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Charolais genetics at work in commercial herds in South Texas.

published: March 3rd 2023
by: Sharla Ismael
source: AICA


      There aren’t too many scenes that’ll make a commercial cattle producer – and their banker – prouder than looking at a growthy, stout, smoky calf standing almost as tall as his black or baldie mama. The picture can change depending on the location of the ranch – he might be looking at the same scale-busting calf next to a good tiger-striped mama down south.

      Either way, producers have long known that capitalizing on the magic of heterosis compounded with the use of a terminal-breed sire is a profitable way to max out the scales at weaning, as yearlings or fat cattle. With the nation’s Jan. 1 beef cow inventory hitting one of the lowest numbers seen in recent history due to widespread drought, it is more important than ever for the commercial rancher to take advantage of a bullish market predicted for calves and feeders over the next few years.

With a much smaller herd and the need to go slow with restocking as the land recovers from drought – hopefully before the next one hits – every pound will count. Unfortunately, the market is set up today based on premiums for black-hided cattle and given that the cattle cycle has been in the heavy-supply stage, where every segment after the ranch has enjoyed the ability to be choosey, it has meant good cattle of all colors don’t always get sold for the value they bring to the industry at every stage.

It's a problem Charolais seedstock producers are not willing to deal with any longer. So much so that the American-International Charolais Association has created a task force of progressive breeders and outside consultants to explore every possible opportunity to make sure their commercial bull buyers get additional or new market access for their calves.

“Numerous closeout sheets from Charolais-influenced cattle harvested at Tyson plants in the past two years document these cattle produce carcasses that compete extremely well on the rail,” says AICA Executive Vice President Clint Rusk. “It is imperative this carcass value be reflected in the live market.”

Charolais breeders are not alone in their quest to fix the problem.

“Our task force is already working with another task force led by Tom Brink, chief executive officer of the Red Angus Association of America, to explore a change in the way feeder cattle are marketed,” Rusk explains. “Our Charolais breeders agree with those who say feeder cattle should be marketed on their genetic merit rather than the color of their hide.”

Last year, Brink released an important white paper with results of a survey of feedlot managers that shows they also see a great need for change in the feeder cattle market. When asked if black-hided feeder cattle are superior to non-black cattle of equal weight, sex, and health history, 75% disagreed with that statement.

In fact, 92% of the survey participants agreed or strongly agreed with this statement: “For the beef industry to continue improving its overall cattle quality and value, hide color should be replaced with more objective genetic criteria as a key price-determining factor(s) in the U.S. feeder cattle market.”

      What will it take to make those changes so smoky or cream-colored calves can get premiums for their performance? For the Charolais task force, all options are on the table, from feeder cattle marketing programs, better utilization of existing grids for Charolais-influenced cattle, data gathering from private sources to solidify how these cattle excel in terms of feed efficiency, average daily gain and overall performance at the feedlot and packer in terms of both red meat yield and quality grade on the rail.

They are working on getting Charolais-influenced cattle into the latest sustainability research projects to study their efficiency advantages relative to other breeds. If carbon capture and greenhouse emissions play a role in the future of beef, breeders on the task force believe the breed’s natural efficiency and performance will be a competitive advantage in that arena.

The task force has met with major packing company executives to determine how Charolais-influenced cattle are perceived on their end and what the association can do to help increase demand for the cattle at the retail level. They’ve also initiated discussions on private branding with meat marketing experts.

Basically, these breeders are reaching out to every segment of the industry to lay groundwork leading to a premium structure for Charolais-influenced cattle at the commercial level. Charolais-influenced cattle are already well-liked in the industry. Ranchers appreciate the cattle for their performance, feeders love them for their efficiency and packers value their cutability, ability to grade Choice or better, as well as putting more product in the box. The task for these seedstock folks is to find ways to capture the real-world value of Charolais-influenced calves.

