Tag Archives: beef advocacy

Beef: Community, Lifecycle & Production

It’s been a year since I started getting more deeply involved with beef industry professionals and writing posts that advocate on their behalf. One thing I’ve noticed is that lots of people don’t realize how many different professions are involved in the beef industry.

It’s not just farmers, butchers and chefs. It starts, of course, with the animals themselves, the cattlemen that raise them, and the farmers that grow their food.

Like humans, cows have a nine month gestation period. For the first few months, a calf is raised on its mother’s milk (colostum – for key nutrients and immunity). After maybe six or eight months, a calf is weaned off of mother’s milk and put out to pasture. At that time decisions are typically made about whether the animal will be sold off or kept for breeding.

The feed yard is typically the next location for the animal (when the animal is about a year old). This is where they get fattened up for market.

Grain finished animals stay in a feed yard for about 120-180 days. The grain mixture they eat is typically representative of local agriculture. For example, in California there may be almond hulls mixed in with the standard corn or wheat. In New York, there are sunflower seeds mixed in. In Idaho, there is some potato mash.

Grass finished animals stay on pasture or hay for seven or eight months longer, on average, than grain finished animals. They do not eat grain. It generally takes longer for them to get to market weight.

After that, it’s off to the slaughter they go, where we have people who work at processing plants for slaughter and packing. The Humane Slaughter Act of 1958, updated in 1978 and 2002, governs how all of this is done.

At the packing plant, the beef product is broken down into primal and sub-primal cuts:

  • Primal: chuck, rib, round, loin.

  • Sub-Primal: bottom round, top round, eye round, round tip.

Then, the meat is shipped off to grocers, butchers, restaurants and other end-user locations, ultimately ending with diners like you and me gobbling up all of that delicious meat.

Veterinarians, animal care specialists, scientists and government inspectors are present at each step during this process, from farm, to feed yard, to slaughterhouse, to distributers, to grocers, restaurants and butcher shops. And, of course, law makers and beef industry professionals have helped put together all of the guidelines and regulations that govern and run the industry.

It’s a very complex and well-monitored process, so don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that beef is somehow unsafe. The industry also provides for countless jobs, and that stimulates the economy. Last, and most importantly, they all help to put steak on our dinner plates.

Nebraska Beef Tour

I just got home from Nebraska, where I went on a beef tour that explored the entire life cycle of cattle from calving, to grazing, to the feedyard, to the packing plant.

Why Nebraska? I’ll tell you.

Nebraska’s economy is driven by corn crops, feed yards and cattle ranching. There are nearly two million people in Nebraska but nearly eight million cattle. It’s the number one red meat production state in the country.

Half of the beef produced in Nebraska goes overseas as export, to the tune of one billion dollars worth per year. The US is the third or fourth biggest exporter of beef in the world, but we also happen to be the number one importer (why we import is a topic for another day). India, believe it or not, is the number one exporter, likely soon to be bested by Brazil.

But enough of that. Let me get down to the nitty gritty of this incredible tour.

We made four stops: three in the first day, and one on the second day.

Stop 1: Knobbe Feedyards

While this was the first stop on the tour, it’s really the last phase of the animals life cycle before being sent off to the packing plant for harvesting/slaughter.

A feedyard is a place where cattle are fattened up to market weight over the course of four to six months.

Harry Knobbe (pronounced like Obiwan’s last name) and his family get yearling cattle (roughly a year old), weighing around 750lbs. The animals are generally there for 130-180 days, until they hit 1400-1500lbs, which is a good market weight. Doing the math, that means they generally reach this weight at 15 to 18 months of age, and the animals gain just under 4lbs a day. Each animal eats about 25lbs of food and 100lbs of water each day. Fatties!

The feed given to the animals changes as their time there passes. In fact there are six stages of feed with decreasing roughage/grass content and increasing corn content as time goes by (with stage one containing the most roughage content of the six). The animals are coming off of a mostly grazing/grass diet, and need to be acclimated to the corn-rich diet over time.

This friendly guy is loving his stage five feed.

Just what’s in that diet? Aside from the roughage and grasses that are always mixed in to some percentage, the feed consists of mainly two byproducts or waste products from the corn industry.

The first byproduct comes from the sweetener and corn syrup industry, and is referred to as “cow candy,” because they love it so much and it smells sweet like candy.

The second corn byproduct in the feed comes from the ethanol fuel industry. Ethanol plants would otherwise discard this substance, which is similar to the mash left from spirits alcohol distillers.

As a general number, the feed gets about 20% of each in the stage one feed, with the rest being roughage.

Grass/Hay
Adding specific quantities of each corn byproduct to the grass.
Dumping the feed into a mixing truck that will also fill the troughs.
Happy Angus cattle at the trough.

This particular feedyard has a capacity of 5000 head. That’s about average in terms of size. Their large, semi-shaded pens have ample water and space for the cattle, at 250-350sq ft per animal.

Oddly enough, the living conditions for cattle don’t change much as feed yards scale up to 10k, 50k or 100k heads; they just sprawl out more.

Kbobbe loses seven tenths of one pecent to death, which is a very good statistic. The animals come from all over the place, from different climates and states. Some locations have a higher incidence of parasites, like the wetter climate of Mississippi, for example. As such, the animals are dewormed and vaccinated when they get to Knobbe as a precaution. After all, sick animals tend not to grade as high as healthy animals.

Fun fact that I learned here: it’s cheaper to bring cattle to corn as opposed to bringing corn to cattle. Based on the numbers I quoted here, it would require ridiculous amounts of corn truckloads to be moved to cattle ranches for finishing. Thats why animals come from all over the country to finish in Nebraska; all the corn is right there. It also makes sense why Nebraska is such an important place for the beef industry.

As for the output of Knobbe, they see about 2-5% of their animals grade at prime, 75-80% choice, and the rest select.

Stop 2: Peregrine Ranch

This second stop was really the first step in the life of the animal. Don Peregrine runs a third generation calving ranch near Fullerton. This area of Nebraska is near what is known as the Sand Hills region, which generally separates what’s considered eastern Nebraska from western Nebraska.

The east is characterized by rich, lush soil that’s perfect for growing corn. The west, on the other hand, or the Sand Hills, consists of a topography that’s not good for growing corn (think 50 bushels per acre as opposed to 250).

The Sand Hills quite literally is a region of hilly topography that’s like sand dunes beneath the grass. While this is not ideal for growing corn (or much of anything, for that matter), it IS ideal for grazing cattle.

