Is Your Cattle Finished?

On this blog, we often compare grass-finished and grain-finished beef, to describe the final feeding stage of the cattle. But how do producers actually know when their cattle is finished, that is, having sufficient fat to be slaughtered?

This year, Cornell Cooperative Extension published two educational videos on assessing the market readiness for beef cattle. While both videos explain the assessment using examples of grain-fed cattle, as local grass-fed beef producer Greg Lipes notes, “I would look for exactly the same things on grass finished animals.” Though the method and timelines differs, the goal is the same: get the cattle to that perfect level of fat.

Here is a basic summary of what to look for when determining if your cattle is properly finished*:

  1. Fat Deposits

    1. Tail Head - should be able to palpate a sizeable chunk on either side of the tail

    2. Brisket - a cantaloupe-sized deposit is ideal.

    3. Ribs - should feel smooth, but still feel the ribs, like the back of someone’s hand, not like individual fingers

    4. Flank - drops down and becomes thick

  2. Width of Stance - a wider stance is an indicator that the cattle is carrying hefty fat deposits

  3. Dewclaws - the fat fills in around the dewclaws and they become less visible and pointy


You can watch part 1 of the video series here.

The Cornell Small Farms videos offer a very hands-on approach, but there are also more mathematical ways of calculating if an animal is finished based on age, weight and frame scores. On Pasture recently published an article titled: Is Your Beef Finished? Use Frame and Body Condition Score to Find Out. Drawing upon the Producer's Guide to Pasture Based Beef Finishing published by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, the article gives a great explanation and charts for helping you determine market readiness! 

Whichever way you do it, making sure your cattle is properly finished is key to getting the best beef!


*Note: These signs can vary by breed and for steer or heifer.