Marcine Moldenhauer is one of the industry experts AICA has tapped to advise the task force. She has experience both as a breeder of Charolais, Red Angus and Maine-Anjou, 25 years in cattle procurement as a cattle buyer, strategic supply manager and leading the premium sales and marketing team for a major packer. For the last 15 years as owner of Meatlink Management, LLC, her livestock and meat business consulting firm, she has worked with multiple companies in multiple countries, breed associations, chefs and specialty fed cattle beef programs on the challenges and how to approach creating and supplying a branded beef program.

“Packers know the value of Charolais-cross cattle, they do cutting tests, they track performance, they know,” she explains. “They know Charolais-cross are going to yield from live to carcass and from carcass to the box; the packers know these cattle have very favorable quality grades with low yield grades. They know these cattle are a good value. However, because over the last 10 years or so there have been plant closings and increased supply, the packers have simply not had to pay more for these types of cattle.”

For years, USDA has only recognized “Angus” as 51% black hided, those cattle that are percentage Angus (red or black), have not been accepted into “Angus” brands, such as black-nosed Charolais or the blonde-hided cattle. She believes in order to compete with that, it’s necessary to cultivate either a foodservice, retail, or a small restaurant partner – better yet one of each – that understands the value and sees an opportunity for them.

“This is why Cargill, for one, created their Sterling Silver brand over 25 years ago,” she adds. “The other challenge is to create multi-tiered brands where Charolais-cross cattle that are USDA Select or higher all have a home in a branded beef program. You want multiple programs for the Charolais-influenced cattle to go into. The reality is the packer is not going to find your customer for you, that will be the breed’s job.”

One of the breeders on the task force is Brett DeBruycker of Montana, who says the Charolais association is up for the challenge.

“We’re being very aggressive in fleshing out the different opportunities,” he says. “I think the association is refocusing on what is most important to our business, and that is the commercial cattle producer. I’ll admit we fell behind in promoting what our breed can do.

“For instance, I have documentation that pink-nosed, straightbred Charolais cattle qualified for the following premiums in the summer of 2022. Steers received $80/head and heifers received $85/head on the U.S. Premium Beef grid. These cattle added value to the industry by grading and yielding well on the rail,” he adds.

“You’ve got to hand it to Angus, they were out helping packers sell meat, spending money as an association talking to retailers while we, as a breed, were focusing on breed improvement and adding value to our customers and the industry through increased performance, efficiency and carcass quality,” DeBruycker adds. “Hindsight being 2020, we should have been helping packers sell Charolais beef. One of the things I have learned on this task force is how vitally important it is for our breed to talk to consumers.”

      A few years ago, he took a phone call from a gentleman from France who recently moved to Washington state. The man was very excited to have found DeBruycker Charolais online because he had been looking for Charolais beef since moving to the U.S. The man told him in France, Charolais is considered a delicacy and everybody there wants to eat it. DeBruycker says more U.S. consumers would share that fondness for beef from the white breed if they got a chance to taste it and know where it came from.

      Mark Nelson is also advising the Charolais task force, and he too has seen the other side of the business having run the Angus America program for Cargill for seven years. He says part of what the breed needs to keep its eyes on is being ready for the future, when the cattle cycle turns again, and cattle numbers are on the rise.

      “I think in the next five years, ranchers will benefit from high prices due to short supplies,” he says. “But we all know those high prices won’t last. So, the breed needs to have something up and running on all cylinders by then so folks with Charolais-cross calves will be able to use them when they really need them. There is so much potential with this breed. Charolais is the kingpin of what they do. The cattle have really been begging for their breeders to do something like this because the cattle merit it.”

      So, from a commercial perspective what does this mean for their Charolais-influenced calves being born now? It means those white bulls in the pasture will bring home gold for you now by putting extra pounds on the scale when every pound is likely to be worth much more than it has been when cattle numbers were high. And, if the Charolais task force does the job it hopes to accomplish, you’ll have not just more pounds to sell in the future but also more premiums and demand for those high-performing calves. Stay tuned.




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