Don Peregrine’s land butts up right against the beginning of the Sand Hills region, so he consider himself a grass farmer as much as a cattle rancher.

He’s also got some river bed land, which poses a unique set of challenges in addition to those already faced in the Sand Hills. River bed land can cause hoof rot if the animals hoofs are too wet for too long.

Aside from his expertise with the land, Don has developed a unique and hands-on hybrid breeding method, with animals that have been selected by him for 40 years. One particular cow we met was 14 years old and had already given birth to 14 calves.

He employs herd management techniques like ear tagging (done early), topical dehorning (dries the horn and prevents it from growing without having to grind, saw or burn the horn down), and fence barrier weaning. These all exemplify humane, low stress practices.

In addition to grass, Don supplements the animals’ diet with minerals, “cow candy” from ethanol and sugar production, and other additives like E.P.T. for development.

Stop 3: Ryan & June Loseke, DVM

This family not only raises corn, soybeans and alfalfa, but they also run a 3500-head feed yard and a veterinary practice. Amazing!

The corn and soy beans make up 1700 acres of their land, with 40 acres of alfalfa nestled near the family home.

Technology makes it more efficient for them to run and manage their farm. Sprayers and planters are guided by GPS, which allows them to maximize the use of their land and to plant straight rows. It even tells them when less water or spray is needed in certain areas, based on topography and water tables.

I was here during corn planting season. In fact Ryan was racing to get corn planted before some forecasted rains. Sure enough it rained a lot later that night and into the morning. Good thing he got that corn planted otherwise he would’ve lost time waiting for the ground to be right for planting again.

They’re also vets for large and small animals, including pets as well. This is great, since they’re also running a feed yard and can apply their knowledge of veterinary science to their own animals.

They promote Certified Angus Beef cattle in their feed yard. They sell to Cargill, Greater Omaha and Creekstone packing plants (among others).

They even host local kindergarten students from the area schools to teach them about agriculture.

June and her son, educating our tour group about their lives.

Stop 4: Cargill Meat Solutions

This was probably my favorite part of the tour, since it’s where the animals are harvested into delicious and nutritious beef!

Unfortunately cameras are not allowed inside the facility for business proprietary and employee privacy reasons, so that’s the only shot I have.

Cargill has been in business for 150 yeas, with this facility being open since 1968. They have facilities in multiple states.

They employ about 2200 people at the plant, who hail from 28 different nations but all live in the region. They boast a 40-45% female work force, many of whom are on the fabrication floor engaged in employment that was historically only thought of as men’s work.

They’re obsessed with safety and regulatory compliance. They’ve got two labs on site to take samples of air and drainage. There’s also a third party lab engaged for pathogen testing.

There are cameras everywhere, with a video room to watch the cattle knocker and the various floors. Quality Assurance personnel watches 100% of the time to monitor both the employees and the beef. They can focus in on people to make sure they’re following various requirements, dressing the beef properly, handling knives and sterilizers the right way, etc. If they see something, they can radio a supervisor that can address the situation immediately. There’s also a red button to stop the production line if all else fails.

Not only is safety a priority for the Cargill meat supply, given all the USDA and inspectors/auditing folks there all the time, but they’re also always looking out for their employees. They have nursing staff on hand for heat, icing, massage and soreness treatments. They even have hydraulic floor lifts that raise and lower cutters to be at the appropriate and safe work height for butchery.

There are two 8-hour processing shifts of work, and one cleaning shift of work each day. The plant processes 5300 head of cattle a day, which is the largest operation in the area.

To give you an idea of scale, this comes down to 6.1 million 8oz servings of beef per day, and 3 million pounds of ground beef per week. Impressive.

I was told that 64% is a good yield for an animal carcass for edible beef protein. But nothing really goes to waste. Hides, offal, etc. are all utilized in some way, whether it’s rendering or bone gelatin. There truly is no waste. Well, everything is used except for the tail switch (bristle hairs at the end of the tail) and the “moo” (snout).

Cargill is still growing, but it’s also modernizing. They’re one of two major packers who use a camera system for grading. A special camera captures an image of the rib eye, then a computer runs an algorithm to generate a scoring number that assigns the a grade to the side of beef. This system makes meat grading less arbitrary and more consistent across their plants.

Speaking of grading, Cargill sees about 3-6% prime grade, with most of the rest being choice and select.

Cargill is also excelling on the environmental and sustainability side of things. They employ state of the art methane recovery and water conservation and purification techniques. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 30%.

They’re also involved with the Sands County Foundation, which recognizes excellent rancher environmental practices with the “Leopold Conservation Award.”

Being such a massive employment force in the area, they also like to reinvest in the local community. Cargill Cares, United Way and various school programs all exemplify ways in which Cargill gives back to and helps enrich the community.

So what are the details of what actually happens at a slaughterhouse or packing plant? Here’s a breakdown of the carcass’ movement through the Cargill facility:

Step 1: This is the unloading of animals from the trailer onto lots. This typically takes place at like 9pm or 10pm the night before the beef is harvested. Once checked, the animals will stay there for 4-6 hours.

Step 2: The animals are walked through “the serpentine,” which is a specially designed passageway from the lots into the harvesting floor that minimizes stress. Once the animal is “knocked” it is rendered desensitized. It can no longer feel anything and is unconscious. The first knock happens just after 6am, I believe.

Then the animal is cut to bleed out, its hide is removed, it’s eviscerated (offal removed), the head is removed, and then it’s split into two sides. After all that, it is given a ticket with info for the next parts of the process. This step takes 32 minutes.

In certain stages of this phase, there are high pressure carcass washes to get mud and hair off, and to trim off any visible stuff that needs to be removed.

Steam vacuums are used for bugs and stuff that you can’t see. A 180 degree carcass wash is used to kill E. coli. An organic acid cabinet is used post-evisceration to further these precautions. There is a neck wash, and spinal material is removed with a special bladed vacuum according to directives relating to Mad Cow Disease. There’s also a steam pasteurization cabinet that exposes the carcass to 201 degree steam for nine seconds. This is also done to kill bacteria or parasites.

After some of these hot washes, the carcass is immediately chilled again. Remember this is all within 32 minutes!

Step 3: The carcass is chilled with water to bring down the temperature. This takes 28-32 hours.

Step 4: The bodies move to the sales cooler, where graders look at the rib eye. The special camera that I mentioned above is used here, and a marbling grade is determined. It’s stamped with the grade and then sorted. This takes 12 to 48 hours.

