S. R. A.-P. M. A. 112 Issued September 1928
Reprinted, with amendments, December 1950
United States Department of Agriculture
PRODUCTION AND MARKETING ADMINISTRATION
SERVICE AND REGULATORY ANNOUNCEMENTS NO. 1121
OFFICIAL UNITED STATES STANDARDS FOR GRADES
OF SLAUGHTER CATTLE
(Title 7, Ch. I, Pt. 53, Sections 53.201-53.206 of the Code of Federal Regulations)
The following is a reprint of the official United States standards for the grades
of linui'"hti' cattle promulgated by the Secretary of Agriculture under the Agri-
cultural Marketing Act of 1946 (60 Stat. 1087; 7 U. S. C. 1621 et seq.) and the
items for Market Inspection of Farm Products and Marketing Farm Products
recurring in the annual appropriation acts for the Department of Agriculture.
The standards are reprinted as amended.
^"' DEVELOPMENT OF THE STANDARDS
, Tlhep'epartment of Agriculture has long recognized the importance of a uni-
' form system of grading slaT:-hter cattle in order to facilitate the production,
marketing, and distribution of livestock and meats. The initial U. S. standards
for grades of beef were formulated in 1916 when plans were made for rIl-,rtin'
wholesale meat prices by grades. In 1918 the Department adopted a tentative
schedule for market classes and grades of cattle and initiated market report in-.
Tentative standards for market classes and grades of cattle were published in
The use of the tentative standards for live animals resulted in a more uniform
dissemination of market information which proved to be of decided value to both
cattle ijroducers and buyers. Therefore, Official United States Standards for
Grades of Slaughter Cattle were promulgated by the Secretary of Agriculture,
in July 1928, and published in Service and Regulatory Announcements No. 112
(B. A. E.).
The official standards were amended in July 1939 (Amendment No. 1 to S. R. A.
No. 112) so as to change the grade designation Low Cutter to Canner. A second
amendment (Amendment No. 2 to S. R. A. No. 112) issued in December 1950,
combined the standards for grades of slaughter steers, heifers, and cows into
a single standard, specified the minimum requirements for each gr 'l., and
made such other changes in the standards as were necessary to make them
coincide with the revised standards for grades of beef which became effective
December 29, 1950. The grade standards applicable to slaughter steers and
heifers were changed as follows: The Prime and Choice grades were combined
under the designation of Prime. The Good grade designation was changed to
Choice. The medium grade was divided into two grades-Good and Commer-
cial-the Good grade including young cattle (under approximately 48 months
of age) previously included in the top half of the Medium grade, and the Com-
mercial grade including the other cattle previously included in the Medium
grade. The Common grade designation was changed to Utility. The Cutter
and Canner grades were not changed. The grade standards applicable to cows
were changed to make possible the inclusion in each grade of all cows expected
to produce the corresponding grade of beef. Grade standards for bulls and
stags were relatively unchanged ex-cept for desi n;tiug Medium and Common
as Commercial and Utility, respectively.
1 This publication was issued originally as Service and Regulatory Announcements
No. 112 of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. The work on which it is based is now a
part of the Production and Marketing Administration.
APPLICATION OF STANDARDS
The official standards for live cattle developed by the United States Depart-
ment of Agriculture provide for segregation first according to use--laughter,
feeder and stocker-then as to class which is determined by sex condition, and
then as to grade which is determined by the apparent relative excellence and
Desirability of the animal for its particular use.
The classes of slaughter cattle are steers, heifers, cows, bulls, and stags.
Definitions of the respective classes are as follows:
BULL.-A bull is an uncastrated male bovine.
STEER.-A steer is a male bovine castrated when young and prior to developing
the secondary physical characteristics of a bull.
STAG.-A stag is a male bovine castrated after it has developed or begun to
develop the secondary physical characteristics of a bull.
COW.-A cow is a female bovine that has developed, through reproduction or
with age, relatively prominent hips, a large middle, and other physical charac-
teristics typical of mature females.
HEIFER.-A heifer is an immature female bovine that has not developed the
physical characteristics typical of cows.
