Extension News

Study: Real-Time Ultrasound for Beef Cattle is Accurate

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AMES, Iowa -- Ultrasound technology continues to be an effective means to measure carcass traits in beef cattle. For years, however, ultrasound could only be used to measure backfat and ribeye area. Today, ultrasound machines use real-time technology that can capture additional measurements such as percent of intramuscular fat (useful for the beef seedstock industry) and be used as a sorting tool in the feedlot.

“While ultrasound is being used to help producers increase profits and to select superior breeding animals, these measurements are only useful if they are accurate,” says J.R. Tait, animal science graduate student at Iowa State University (ISU). Tait and other ISU researchers set out to compare real-time ultrasound measurements with actual carcass data taken at the time of harvest.

A total of 145 heifers were used in the experiment over the course of three years. The heifers were scanned by an Annual Proficiency Testing and Certification (APTC)/Ultrasound Guidelines Council (UGC) field-certified technician. Images were brought back to ISU and interpreted by an APTC/UGC laboratory-certified technician, and were measured for live weight, 12th rib fat thickness, 12th rib ribeye area, and percent intramuscular fat (used to calculate marbling). 

When the heifers were sent to slaughter, measurements of the same carcass traits were collected by trained personnel from ISU and Iowa Quality Beef at line speed, under typical circumstances for commercial carcass data reported to producers. The data from the plant was then compared to data from the ultrasound measurements.

“The results showed that real-time ultrasound is an accurate tool to measure body composition,” explains Tait. The strongest correlated trait is rib fat thickness, which is to be expected, as it is easier to measure than ribeye area and percent intramuscular fat.

“The results are very exciting for beef producers who are currently using or considering use of this technology,” Tait remarks.  “Real-time ultrasound can be put to work as a selection or sorting tool in the feedlot, benefiting cow-calf and feedlot managers alike.”

For more information about the research, visit


Contacts :

J.R. Tait, Iowa State University, (515) 387-1301, rtait@iastate.edu


Darrell Busby, Iowa State University, (712) 769-2600, dbusby@iastate.edu


Rachel E. Martin, Iowa Beef Center, (515) 294-9124, remartin@iastate.edu