Step 5: Once the carcass hits the fabrication floor it takes just 22 minutes to put the final cuts into a box. It’s here that cutters will butcher the various parts into all the commercial cuts, according to whatever is on the order sheets from Cargill customers.

Step 6: The Cargill distribution and shipping center is almost 100% automated. The beef can be here for anywhere from 2-36 hours before it goes onto trucks for delivery. Cargill has capacity for 70,000 boxes, all individually shelved without stacking on top of one another.

The total time that the animal and end product beef is at Cargill is about 4-6 days.

Conclusion

I hope this gave you some insight into how beef is produced; where it comes from, what it eats, how it’s raised, and how it’s broken down for consumption. I really learned and experienced a lot on this tour, and I hope to go on another one soon to learn more about butchery and cuts. Texas A&M’s “Beef 101” course is on my hit list.

The Beef Checkoff

In my effort to educate you dingbats about all-things-beef, I figured this would be a nice little primer on what’s going on in the industry around the Beef Checkoff Program.

In 1985, the Food Security Act, aka the “Farm Bill,” established something called the Beef Checkoff Program. The program, which later became mandatory in 1988, takes $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable grab on imported beef and beef products.

The Beef Checkoff logo, which you will see on all things that the program funds.

The dough is collected by state beef councils, which retain up to half the amount collected. The state councils give the other half to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which oversees the national checkoff program, subject to USDA review.

There are 100 members of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. They’re nominated by fellow beef producers and appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, and they represent all segments of the beef industry.

Beef Checkoff was designed to get people to sell more beef and motivate consumers to buy more beef. This is accomplished through advertising, marketing partnerships, public relations, education, research and new-product development. The Beef Act defines six program categories: (1) promotion, (2) research, (3) consumer information, (4) industry information, (5) foreign marketing, and (6) producer communications.

You may have heard the slogan “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner” somewhere in your travels. That’s just one example of their success.

But fear not! By law, checkoff funds can’t be used to promote breeds or brands without USDA and Beef Board Executive Committee approval. Furthermore, checkoff funds can’t be used to influence government policy or action (including lobbying). The law also disallows checkoff money to be invested in production research that isn’t aimed at improving beef products.

The main goal of the program is to increase commodity demand, and thus increase economic growth in the industry. Most beef and dairy producers believe that their beef checkoff dollars bring value back to them. Many of my posts are a result of beef checkoff funding, actually. The MBA and Top of the Class programs in which I participated were funded by the checkoff. Do you think that money went to good use? I do!

Should the funding ever increase (to more than $1 per head, for example) the checkoff may consider putting the “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner” message back on TV, stepping up consumer education, or increasing foreign market development.

Lean Beef

I recently had dinner with a friend of mine who had just gotten an angioplasty. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when surgeons open up blocked arteries and restore normal blood flow to the heart. If your arteries stay clogged, you can have a heart attack and die. Duh.

My friend’s doctor obviously cautioned him to avoid saturated fats and bad cholesterol. That doesn’t mean he can’t have a steak once in a while, and that’s exactly what he wanted for dinner on the night we hung out. I have that effect on people…

So there were two steaks on the menu; a NY strip and a skirt. My buddy asked the waitress, “which one is more fatty?” She said the strip, which, all things equal in terms of grade and cooking prep, is completely false. I informed my buddy why she was wrong after she stepped away, so as not to embarrass her. But I figured I would share that knowledge here with you guys, too. Here’s why she was wrong:

NY strip steak is a strip loin cut of beef, which is the most prized part of the sirloin. Sirloin is considered a lean cut of beef. In fact, any time you see the word “loin” in describing a cut of beef, that means it’s lean. The one caveat I’ll give is that fat content also depends on the grade of beef, not just the location of the cut. Prime has more intra-muscular fat (marbling) than choice, for example, and something like Kobe has more than prime.

The term “lean” means that the beef has 4.5g or less of saturated fat per serving, and 10g or less total fat per serving. About 66% of beef cuts are considered lean cuts. That’s pretty fucking good!

Skirt hails from the “plate” or diaphragm muscle of the bovine anatomy. It’s not listed above because it isn’t within the definition of lean. It has more fat content than a strip steak, especially after a strip is trimmed by a restaurant. Most of the fat on a sirloin lies on the outside of the muscle, as opposed to the inside marbling (which, by the way, contains “good fats,” like olive oil and avocados do). But when external fat is trimmed away, you’re down to low fat content.

The real question, then, becomes: How is the steak prepared? Does it come with a cream sauce? Is it cooked with tons of butter? Is it simply seasoned and grilled? All of this matters tremendously in terms of calculating the total fat content of a particular dish.

Why do I mention this? Because the method of cooking could flip these fat levels very easily. If the strip is being cooked in a pan filled with butter and then smothered in a cream sauce, while the skirt is simply seasoned and grilled, then maybe it’s best to get the skirt if you’re trying to be mindful of overall fat content. It all depends, like adult diapers.

My advice: don’t ruin good beef with a sauce. I love the flavor of beef, so I don’t like to mask it with sauces of any kind. Simply season and fire it up. If you live by those rules, then you can take the fat content of lean cuts at face value and be confident that you’re eating a low fat, lean beef meal that’s both nutritious and delicious.

Sustainability in the US Beef Industry

I hesitate to even use the word “industry” when talking about beef in the USA. Perhaps “Sustainability in US Beef Production” is a better title for this post. “Industry” makes people think of the “factory farming” bullshit myth, which I already debunked HERE.

In any case, Happy New Year!!! As usual, this post is designed to do away with yet another set of myths about US beef. Apparently some false ideas have spread that beef production in America is vicious to the environment, emits far too many “greenhouse gases,” is responsible for “global warming” (or whatever people call it these days), is wasteful, and is generally not a sustainable practice. Lies. Every one of them.

Grazing

Grasslands involved in beef production account for nearly 75% of US natural wildlife, and cattle spend a majority of their lives feeding on these natural grasslands. Up to 85% of grassland in the US is actually not suitable for crop farming due to soil characteristics, topography or rainfall. Cattle grazing is a good use of the otherwise inarable land, and it even helps prevent wildfires. Also, cattle can eat shit that almost nothing else can. Bovine digestive systems are made to convert inedible plants into protein that we can eat.

DSC04663

That’s all wonderful, and you may have read a little about that on here before. But what I’m going to do now is introduce you to the concept of “diversified farming” practices.

Diversified Farming

What the fuck is a diversified farm? Essentially it’s when a farm produces a variety of crops or animals, usually both, with the crops feeding the animals that they raise, in an effort to create a self-sustained farm with little waste or reliance upon other operations.