The specific grade of a slaughter animal is determined by an evaluation in
terms of factors which influence carcass excellence-conformation, finish, quality,
Conformation refers to the general body proportions of the animal and to
the ratio of meat to bone. While primarily determined by the inherent muscular
and skeletal system, it is also influenced by degree of fatness. Excellent con-
formation in slaughter cattle is denoted by a compact, wide topped, square
rumped, and full quartered individual that is thickly fleshed. Fullness and
thickness should be especially evident in the portions of the body producing the
more desirable cuts of meat-loin, ribs, and rounds
Finish refers to the fatness of the animal. The quality, quantity, and dis-
tribution of finish of the slaughter animal are very closely associated with the
palatability and quality of the meat which it will produce. Thus finish becomes
the most important single factor affecting the grade of slaughter cattle. Ex-
ternal finish is evidenced by fullness and the apparent thickness of the fat cover-
ing over the back, loin, rump, ribs, and rounds. Also, fat deposits giving fullness
to the brisket, rear flanks, and cod or udder, while varying decidedly with the
breeding of the animal, are useful indicators of internal finish. A high degree
of desirable finish is evidenced by a thick, firm, smooth layer of fat which is
uniformly distributed over the body.
Quality in the live alandbt',r animal refers to the refinement of hair, hide, and
bone and to the smoothness and symmetry of the body. Quality is also closely
associated with carcass yield and the proportion of meat to bone. A high degree
of quality in slaughter cattle is denoted by smoothness of fleshing, relatively
small bones, neat joints, neatly laid in shoulders and hips, refined hair and thin
The degree of maturity of slaughter cattle is appraised on the basis of the
physical characteristics indicating age. Youthfulness and fatness of the
slaughter animal are each credited with having a desirable effect on the palata-
bility of meat. Therefore, within certain limits, the standards for slaughter
cattle allow an increase in finish to compensate for advancing degrees of
The determination of the carcass grade that the live animal will produce
requires the exercising of well regulated judgment. Each animal graded pre-
sents a different combination of the grade determining factors. It is not unusual
to find an animal of one grade that has some of the characteristics associated
with another grade or grades. Therefore, a composite evaluation of the total
inherent physical characteristics of the animal is essential for accuracy in
Since evidences of maturity in the beef carcass vary aiming animals of the
same approximate age, only ;.nieral a;,. limitations can be used for descriptive
standards for slaughter cattle. Approximate maximum age limitations for
steer, heifer, and cow gr;idir- follow: Prime--:;i; months; Choice-42 months;
and Good-48 months. There are no age limitations for the Commercial, Utility,
Cutter, or Canner grades.
The deo-igitinl of -lauglhter cattle -r.;'1.-s is usually made by classes. Since
the same standard is applied to carcasses from steers, heifers, and cows without
class idlentiil.ratin, these three classes are also combined in the slaughter cattle
grade descriptions. However, bulls and stags are always identified as to class
in both carcass and slal'-iitcr cattle ,r;idiJij, since meat from these classes is
never inter-hlinweal'le with meat carrying the same :;tail, name from steers,
heifers, and cows.
The die-criiioi-v of the physical characteristics of the grades of slaughter
cattle represent the lower limit of each grade. No attempt is made to describe
the numerous combinations of grade factors which may meet the minimum
requirements for a particular grade. Descriptions are limited li.r-ely to animals
considered as typical of the lower limits of the grade.
SPECIFICATIONS FOR OFFICIAL UNITED STATES STANDARDS FOR
GRADES OF SLAUGHTER STEERS, HEIFERS, AND COWS
Only steers and heifers are eligible for the Prime grade. Cattle po's.-.rsing
the minimum qualifications for Prime grade are definitely superior in con-
formation, quality, and finish. However, individual animals may differ some-
what in appearance because of possible variations in the degree of excellence
of the individual grade factors. In conformation, Prime cattle tend to be
low set, compact, thickly fleshed, and short of neck and body. They are wide
over the back and loin with the width carried out squarely into the rump. The
shoulders and hips are neatly laid in and smooth. The twist is deep and full
and the rounds thick and plump. There is a pronounced fullness or bulging
over the crops, loin, and rump which contributes to a full, smooth, well-rounded
appearance. The fat covering is firm. Steers and heifers over 30 months of age
have a very thick cov.iring of fat over the crops, back, ribs, loin, and rump. The
brisket, rear flanks, and cod or udder are very full and distended. Although the
finish is usually evenly distributed and smooth, some cattle may have rolls of
fat over the ribs, and patches around the tailhead. Steers and heifers 18 to 30
months of age have a thick fat covering over the back, ribs, loin, and rump.
