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Small sees a need for improved focus on animal health in the beef industry

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“Value for consumers might be changing from product quality to production attributes, including how cattle are raised, what they are fed and where they come from,” says Wade Small, president of Agri Beef Inc.’s Livestock Division. 

The cattle industry in general has successfully responded to economic drivers that are easy to measure and gather data on, as well as those that are easy to see.

As an example, progress has been seen in improved carcass and weaning weights moving forward. 

“Looking forward, a lot of our value might be different based on what region we’re in, what markets we’re in and what segment of the agriculture industry we’re in,” Small explains. “The industry is focusing on. What do we need to focus on from the demands on the consumer?”

Small predicts increased regulation on products like antibiotics and growth hormones, as well as other products that are regularly used to derive economic benefit. 

To capture the opportunities for added value moving into the future, Small encourages producers to think about their operation and how it fits into the production system.

“When we can provide value, it creates added profit for beef, but it also increases demand for beef across the country,” Small comments.


Looking at the industry in general, Small sees a dramatic increase in grades of cattle in the last 10 years, with a particular increase in the number of prime carcasses in the last four year. 

“Carcass weight continues to increase,” he continues. “Carcass weight is the biggest economic driver in the industry. It doesn’t matter what segment we are in, we sell cattle by the pound.” 

While consumers have conflicting opinions on what they’re looking for from beef producers when compared to what is economical for producers, Small says the trend toward larger carcasses will likely continue unless there are dramatic changes in the way beef is sold. 

“The increase in prime carcasses also tracks with the increase in yield grade four and five animals, which results from an increased back fat that comes from additional potential for marbling,” he says. 

Days on feed have also increased, as larger carcasses have been more economically profitable. 

Cattle have also trended towards a more black-hided product.

Death loss concerns

“From a production standpoint, we have bigger cattle that grade better,” Small says, “but we have also seen an increase in death loss.” 

The trend is a growing concern for cattle producers, who have modified practices over time in an attempt to decrease death losses. 

“Trying to find the underlying causes in death loss is a challenge,” he explains, noting producers are constantly looking for where they can change their management, whether by using or eliminating products like beta-agonists or antibiotics or if there are things that can be done differently.

Small comments, “This is a trend in the wrong direction. We need to keep an eye on this and figure out how to turn this trend in the right direction.” 

Big picture

Because the beef industry is good at improving and selecting traits that are easy to see, Small says the industry must consciously focusing on improving traits like animal health. 

“If this trend continues, at some point in time, if we don’t focus on things like animal health, we’ll overcome the gains we see as a results of improved carcass quality,” he says.

Focusing on and identifying areas of potential challenges and proactively addressing those will be essential to the success of the industry moving forward.

Continued improvement in quality must be the focus of the industry, Small continues, encouraging producers to make decisions and utilize data to make sure the industry is headed in the right direction.

“For the stay-ability of the beef industry,” Small says, “we need to make sure we’re looking at the right economics and how they affect the entire supply chain.”

Wade Small spoke during the 2018 Beef Improvement Federation meeting, held in Loveland, Colo. in June 2018. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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