You may recall that Walbridge Farm is like this as well, where they grow sunflowers and raise cattle. The sunflowers are used to produce cold pressed sunflower oil, which they sell at their market.

DSC04744

The hulls, shells and ground up sunflower byproduct from that oil-making process is then used to create cattle feed. Pretty brilliant, if you ask me. Not only is this a good idea from a business standpoint, since you are becoming more self-reliant and utilizing more of what you make, but it is also responsible environmental stewardship.

Speaking of environmental stewardship, many diversified farm operations also catch water runoff from their feed yards to be processed and rendered inert before being reclaimed by the land. In fact, water management is an area of the industry that has seen great improvement in recent years. In addition, almost all diversified farms collect cow dung as well, which is then used as fertilizer for their crops. Even waste is not wasted!

But aside from diversified farming efforts, cattle are natural recyclers. They kick so much ass at recycling that you can literally feed them the waste from other industries.

Recycling

Do you enjoy bourbon? Of course you do, because you’re a man with balls and a dick swinging between your legs. You’re a red-blooded fucking American, and nothing is more American than bourbon, except for maybe jazz or steak. Do you know how bourbon is made? With corn! Good: You’re not an idiot. Corn mash, to be more accurate. That gets fermented and turned into booze. But what happens with the mash after the fermentation and distillation process? You guessed it: it often gets turned into cattle feed.

You all know how much I love Martin’s Potato Buns, right? The reason I love them so much is because their buns are always fresh, supple and soft; perfect for constructing a burger. I recently learned why that is the case. They pull their bread from shelves a little earlier than most, to ensure freshness to the consumer. Know what they do with the buns after they get pulled from the shelves? Rather than going to the garbage heap, they get re-purposed and turned into cattle feed.

That’s just two examples of other industries and businesses that contribute their unused byproducts to the beef production cycle, thereby reducing and re-purposing waste. The ethanol fuel industry is another big one, but many others contribute as well.

Greenhouse Gases

So what about greenhouse gases? We’ve all heard how cow farts are supposedly destroying the planet, right? Come on…

According to numbers from the EPA, cattle production is not even a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s some recent data:

  • Agriculture: 6.9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Livestock: 3.1% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Livestock Methane: 2.8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Beef Cattle Methane: 1.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

What about other industries?

  • Electricity Generation: 33% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Transportation: 26% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Industrial Use: 11% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Residential/Commercial: 8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s really pretty simple though: Cattle are not the major cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. And as far as the US is concerned, we do a pretty damn good job at containing the impact that beef production has on the environment. The US is actually one of the most efficient nations in terms of lowering greenhouse gases and environmental concerns that stem from beef production. Click the image below to see a larger version:

water-2-fal-2015
From www.beefissuesquarterly.com

Still Improving

Furthermore, a “Lifecycle Assessment” of the beef industry was recently conducted. What that means is that everything and anything that touches the production cycle was examined. Use of farm equipment, water, machines, everything – not just the cattle themselves or the land use.

Take a look at this nifty graphic that encapsulates the findings of the life cycle assessment (click for a larger version):

From www.beefresearch.org/
From www.beefresearch.org

It turns out that the beef production cycle scored much better than car emissions from the auto industry. Why mention emissions and the auto industry? Because they promoted a poor emissions study and leveled some wild accusations at the beef industry.

Better still: the emissions study didn’t focus on the entire auto industry lifecycle in the way that the beef study did. Had they conducted a full lifecycle study, they would have had to include assessments of things like power plants and such. Once those things are factored in, the beef industry becomes squeaky clean in a direct comparison with the auto industry in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information about the improvements made in the beef production lifecycle, go HERE.

Niche Market Beef

A lot of hulabaloo has been going on around the discussion of grain finished vs grass finished beef. People seem to think that grass finished beef is somehow more natural and environmentally friendly. Yet we know it takes about 226 more days for grass-finished cattle to reach market weight than grain-finished cattle. More days on grass may mean greater environmental impact.

Let’s look at the difference. Each pound of grain-finished beef requires:

  • 45 percent less land;
  • 76 percent less water; and
  • 49 percent less feed;

And generates:

  • 51 percent less manure; and
  • 42 percent fewer carbon emissions.

So it would seem to me that grain finishing is more environmentally sound. For more on that, click HERE.

Meatless Monday

Just the idea of it makes me cringe. What would possess someone to avoid meat just because of alliteration? Why not increase beef intake and call it Meaty Monday? Because some fool out there thought it would be healthy and better for the environment to cut meat from your diet just one day a week. Were they right? Of course not. Let’s examine the idea:

First, we know that beef is nutritious and a vital part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Refresh yourself with my post, if you must.

As for the environment, “Meatless Monday” would have a very small impact even if every American followed it. One meatless day per week would account for less than one half of one percent of the U.S. carbon footprint. For more on that, check out THIS LINK.

Nose to Tail

Are we, as a society, wasting any part of the animal? Not really.

First, you’ve all noticed some of the shit I’ve been eating lately at fine dining establishments: Oxtail stew, blood sausage, bone marrow, tripe, and all sorts of offal or “variety meats.”

bone marrow with fried oyster
bone marrow with fried oyster

There is a readily identifiable trend in the food biz where chefs want to use the entire animal, from nose to tail, to reduce waste and elevate their cuisine by offering on their menus the proteins that used to be relegated to the impoverished.

takashi 3 012 edits

Offal and “variety cuts” were always cheap and within the budgets of the poor, especially outside of the US. You know what I’m talking about: stews, cured meats, slow and low cooked meals, etc. Now, restaurants are taking inspiration from some of those humble dishes and featuring them on their menus.

Beef Byproducts

But even outside of human consumption, the carcass is utilized across a wide spectrum of modern society. Take a look at this diagram, courtesy of Facts About Beef:

cow-in-my-marshmallow-48x24_page_1

Another from BeefUSA:

I also liked this one from Snopes, mainly for the conclusion at the bottom of the image:

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I haven’t independently verified all uses claimed on the Snopes chart, but the Facts About Beef chart is 100% legit and it looks like whoever made the Snopes pic just grabbed the same list from the BeefUSA graphic. The overall point is that beef byproducts are in a lot of things we use every day. It’s not like we just kill cows, cut the meat off and fling the carcass into a ditch on the side of the road. There’s really no waste.

Wrap Up

I guess I should cut this baby off here. There’s a lot to talk about as far as sustainability is concerned, and if I tried to tackle everything, this would be a book as opposed to an article.