The brisket, rear flanks, and cod or udder have the appearance of being filled
and distended with fat. The fat covering tends to be smooth with only slight
indications of patchiness. Steers and heifers under 18 months of age may have
only a moderately thick but smooth covering of fat which extends over the back,
ribs, loin, and rump. The brisket, rear flank, and cod or udder show a marked
fullness. Prime cattle exhibit evidences of high quality. The bones tend to
be proportionately small, joints smooth, the hide moderately thin and pliable, and
the body trim, smooth, and -ynminmtri'al. However, some cattle may show slight
evidences of coarseness such as heavy bone, thick hide, and uneven distribution
Cattle possessing the minimum qualifications for Choice grade may differ
considerably in appearance because of the many possible combinations of
varying degrees of excellence of the -rade factors. In conformation, Choice
cattle tend to be moderately low set and compact They are moderately thick in
natural fleshing and are moderately wide over the back and loin. The shoulders
and hips are moderately neat and smoothly laid in with only a slight tendency
toward prominence in older cattle. The twist and rounds are of moderate depth
and plumpness. There is a fullness or bulge distinctly evident over the crops,
loin, and rump. The distribution of fat may be slightly uneven, as evidenced by
ties, rolls of fat over the loin edge and ribs, and patchiness around the tailhead.
Cattle over 30 months of age have a thick covering of fat over the crops, back,
ribs, loin, and rump. The brisket, rear flank, and cod or udder are well tilled
and distended. Cattle 18 to 30 months of a-e carry a moderately thick fat
covering over the crops, 1I;:k. loin, rump, and down over the ribs. The brisket,
rear flank, and cod or udder show a marked fullness. Cattle under 18 months of
age carry a -li-lily thick fat covering over the top. The brisket, rear flanks,
and cod or udder ;lpllear moderately full. Choice cattle usually have a
moderately refined appearance but some coarseness may be evident in older
Cattle possessing minimum qualifications for Good grade may differ some-
what in appearance because of the numerous possible combinations of varying
dtcegris of excellence of the grade factors. In conformation, Good cattle tend
to be slightly low set and compact. They are .li'lhtly thick in natural fleshing
and slightly wide over the back and loin. The shoulders and hips are usually
moderately neat and smoothly laid in but may appear slightly prominent in
older cattle. The twist and rounds are usually moderately deep but may appear
slihltly flat with very little evidence of plumpness. There is usually a very slight
fullness evident over the cro',-,. loin, and rump. The distribution of fat may
be somewhat uneven, particularly in older cattle, as evidenced by ties, rolls of
fat over the loin edge and ribs, and patchiness about the tailhead. Cattle over
:;f, months of age carry a slight thick covering of fat and the brisket, rear fl;iia-,
and cod or udder show a marked fullness. Good cattle 18 to 30 months of age
carry a slightly thin fat covering with some fullness evident in the crops, brisket,
flanks, and cod or udder. Cattle under 1S months of age may have somewhat
limited finish, which is largely restricted to the back, loin, and upper rib. The
brisket, rear flanks, and cod or udder are slightly full. Good cattle are usually
moderately smooth, and slightly refined in appearance. Some coarseness may be
evident in the relatively older cattle of the Good grade.
Cattle possessing the minimum qualifications for Commercial grade may
be highly variable in appearance because of the wide range in the possible
combinations of e.. conformation, finish, and quality. The Commercial grade
includes all a- -, of steers, heifers, and cows. Young cattle in this grade tend
to be slightly rangy, upstanding, thin fleshed, narrow through the crops, back
and loin, somewhat prominent at the lill-, and shallow in the twist and quarter.
The loin, rump, and rounds appear flat with no evidence of fullness. Such cattle
may show the heavy bone, prominent hips, and shoulders associated with
coarseness or they may show the small bones, tight hide, and angularity (ld.n,,ting
over-refinement. Cattle which range in age from 30 to 48 months carry a slightly
thin covering of fat which is in evidence over the back, loin, and ribs. The
brisket, rear flanks, and cod or udder appear only slightly full. Cattle under
30 months of age carry only a thin ci.'ering of fat which is largely restricted
to the back, loin, and upper rib. Fully mature cattle appear slightly rangy,
upltaiilini, and somewhat thin fleshed. They appear deep through the fore-rib
and moderately wide over the back and loin. The hips and shoulders are
prominent, and the quarters thin and shallow with no apparent bulge or fullness.
Cattle considered as having just reached full maturity carry a slightly thick
fat covering over the back, ribs, loin, and rump which increases progressively
with increasing age. Considerable patchiness about the tailhead iay be evident.
The cr,-l., brisket, flanks, and cod, or udder ;.lIppl'a slightly full. Mature
Commercial cattle tend to be rather coarse and rough with prominent shoulders
Cattle I -.-....iig the minimum requirements for the Utility u;ir.t may vary
greatly in appearance because of the numerous possile combinations of grade
factors and the wide ra;i]ce in age of animals. In conformation, cattle of Utility
grade tend to be rm;iiny, ipt;Iliii, ;nai-'il;ir, and thinly fleshed. They are usually
narrow 1lhri'ii1i the crops with a slihlitly sunken or hollowed-out appearance
of the loin, rump, and rounds. Shoulders and hips are decidedly prominent.
