 767-2665.

Funding for this project was provided through the Farm Innovation Program, part of Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

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