Just remember that America’s cattle ranchers have a vested interest in sustainable environmental practices. After all, the beef community thrives on multi-generational family farms. Cattle farmers have an average of 13 different practices in place to accomplish environmental goals.

Top of the Class Beef Advocacy Training

Back in October I was invited out to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association headquarters in Denver, CO to partake in their advanced beef advocacy training program called “Top of the Class.”

ncba3

You guys may recall a post back in the summer where I talked about how I was earning my MBA (Masters in Beef Advocacy) with five online course modules designed to educate people about the beef industry. Those courses inspired me to write some fun and informative posts.

But after getting that MBA, a friend at the New York Beef Council contacted me and encouraged me to apply for the Top of the Class program, which is essentially like the PhD level of beef advocacy training.

I submitted my application and was accepted! It was wild. Two days of intense training, beef information workshops, on-camera cooking demos, on-camera interviews facing tough questions, engaging lectures and helpful blogging tips.

The first half of day one involved group sessions with topics on nutrition, beef research, food photography, blogging, beef advocacy, animal care, sustainability and beef quality assurance. We also received tips on how to give effective presentations and how to conduct media interviews (on topics we are passionate about, and then some harder questioning about the beef industry).

In the afternoon and on day two we had individual break-out sessions. Two fun break-outs involved me getting in front of a camera, rather than working behind it like I normally do.

The first was a simulated TV interview with a PR and media training specialist, in which he asked me a bunch of questions about aged beef, and then threw in a few zingers about beef safety and the myth we know as “factory farming.” I was prepared to answer given my previous training! I’m trying to get my hands on those videos for you to see how I performed.

The second fun break-out was a cooking demo, where I prepared “planned-overs:” A crispy Cuban shredded beef stir-fry dish made from the leftovers of a “Sunday roast.” This was filmed as a simulation as well: I was the cooking guest on a morning news TV show, with a host who asked me questions and helped me prepare the food. During the shoot, the goal was to work in some messaging about beef nutrition, and about re-purposing leftovers to help reduce food waste. I’m trying to get my hands on these videos as well. They were pretty cool.

Other break-out sessions were about finding a message, a niche and a goal for both my blogging endeavors and my social media accounts. I think it’s safe to say I’ve found my niche! There were also some sessions regarding how to engage and advocate about beef on social media and elsewhere.

Each Top of the Class program has five students, and I think they’ve only done a handful of programs to date. The other students in the program were highly diversified, and I thought it would be cool to introduce them to you.

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Dr. Lindsay Chichester

Lindsay has a blog called “Agricultural With Dr. Lindsay.” Her aim is to bring her readers stories about agriculture and introduce them to the people who grow and produce our food.

https://agriculturalwithdrlindsay.com/
https://agriculturalwithdrlindsay.com/

She shares agricultural practices, meat selection, cooking and storage tips, and will answer any questions you may have. With a Master of Science in Animal Science, a Master of Art in Speech Communications, and a PhD in Systems Agriculture from West Texas A&M University, you can be confident that Dr. Lindsay will have highly knowledgeable answers for you.

She’s truly a force to be reckoned with. Lindsay grew up on a cattle and sheep ranch in northern CA. She was a 10 year 4-H member, received a formal education in agricultural systems, and worked a variety of jobs in the agricultural industry (meat packing, feed yards, managing cattle herds, collecting research, etc.).

She was also an Extension Educator with University of Nebraska-Lincoln for six years focusing on livestock, agriculture, food systems, and 4-H, working with both adults and youth. In January 2016 she began a new career with Nevada Cooperative Extension.

If you’re wondering what some of that stuff means, I will explain it to you as best as I can. And yes, I was clueless about it too.

The Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Cooperative Extension provides non-formal education and learning activities to farmers, residents of rural communities, and people in urban areas throughout the country.

The country’s more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities have a critical mission: extension. Through extension, they bring vital, practical information to agricultural producers, small business owners, consumers, families and kids.

That’s where 4-H comes into play. 4‑H is a youth development program delivered by Cooperative Extension. You probably remember the commercials that used to air in the 80’s, like this one:

Kids complete hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship. They receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles. 4‑H touches every area of the country via in-school and after-school programs, community clubs and camps.

Cassidy Johnston

Cassidy has a blog called Cow Country Blog. With it, she shows readers the very human and family-oriented aspects of ranching, as well as the hard work and joy behind what it means to produce cattle for the US beef market. You can see exactly the kind of love and attention that it takes to raise both cattle and a growing family.

Cassidy worked on a ranch as part of her research for her collegiate honors thesis about ranching and environmentalism. After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Environmental Studies, she went to work on that same ranch.

While researching, she met her cowboy husband, Robert, and they’ve been together ever since. Cowgirl meets cowboy; it doesn’t get any more classic Americana than that! Together they have worked on three cattle ranches in two different states. They currently live in Colorado and work for one of the largest ranches in the country.

Kita “Girl Carnivore” Roberts

Like me, Kita is a photographer as well as a food blogger. In fact she has two blogs: one is meat-centric, called Girl Carnivore, and the other is called Pass the Sushi (recipes, travel, photo tips, blogging tips). Her primary location of operation is out of Delaware, but she gets to travel around pretty often due to her photography and blogging endeavors.

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With her blogs, she shares tons of really awesome recipes that she developed on her own. I mean, I know how hard it is to develop a recipe and come up with something unique, and then photograph it in such a way as to get readers to run out and buy the ingredients. Kita makes it look easy.

As you might expect, food photographers tend to share a wealth of really great foodporn via Instagram and social media. Kita is no exception:

As her moniker and the above photo suggests, the “Girl Carnivore” is not limited to beef. Her site has recipes broken down by protein right on the front page for easy navigation: beef, lamb, poultry and pork. You can find amazing stuff there for entrees, side dishes, what to do with leftovers… everything.

Michaela Gasseling

Michaela writes a blog called Cowgirl Boots & Running Shoes. On her blog, she shares healthy recipes, meal planning pointers, nutrition and dieting tips, fitness motivation, and an inside look at what family farming life is like. One of my favorite posts from her blog is about why she incorporates beef into her diet. Finally! More people talking about how great beef is for nutritional purposes.

http://www.cowgirlbootsandrunningshoes.com/
http://www.cowgirlbootsandrunningshoes.com/

After nearly burning out from working crazy shift hours as an ultrasound tech, Michaela and her husband Matt moved themselves and their two kids back to Matt’s family farm.

