Beef Jerky

New Checkoff-Funded Study Aims to Find Optimal Marketing Endpoints for Cattle Feeders

Casey Anderson | March 28, 2023

Lundy leads Research

The Iowa Beef Center's Erika Lundy-Woolkfolk is an Iowa native, Iowa State University alumni and fellow cattle producer poised on helping other Iowa beef producers find solutions to support sound decision making and ultimately, the opportunity to add value to the bottom line. 

Does it pay to feed cattle longer to try and hit greater marbling premiums? If you are asking this question, you are not alone.  “With today’s higher feed costs, this has become a common question we are hearing from producers across Iowa,” said Erika Lundy-Woolfolk, beef specialist with Iowa State University (ISU) Extension.  The question is what led Lundy-Woolfolk and Dr. Dan Loy, Director of the Iowa Beef Center, to create a new study. They will evaluate animal performance, carcass traits and more by marketing a group of steers at varying times. In-state research to find answers for producers wouldn’t be possible without your checkoff. “It’s nice to have checkoff dollars so we can do some of this production-based research that needs to be done,” Lundy-Woolfok commented. “Hopefully we can get some good data and help answer this question for producers.”

How the study will work

The study kicked off this March and is expected to conclude in the fall of 2023. It will be done in two parts: A live animal performance assessment An economic analysis For the animal performance part, 108 purebred Angus steers from the ISU McNay Research Farm are being fed and monitored at the ISU Armstrong Research Farm. “We chose Angus because this group of cattle has been selected for marbling for over 20 years,” Lundy-Woolfolk explained. “It is not uncommon for them to go 45 to 50% prime.” Growth-promotion implants will also be monitored in the study. The steers will be started on two different implants: one of a lower dose and another more aggressive. Lundy-Woolfolk said both are typical for industry standards. Another part of the performance assessment will be looking at feed conversion differences. “At the Armstrong Research Farm, we have two pens with bunks that can monitor individual intakes,” Lundy-Woolfolk said. “We’ll have half the cattle in those pens, and the other half in an open bunk system.” 

Using Back Fat as a Market Indicator

After being fed a certain number of days, the steers will go to slaughter at three different times. “Based on carcass ultrasound, we’ll use back fat thickness as an indicator of when we’ll market the steers,” Lundy-Woolfolk stated. She estimates that the market timings will be the following: Group 1 in May at 0.50-inch back fat Group 2 in June at 0.65-inch back fat Group 3 in July at 0.80-inch back fat “This will separate the degree of finish on those steers to really give us three different categories of carcass data to look at for the economic analysis,” Lundy-Woolfolk explained.

What The Economic Analysis will Cover

Using data collected during the animal assessment, the economic analysis will evaluate the best market endpoints based on varying feed costs, premiums and discounts.  “We are going to put numbers together using rolling averages based on grid premiums over the last few years,” Lundy-Woolfolk explained. “We’re trying to answer things like, ‘What do premiums look like for calves that graded high choice versus prime?’” “Our hope is this will be a powerful tool for cattle feeders to determine what’s best for their operation,” Lundy-Woolfolk continued. “Seeing some of these economic numbers may be an eye-opener. Hopefully, they can use them to make marketing decisions that have a positive financial impact on their farm.” Final results will be shared in a white paper and Iowa Beef Center articles. You can find all checkoff-funded production research at

Iowa State Beef Checkoff Research Program

Overall, since 2018 the Iowa State Checkoff program has funded a total of 14 studies for $740,026 ($52,859/study). In fiscal year 2023, the Board of Directors elected to fund five additional studies totaling more than $853,000 dollars. We are excited to support Iowa's extensive network of subject matter experts through applied research initiatives that highlight the vast array of institutional resources found at Iowa State University. Collectively, the research program is poised on highlighting the best of Iowa's beef industry: our beef producers, researchers, university and extension and the high quality beef product raised in Iowa.