A new University of Georgia project will turn information gathered for individual farmers into a guide to better marketing for all of the state's cattlemen.

Since 1991, the Georgia Beef Challenge has allowed cattlemen to learn more about the calves they produce. The program provides to them detailed information about a calf's weight gain in the feedlot. And it details the carcass characteristics after processing.

This has helped the farmers decide how to improve their herds' genetics. Most Georgia cattlemen have cow-calf operations. Their products are calves that, after they're weaned on the farm, are sent to Midwestern feed lots. When they grow to their mature weight there, they go to processing facilities.

“The more a Georgia cattleman knows about his herd and the individual calves he sells, the more successful he can be,” says Curt Lacy, a livestock economist with the UGA Extension Service.

The GBC has greatly helped individual farmers, he says. But the information the program has gathered over 13 years hasn't yet been analyzed as a whole.

Lacy will spearhead a project that will analyze that data and turn it into something all Georgia cattlemen can use. The educational materials and programs that result, he says, will help farmers make better decisions on managing and marketing cattle.

Many farmers now are trying to find ways to add value to whatever they grow. They're trying to establish or get into niche markets or produce products that get premium prices.

This project could reveal ways for Georgia cattlemen to do this with their cattle, says Jim Collins, executive vice president of the Georgia Cattleman's Association.

A $46,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will fund the UGA project in cooperation with the GCA.

The GBC is the largest program of its type in the eastern United States, says Robert Stewart, an animal scientist with the UGA Extension Service. More than 12,000 calves have gone through the program since it began.

“Detailed analysis (of GBC data) will provide statistically sound evidence of the performance and carcass traits of the Georgia cattle,” Stewart says. “More important, patterns over time can be examined to determine any changes that might have happened as a result of genetic selection.”

Cattlemen who have used the GBC, Stewart says, have been able to shift the genetic direction of their herds toward the industry targets as designated by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Beef Quality Audits.

The GBC has already helped the state's cattlemen dispel the reputation that their cattle were inferior to those in other parts of the country.