She does ultrasound part time now, but she also became a health and fitness coach and a certified PiYo Live fitness class instructor. She’s also an accredited La Leche League Leader and runs a support group for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

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To be honest, I felt a little intimidated. I just really love steak and writing about meat! Some of these other folks had way more hands-on experience in the beef industry than me, especially when it came to knowing about farms and how beef is produced. I guess the folks in charge of the program’s admissions thought there was some value in what I was doing here, at the consumer level.

But all of us are bloggers of some sort, if you hadn’t noticed. And all of us were somehow touching the beef industry, if not purely focused on it. It was a great group, and we all learned a lot from one another.

The instructors were impressive, too. There were registered dietitians, food scientists, public relations specialists, sustainability gurus, feed lot operators, and media and communications experts. I actually already did a spotlight post on one of the instructors, Ann Burkholder.

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I hope to spotlight a few more, in time.

The NCBA offices are quite impressive. The walls are lined with nice framed photos of past leaders of the industry, and really cool cattle brands from various producers around the country, old and new.

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They have a state of the art test kitchen with both gas and electric piped in to play around with various ways of cooking beef. In fact this is where they create various recipes, and even study, discover, or market cuts of beef (like they did with the flatiron steak). They even innovate new products, like when they helped come up with Schmacon (beef bacon). I was impressed big time!

They also have a media monitoring control room. It was like something from a science fiction movie or a spy movie. Basically, any time beef is mentioned on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or anywhere else for that matter, someone at NCBA will know about it and be able to respond, engage, or just simply watch.

As I mentioned above, I was on camera a few times. That’s because the NCBA has a fully functioning TV studio on site, and they even have a show that airs regularly called Cattlemen to Cattlemen. They can also broadcast live and link up with various TV news agencies who may want their media spokespeople for interviews.

I was blown away by the facilities. They’re truly amazing, and cattle farmers and ranchers can rest assured that their Beef Checkoff dollars are being put to very good use. But the experience as a whole really acted to sling-shot my motivation here. I’ll be doing some interesting things in the future, and posting some new and interesting content. Keep an eye out!

B.A.M. Episode 6: Antibiotics, Schmantibiotics

A whole crapload of unnecessary freaking out has happened over ranchers’ use of antibiotics in the raising of animals for human consumption. While some of the alarmist stuff out there might sound scary, in reality it isn’t. So I feel the need to ease some tensions here with this beef advocacy post.

It’s Humane

The judicious use of antibiotics is the humane thing to do for animals that are in need of care. Just like humans, animals need help every so often to fight off a bug. When sick, their ears droop, they cough and have runny noses. They separate from the herd and go off by themselves. Some diseases can be avoided through the use of vaccines, and illnesses can be prevented and combated with the use of vitamins and antibiotics.

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The Law

By law, producers must wait a certain amount of time after administering an antibiotic before an animal can be slaughtered for consumption, to ensure that no traces of the antibiotic remain within the animal. These “withdrawal times” are strictly monitored and vary from 0-60 days based on the substance being administered. That means you can be confident that there are no antibiotics in the meat you buy at stores or order in restaurants. Once the withdrawal time is tolled, that basically means the antibiotic has been completely metabolized and has worked its way out of the animal’s system.

Ranchers must carefully follow directions for administering the proper amounts of antibiotics to their animals, and the FDA tests for traces of antibiotics in meat products as well. There is a mess of paperwork, regular federal inspections and tedious record keeping involved in this entire process. It really is a tightly run ship.

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Let me unpack those generalizations a bit here: Under new FDA guidelines, there are very specific, detailed measurements that are set for antibiotics in feed – authorized by veterinarians – that are called “veterinary feed directives.” These directives outline exactly how long an antibiotic can be used and which illnesses can be treated. They also specify the number of animals that can be treated.

Again, these drugs will only be used to treat, prevent and control disease with the oversight of a veterinarian. Farmers and ranchers will be required to form even stronger relationships with licensed veterinarians in order to receive authorization for the appropriate antibiotic for a specified illness, and for a specific time period. I’d say that creates a pretty well regulated and closely monitored situation.

Additionally, new laws require that little to no antibiotics given to the herd can be in the same class as human medicines. This is done to prevent any potential reduction in the effectiveness of antibiotics that are needed to treat human diseases.

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Even something as simple as a vaccination carries with it a host of guidelines. For example, no shots are allowed in the hip or thigh, as this can damage the sirloin or round cuts of beef.

Ionophores

This is a good time for me to talk about ionophores, actually. Ionophores are a class of antibiotics that are not involved in human health because they work specifically in the rumen (a digestive organ which we do not have).

Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease in the intestinal tract of animals caused by coccidian protozoa. Ionophores combat these organisms, so they’re technically “antibiotics” from the US standpoint.

In Europe, these ionophores have a different term (anticoccidials), and are not classified as antibiotics like they are here. You may have heard that Europe has much lower antibiotic use in their beef industry. That’s misleading, mainly because Europe does not consider the ionophore to be an antibiotic.

Hormones

Hormones and steroids are often used for growth promotion, digestive aids, and to prevent illness and the later need for antibiotics in a herd. Small pellets are implanted behind the animals ear, under the skin, to release these aids into the animal’s body. Many don’t realize that these are completely metabolized and no traces are found in the beef products at the point of consumption.

The FDA and USDA enforce rules on these things, and scientists have tested them for safety. Additionally, once the use of a hormone has been reviewed and approved, it’s continually re-tested, annually, and reevaluated. It will only stay on the market if it continues to pass all FDA and USDA testing. So this stuff may sound scary, but in reality it’s completely safe according to all scientific testing.

Niche Labels

Despite these numerous safety assurances, U.S. consumer concern about using antibiotics in animal feed has led producers to create niche markets for products with specialty labels. “Never ever” means that the animal was never given an antibiotic, for example, throughout its entire lifetime. Other labels tout the fact that the animal was not given any antibiotics in the last 60 days of it’s life, or from various points of its life cycle onward (for example, no antibiotics administered once the animal is sent to the feedlot).

The USDA makes no claim about these products being safer. They are, however, more expensive to produce, and, therefore, more expensive to buy at the consumer level. Here are a few more:

  • Natural: minimally processed with limited additives.

  • Naturally Raised: No antibiotics and no hormones except for ionophores.

  • Certified Organic: No hormones, and raised on 100% organic feed, which means no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were used to grow the feed.

