U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version


Document Type



J. Anim. Sci. 2014.92:3868–3877


U.S. Government Work


The experiment was designed to validate the use of ultrasound to evaluate body composition in mature beef cows. Both precision and accuracy of measurement were assessed. Cull cows (n = 87) selected for highly variable fatness were used. Two experienced ultrasound technicians scanned and assigned BCS to each cow on 2 consecutive days. Ultrasound traits were backfat thickness (UBFT), LM area (ULMA), body wall thickness (UBWT), rump fat depth (URFD), rump muscle depth (URMD), and intramuscular fat (UIMF; %). Cows were then harvested. Carcass traits were HCW, backfat thickness (CBFT), LM area (CLMA), body wall thickness (CBWT), and marbling score (CMS). Correlations between consecutive live measurements were greatest for subcutaneous fat (r > 0.94) and lower for BCS (r > 0.74) and URMD (r > 0.66). Repeatability bias differed from 0 for only 1 technician for URMD and UIMF (P < 0.01). Technicians differed in repeatability SE for only ULMA (P < 0.05). Correlations between live and carcass measurements were high for backfat and body wall thickness (r > 0.90) and slightly less for intramuscular fat and LM area (r = 0.74 to 0.79). Both technicians underestimated all carcass traits with ultrasound, but only CBFT and CBWT prediction bias differed from 0 (P < 0.05). Technicians had similar prediction SE for all traits (P > 0.05). Technician effects generally explained P < 0.0001) but were minimal for scan differences. When cows with mean BCS 7 were removed, the portion of remaining variation between repeated measurements defined by animal effects increased for most traits and was significant for UBFT and URFD (P = 0.03). Technician effects explained trivial variation in accuracy (P > 0.24). Animal effects explained 87.2, 75.2, and 81.7% (P < 0.0001) of variation remaining for CBFT, CLMA, and CBWT prediction error, respectively, and remained large and highly important (P < 0.0001) when only considering cows with BCS from 4 to 7. We conclude that experienced ultrasound technicians can precisely and accurately measure traits indicative of composition in mature beef cows. However, animal differences define substantial variation in scan differences and, especially, prediction errors. Implications for technician certification, carcass pricing, and genetic evaluation are discussed.