Depth tlin"l',il the fore-rib is much greater than through the rear flank with a
r',uiltin-: low proportion of ]iniblu:irter. M.aitl're cattle carry a slightly thick
fat c-,\'ri i' which may be restricted to the back, loin, and rump. The crops of
these cattle are very thin, and the brisket, rear flanks, and cod or udder show
only ver.o-light fullness. Progressively less finish is apparent in yui iTr cattle
rai-iinig down to a very thin c(ovrii1,n of fat for those under :I, months of age.
Utility cattle tend to be of slightly low quality. The bones and joints are
usually proporliol;ila-'ly 1.ir and the hide either thick or tight and inelastic.
Cattle pl,--s-iils" minimum qualitic;itinlns for Cutter grade may vary s-liI ly
in appearance because of ;ige and varying combinations of grade factors. They
tend to be decidedly inferior in conformation and quality and carry a very small
amount of finish. Cutter cattle are very angular and r'iii"l in conformation.
The Ile hiiiL is very thin, the hips and shoulders are very prominent, and the
loin and rounds usually present a very sunken or hollowed-out appearance.
Fully mature cattle carry only a very thin fat ("\eiiine while young immature
cattle show no indications of any fat cvicriin. Cutter cattle are usually of low
quality, app'ariiig quite i-,l.iic. coarse, and unsymmetrical.
Cattle of the Canner r;ile are normally those of advanced a-'e and so
extrt.lni,.ly thin as to aple ir emaciated. The typical Canner animal appears
extremely angular, long and thin of neck, extremely narrow and shallow bodied.
Shoulders and hips are extremely prominent. Cattle of this grade are very thin
fleshed and the outline of the bony framework is very evident. The loin, rump,
and rounds present an extremely sunken and hollowed-out appearance. The
general appearance denotes low quality. The relative proportion of meat to bone
is quite low, joints appear large, and the body is extremely angular and
SPECIFICATIONS FOR OFFICIAL UNITED STATES STANDARDS FOR
GRADES OF SLAUGHTER BULLS
Choice grade represents a very select segment of the class and is composed
primarily of bulls that have not reached full maturity. Bulls possessing mini-
mum qualifications for the Choice grade tend to be lowset, compact, blocky
individuals that are very wide topped and very thickly fleshed. The neck,
shoulders, and rounds show pronounced thickness, yet they present a well-
balanced, symmetrical, smooth appearance. While Choice bulls yield a moderately
high proportion of loins, ribs, and rinid-. the development of the forequarters
definitely exceeds that of the hindquarters. Choice bulls have a firm, relatively
thick covering of fat which is fairly uniform and smooth. The brisket, rear
flank, and twist appear full and plump. The appearance is neat and trim
tlhuehl some coarseness about the head and shoulders may be evident. The
hide is pliable and of medium thickness. The bones and joints are moderately
Good grade bulls include a wide range of age._- and numerous combinations of
the grade factors. In conformation, bulls meeting minimum qualifications for
the Good grade tend to be moderately blocky and compact. They are thickly
fleshed with short, thick necks, moderately wide backs and loins, and moderately
thick rounds. Young bulls of this grade have only a -lilhtly thick covering of
fat. Older bulls carry at least a moderately thick fat covering with noticeable
fullness in the brisket, rear flanks, and twist. Bulls of this grade show only
moderate refinement. They usually appear somewhat coarse in the shoulders
and heavy of bone and have slilirhly thick hides.
Bulls p,--o-.sing minimum qualifications for Commercial grade are somewhat
aiqngul:ar and raniy. They usually lack width and thickness over the top but
;appI;r rather thick thriou~li the neck, shoulders, and rounds. Yearlinu bulls
have a very thin fat c.,\iiriig and older bulls appear slightly thin. The brisket
and rear lanks appear only slightly full. Bulls of the Commercial grade are
usually of rather low quality. They are usually coarse boned, prominent in the
shoulders, and lacking generally in body symmetry.
Bulls poss.-..inlg minimum qualifications for Utility grade are usually inferior
in conformation and quality and very deficient in finish. Bulls of this grade
are upstanding, rangy, narrow topped, and very shallow of twist and round.
They are thinly fleshed but appear slightly thick through the shoulders and
rounds. Young bulls of this grade are practically devoid of finish, while older
bulls have a very thin c-\rvritri of fat. Exterior fats are confined principally to
the back and the region about the tailhead. There is little or no evidence of fat
deposits in the brisket or rear flank. Utility bulls are very coarse and rough
in appearance, being especially prominent in the shoulders and hips, and lacking
decidedly in trimness and body syniniiitr.v.