Conclusion

While our beef producers are wonderful for creating new markets and catering to the odd and unique demands of a diverse population, I felt obligated to set the record straight on the issue of antibiotics with this post.

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In general, the use of antibiotics is more an issue of animal health than human health, but it’s still an important topic to know about.

Remember, beef producers have a vested interest in raising healthy, safe and nutritious food, because they feed themselves and their families with the same beef that you and I eat. They understand that antibiotics are vital for the health of the herd, and administering them is a humane act to safeguard their animals.

Farmers and ranchers are dedicated to providing safe products to the market. It’s their livelihood, after all. Implementing new antibiotics guidelines and working closer with veterinarians are just a few examples of how farmers and ranchers are continuously improving the cattle industry.

There’s really nothing to worry about. US beef products are safe, nutritious and delicious. There are safeguards put into place at every step of the beef life cycle, and even afterward at the slaughterhouse and packing plant, to ensure our safety.

B.A.M. Episode 5: Beef Does Not Cause Cancer

A little over a year ago, the World Health Organization published a finding through their International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that the consumption of red meats represented a “hazard” and classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic.” While the craziness over that fake scare has already passed like a cow fart in the wind, I think it’s useful to talk about it here, even if just to reiterate how wrong it was.

First, I think it’s important to discuss a few things right off the bat.

Okay but seriously…

Difference Between Hazard and Risk: The IARC does not evaluate cancer risks. They only identify hazards. A risk is a statement about the probability, possibility or likelihood to cause harm, while a hazard is merely representative of a possibility to cause harm under any circumstances. It is always important to look at hazard and risk together when talking about things like cancer.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference between the two is by way of analogy. Think about driving, for example. If it’s raining, we know that wet roads represent a hazard to drivers for getting into an accident (cancer). Now let’s say you’re speeding, driving with bald tires, and not using your windshield wipers after drinking a six pack of Bud. You’ve significantly elevated your risk of getting into an accident during hazardous driving conditions like wet roads.

www.vintodphoto.com
www.vintodphoto.com

If we apply this to beef, the IARC merely told you that the roads are wet. They identified a hazard, and nearly anything can be hazardous. Water is hazardous. It only becomes a risk when you try to breathe it, or drink it while hanging upside down or something ridiculous. So, wet roads? Maybe you walk to work, or maybe you have new tires, drive very slowly in the rain and never drive while intoxicated. As a result, your risk of getting into an accident due to a wet road hazard is very low.

See the difference, and the need to always consider both together? Of course you do, because you’re not an idiot. So when we extrapolate this to something complex, like diet or personal health, the need to assess both becomes absolutely vital. If you’re an alcoholic smoker who works around asbestos all day, never exercises, and consumes nothing but bacon grease, then chances are you’re going to die of cancer pretty quickly, because your personal risk levels are through the roof and you’re dancing around several big hazards.

Scope of Study: First, the IARC does not seem to specialize in the evaluation of food. They’ve looked into more than 1000 chemicals, mixtures, biological agents, personal habits and occupational exposures, but diet and food represent large complexities that are simply out of their realm of specialization.

Second, the IARC only categorizes things into five wishy-washy designations: Probably Not Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 4); Not Classifiable as to its Carcinogenicity to Humans (Category 3); Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 2B); Probably Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 2A); and Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 1). Aside from the fact that language like “probably” and “possibly” is arbitrary at best, only one substance has ever received the Category 4 designation of “Probably Not Carcinogenic,” and that was caprolactam (whatever the fuck that is).

www.vintodphoto.com
www.vintodphoto.com

They claimed that red meat was “probably carcinogenic” (Category 2A) and that processed meats were “carcinogenic” (Category 1). So what do “red meats” and “processed meats” even mean?

According to IARC, red meat refers to “unprocessed mammalian muscle meat.” This means beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse or goat meat. Yeah, you read that right: Pork is not “the other white meat.” Based on the amount of myoglobin or “stuff that looks like blood, but really isn’t blood” in the muscle tissue, pork is categorized as a red meat.

Processed meat refers to “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.” In the U.S., processed meats like bacon, sausages, hot dogs and deli meats primarily contain pork and poultry, but sometimes contain beef as well.

Note that all production and processing methods fall into these definitions, and that even includes organic, grass-fed, nitrite- and nitrate-free meats, as well as conventional meats. NO ONE IS SAFE FROM THE IARC!!!

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Findings: The findings are based on pre-existing research. What is that research? How can they control for external factors that may increase or decrease risk when studying human diet? Well, according to their Q&A, “In the case of red meat, the classification is based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.”

In layman’s terms, that means other factors could have influenced the weak positive associations between red meat and cancer, like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, bad habits like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, or even genetic health conditions or pre-existing diseases (think speeding, driving on bald tires, driving while intoxicated, etc). So there’s that difference between hazard and risk being played out again.

In short, don’t believe the hype!

Research has always shown that beef should be part of a healthy and balanced diet. But don’t just take my word for it; check out what some dietitians think. To me, it’s clear that the scientific evidence doesn’t show that red or processed meat causes cancer. Studies in humans are limited and inconsistent, and evidence has weakened over time. Take a look HERE for research that the Beef Checkoff submitted to the IARC. The Beef Checkoff is an organization that’s funded by farmers giving $1 for every animal produced in order to pay for research and marketing campaigns within the industry. If you think those submissions are biased for some reason (which is silly, because beef farmers and ranchers feed their families with the same beef and have a vested interest in the industry’s safety), then go HERE for independent submissions that were sent to the IARC.

Okay so what about hot dogs and bacon, the “processed meats” that were categorized as being “Carcinogenic?” If you poked around their website you may have noticed that smoking and asbestos are in IARC Category 1 as well. But on their Q&A they’ve explained that eating processed meats is not equally as dangerous as smoking – not even close, as a matter of fact. As I mentioned above, rather than assessing the level of risk, the IARC classifications merely describe hazards and potential causes.

Just one last note here on the findings: every one of us has about a 1.8%-4% chance of getting colon cancer, which is the form of cancer that many of the studies focused upon for red meat. Colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer and cancer-related deaths. Even if the risk of colon cancer goes up 17-18% due to eating red meat, as some of the more fear-mongering studies said (and recall that some studies said there was no increased risk), it’s only about 17-18% of that 4%, or an increased risk of 0.72%. That’s only 4.72% total, if we use the worst figures we can find. The bottom end all-in figure is more like 2.1%, and again that’s only if we ignore all of the other studies that found no risk in eating red meat.

I don’t know about you guys, but even if these false-positive studies were somehow believable, I’d be perfectly willing to take on a 0.3% to 0.7% risk in exchange for a lifetime of enjoying nutritious and delicious red meat in my diet. The air I breathe here in NYC is probably way more hazardous or risky to me than red meat.

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Charred Crusts: Another concern that was floating around the web was the idea that the charred outer crisp on meats that develops when the meat comes in contact with fire (like the crust of a broiled steak or the smoky crisp on a flame-kissed burger) is also cancerous.

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The chemicals that form during this charring process are present on any meat that gets hit with flame (not just beef). They’re called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

They are, indeed, known or suspected carcinogens. However, they aren’t present in high enough concentrations to be a real concern when grilling or cooking. I’ve known of people who charred meat to a crisp and tested the meat afterward, and the amounts of harmful chemical present were so small that they were insignificant. Concentrations matter here. There are probably harmful chemicals in the water you drink too, but unless they’re highly concentrated there’s no cause for concern.

Conclusion: Given the totality of the studies, it’s clear to me that no single food, including red or processed meats, causes cancer. So, my meat minions, beef on with confidence and pride. And go forth and continue to develop that delicious, nicely-textured crust on your steaks and burgers as well. Just don’t overcook anything, for fuck’s sake!

B.A.M. Episode 4: Herd Management & Health

Before we get further into the “meat” of these advocacy posts, it’s important to lay out a few basic terms and concepts that you might run into if you’re anywhere near the beef industry.

Animal Gender Terms

Heifer: A female that has never given birth to a calf.
Cow: A female that has given birth to at least one calf.
Bull: An intact male that still has his family jewels.
Steer: A castrated male.

Why do cattlemen castrate males? Well, it is one of three techniques used in herd management.

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Herd Management Techniques

  1. Castration: Cutting the gonads off a bull is done for two reasons: (1) to control temperament; and (2) to improve meat tenderness. This process lowers testosterone. By lowering testosterone, farmers can reduce animal aggression as well as meat toughness. Castration is normally done within the first three months of life.
  2. De-Horning: Both males and females can grow horns unless they are genetically unable. By removing horns farmers can protect themselves and the herd from injury.
  3. Branding: The reason farmers brand their animals is to keep better records of individual animals, and to protect and identify their herd in the open range or at the marketplace. In the old days, this would also deter cattle theft.

Generally, if things are timed correctly with calving season, these three herd management techniques are done all at once, in one quick procedure, which results in less stress for the animal.

Calving

Calves need colostrum, a nutrient-rich version of mother’s milk, because it’s packed with beneficial vitamins and natural immunizations. But after some time, it becomes prudent to ween them off their mother’s milk and send them out to eat in the pasture. In most cases it’s as easy as putting the calves on the other side of a split-rail fence from their mother; they will still be in contact with one another, but the calf will eat grass instead of milk.

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Contrary to popular myths, calves are not born and then immediately rigged up to some bio-mechanical factory farm machine where they can’t move and are force-fed until the moment they are slaughtered. These are myths.

Animal Health

Just like humans, animals need help every so often to fight off a bug. When sick, their ears droop, they cough, have runny noses and they separate from the herd and go off by themselves. Some diseases can be avoided through the use of vaccines, and illnesses can be prevented and combated with the use of vitamins and antibiotics.

Beef Quality Assurance guidelines limit the location of vaccination shots so that the process doesn’t harm the meat by piercing valuable muscle groups. In addition, beef safety laws require no trace of the stuff to be present in meat prior to slaughter (you must wait a certain number of days before  sending the animal to slaughter), and that little to no antibiotics that are given to the herd are in the same class as human medicines (to prevent a reduction in the effectiveness of antibiotics needed to treat human diseases).

Last, grain finishing allows for the animals to go off to slaughter sooner, when the animals are healthier and younger than grass finished animals.

B.A.M. Episode 3: Raising Cattle

Once again I am going to dedicate this post to dispelling some common misconceptions about the beef industry. Some of the biggest fabrications I hear these days is that the US beef industry is chock full of “factory farms,” where thousands of cattle are born and raised on feed lots, jammed into tight spaces, given nothing but grain and hormones for sustenance, and are generally mistreated and abused whilst farmers destroy the natural environment. ALL FALSE.

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Most people don’t know that 97% of the 619,000 beef farms in this country are small, family owned operations with an average of 50 head of cattle. There goes the factory farm myth. And beef farming makes up about 29% of all US farms, in case you were wondering.

“Calving,” or the birthing of cattle, generally happens in a different area of the farm, removed from the feed yard, where farmers and veterinarians can more closely monitor the animals and keep them healthy. Once the calves are weened from their mother’s milk, they are put out in the pasture to eat grass and grow. Born and raised on feed lots? Screw that “bull crap.”

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Cattle in the US are grass-fed in pasture for the majority of their lives. Don’t believe what you hear to the contrary. The development of grain feeding started way back, when the addition of grain into the animals’ diets was done to supplement meals for cattle during winter months and times when there were less live, growing grasses for cattle to eat. It was often mixed with stored hay silage as well.

Farmers noticed that the addition of grain to the diet caused cattle to grow faster. So today, grain is used for finishing and fattening up the cattle in the last months of their lives, prior to slaughter. This adds flavor content to the meat in addition to getting them up to a profitable weight for the marketplace. Grass finished animals (animals that only eat grass for their entire lives) take longer to get up to market weight, and are therefore older when they go to slaughter. That means they have to survive more winters and tough out more illnesses before getting to your dinner plate.

Jammed into crowded spaces? Nope. While cattle can withstand cold temperatures, farmers started using barns and other fully or partially enclosed shelters early on to shield their animals from the harsh weather in winter.

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They found that cattle naturally gravitated toward one another anyway. They are social creatures. Even in pasture, when they’re out in wide open spaces, you will still see them huddled up together. Bison/buffalo do this as well. They even do it on the feedlot, where each animal has about 125-250 square feet of space, on average, in the US. Another myth bites the dust.

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Now let’s discuss the environment. The US beef industry grasslands account for nearly 75% of US natural wildlife, and cattle spend a majority of their lives feeding on these natural grasslands. Up to 85% of our grassland in the US is actually not suitable for farming crops due to soil characteristics, topography, or rainfall. So cattle grazing is a good use of the otherwise inarable land that doesn’t do any additional harm. Lastly, bovine digestive systems are perfectly set up to convert the inedible plants on these grasslands into protein; beef that humans can eat!

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I think that’s a good start for now. I’ll address animal care and animal health in the next BAM.