Bulls ni-'-.ine minimum qu;iliiln;iritii ; for Cutter grade are extremely inferior
in conformation and quality and practically devoid of finish. They tend to be
very upstanding, rangy and angular, thinly rlt.llld, narrow, and shallow bodied.
Shoulders and hips are very prominent and the loin, rump, and round present
a rather sunken or hollowed-out appearance. The brisket is usually very wrinkled
with no evidence of fullness.
Typical Canner grade bulls are very angular and r;nTy and so extremely thin
as to appear emaciated. The muscular portions of the body present a sunken or
hollowed-out appearance and the outline of the bony framework is very prominent
and visible. Bulls of this grade possess an extremely low proportion of meat to
SPECIFICATIONS FOR OFFICIAL UNITED STATES STANDARDS FOR
GRADES OF SLAUGHTER STAGS
Stags pii..--.-siing minimum qualifications for Choice grade tend to be lowset,
compact, wide, and deep of body. They are thickly fleshed with pronounced
thickness of the neck, shoulders, and rounds. Altlhiiuhli yielding a relatively high
proportion of ribs, loins, and rounl'-. the forequarters are d'ecidtedly deeper and
thicker and show more development than the hindquarters. Choice stags usually
show evidence of not being fully mature and carry a firm, relatively thick cover-
ing of fat. The brisket, flanks, and cod tend to be full and distended. Stags of
this grade are usually smooth in their finish but are of only moderate quality.
They show some coarseness about the head and neck, slight prominence of the
shoulders, fairly large bones and joints, and moderately thick but pliable hides.
Stags possessing minimum qualifications for Good grade tend to be moderately
compact and thick in appearance. The neck is usually short and very thickly and
the shoulders wide, somewhat prominent, and thickly fleshed. The back, loin,
and rump are only moderately wide and full while the rounds appear thick and
plump. Stags of this grade usually are much deeper and heavier through the
forequarters than in the hindquarters. Relatively young stags have a slightly
thick fat covering, while older stags have at least a moderately thick finish.
The fat ce\ ringg is fairly smooth and extends evenly over the crops, back, and loin
but may be slightly thin over the lower rib, rounds, and shoulders. The brisket,
flanks, and cods appear moderately full. Stags of this gr;adl ;iallear rather
coarse and lack ing generally in refinement.
Stags possessing minimum qualifications for Commercial gr:olt are usually
upstanding, ria;v, and narrow. Tli.y are very thick tlhriughl the neck and shoul-
ders. They may be slightly thinly fleshed and the back, loin, and rump may
appear slightly thin and 1lakinig in fullness. The rounds are moderately thick
but shallow and lackiiil in Inluiiin'-s. Relatively young st;gs. have a thin
covering of fat, while older stlu s have a slightly thick c,,''erinHg and usually show
some fullness in the brisket and cod. SF;ig- 4I this grade are usually rn~uuh. with
prominent shluildrs and heavy forequarters, and are very unsymmetrical in
Stags possessing minimum qualifications for Utility grade are very upstanding,
long and shallow of body, and very narrow and uneven over their top. The neck
and shoulders are moderately thick, while the back, loin, and rump have a thin,
delpressed or hollowed-out appearance. Tim depth of body is much greater
through the fore rib than tlin'igh the rear flank, with a resulting low proportion
of hindquarter. The fat c(.vering of Utility stags is thin and confined mostly
to the back and loin, with the lower part of the shoulders, ribs, and rounds being
practically devoid of finish. The quantity of finish may r;ing from very thin
for very young stags to only slightly thick for old mature t;l-. Utility stags
are decidedly rough and coarse in appearance. Coarseness is very evident in the
head, neck, shoulders, hips, and heavy bone.
Stags posse.ing minimum q(lllitillctions for the Cutter gr;ade are inferior in
conformation and quality, and very deficient in finish. They appear very angular
and very narrow throughout. They are very thinly fleshed and carry only a very
thin to extremely thin covering of fat. The fleshy portions of the body have a
sunken or hollowed-out appearance and the shoulders and hips are very prominent.
The proportion of ribs, loins, and rounds from Cutter stag carcasses is relatively
Typical Canner grade stags are extremely inferior in conformation and quality
and practically devoid of finish. In conformation, they appear extremely angu-
lar, rangy, narrow, and shallow. They are extremely thin fleshed, and the outline
of the bony framework of the animal's body is evident. Loins and rounds appear
very sunken and hollowed-out. The relative proportion of meat to bone is
extremely low, joints and bones appear large, and the body is very unsymmetrical.
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