3 Commonly Misunderstood Beef Management Practices

There are many practices within production agriculture that, if not entirely understood, can be easily misinterpreted. It first must be established that agriculture producers are dynamic managers of natural resources who depend on their livestock in order to provide for their families. Here are a few examples of management practices that beef producers often employ to care for their animals which are sometimes be misconstrued.

Castration  

Because most male calves are raised for beef, the calves are often castrated. Castration is the process of removing the reproductive organs of an animal, so that the animal is no longer capable of reproducing. By doing so, the animal no longer produces the level of testosterone and other hormones. These hormones can actually contribute to less tender, undesirable, meat. In the same way, because the animal does not devote as much energy to hormone production, the animal is able to use more nutrients to influence end product meat quality, such as marbling and tenderness. There are several different methods to castrate male calves. Depending on the age, weather conditions, and the individual condition of the calf, our operation uses either band or scalpel methods.  

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Producers do everything they can to minimize the stress put on their animals. Working quickly but skillfully is imperative.

 

Branding – As the saying goes, “Trust your neighbor but brand your cattle.” 

Branding is a form of permanent identification often used by beef producers to keep track of their cattle. Branding can either be done with dry ice, known as freeze branding, or with a direct heat source, known as hot-iron branding. The iron is held on the skin for about 3 seconds.  With live cattle prices being so high, cattle rustling is becoming more of an issue. Without permanent identification, there is no way to trace the stolen animals back to their rightful owners. A brand stays on the hide all the way to the harvest facility. So even after cattle are sold to the packer, criminals can be found based on evidence provided by the hides of cattle.

On our operation, traditional branding methods are used. We work as a team to vaccinate, brand and ear tag the calves so as to expose the calves to as short a period of stress as possible.

 

Dehorning 

Dehorning is the process of removing the horns of the animal so as to reduce the stress and wounds possibly inflicted to other animals. As with many management practices, there are several different methods to dehorn. For example: horns can be removed using dehorning pastes, surgical wire, scoop dehorners and many other ways depending on the age and individual circumstances of each calf.  Dehorning is done for the safety of the surrounding animals and the producers. Because cattle are habitual herd animals, horns can easily cause wounds and bruises that place unnecessary stress on those animals. Any stress caused by the dehorning process only lasts for a fraction of the time as compared to the stress that can be caused by constant beating and battering of calf playmates.

Dehorning methods are often implemented while the calf is very young so that the horn tissue is removed before the horn begin to grow.

 

 

God bless, folks!

 

Kalyn McKibben

Blonde Beef Babe 

 

 

State of the Beef Industry Address

In honor of President Obama’s State of the Union Address taking place this past Tuesday, I would like to give a State of the Beef Industry Address. As ambassadors, we face many concerns from consumers in regard to the price of their beef. We are experiencing record prices for live cattle, which has translated into higher beef prices for consumers. There are several factors for this market trend, of which I will discuss below.

Cattle Numbers

cow-plague-heroBeef cattle herds are downsizing due to smaller numbers of cattle, and even fewer ranchers to continue this life style. The U.S. has the lowest cattle numbers we have had in fifty years. We also had several events from mother-nature that had large impacts on our cattle numbers. Texas experienced record droughts in 2011 causing them to lose nearly 25% of their cow herd, while 2012 brought drought to most of the Midwest, resulting in higher corn prices. This past year, much of California faced severe droughts, as well. Furthermore, land fragmentation and development of ranching land into suburbs has decreased the resources we have available to run cattle on.

 

Corn

corn_feed_as_bad_as_ethanol-729262Corn is one of the main feedstuffs used in cattle rations, and we have been dealing with much higher corn prices than in years past. As I mentioned, the 2012 drought reduced our corn crop vastly, causing a spike in prices. The percentage of corn being used for ethanol production has increased to 27%, and shows no signs of decreasing. Finally, fuel prices have been high, even though in the past few weeks we have seen some relief from this.

 

 

Global Market

05662_Beef_Japan_RetailIncreased demand for U.S. beef and beef byproducts has steadily been increasing for several years. Though I view this as a positive impact, it does increase the price for native consumers. Our largest export markets are Japan, Italy and the U.K. In addition, the U.S. has to import some lean from places like Australia to meet consumer demands.

 

 

Despite all these strains that have been placed on the beef industry, we are performing exceptionally well. Though we have the lowest cattle numbers we have seen for several decades, our overall beef tonnage has not decreased by much. This means that farmers and ranchers are becoming more efficient in producing cattle, and the beef that we so much desire. In fact, we are ranked third in Global Beef Cow herd size, behind China and Brazil, respectively, yet we are still ranked #1 in overall tonnage. Prices may be higher than we would like to see, but it is not because ranchers are getting rich! It is simply a product of the market we are dealing with, and I am certainly proud of how well it has been handled and how we continue to be the gold standard in global beef production!

 

“Our product is not the least expensive one…but we are thankful it is the best one.”

– Tom Risinger

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Enjoying Beef…on a Budget.

Beef is delicious! There’s not much better than a succulent steak or hearty beef dish and most Americans agree. However beef prices are at record highs and many people are turned away by the sticker shock of beef in the meat case. Speaking from the personal perspective of a college student budget, it can be challenging to dish out the money for a nice steak on a regular basis. The good news is, however, there are many ways to incorporate beef in your diet even if you’re on a budget. Here are 5 tips thrifty beef consumers can use at the meat case.

Buy in Bulk: A common money-saving tip, buying in bulk is an excellent way to save on goods…including beef. Look for family packages at the grocery store or purchase larger cuts of beef and hand carve your steaks. While the price on bulk packages may initially be a shock, the cost per pound savings is well worth the larger checkout total. Remember that any refrigerated product that isn’t used within a few days can be frozen and be viable for 6-12 months.

Cuts like the tri-tip are deliciously affordable.

Cuts like the tri-tip are deliciously affordable.

Utilize Lower-End Cuts: While a juicy tenderloin steak or prime rib is always great, they aren’t always within a budget. But many other cuts of beef cut from less valuable primals can yield tender, juicy meals much more affordably. These cuts generally require longer cooking times at lower heats and many are great for slow cookers or roasting. Try new favorite cuts such as the tri-tip or skirt steak!

Buy Direct: While many locally purchased foods can be more expensive, purchasing a quarter, half, or even whole steer directly from a local farmer can yield significant savings even on quality cuts. Buying direct has a number of bonuses as well such as requesting custom cuts and ground beef blends and knowing exactly where your beef came from and who produced it.

Buying directly from local farmers has many added benefits other than savings.

Buying directly from local farmers has many added benefits other than savings.

Buy Select: Many grocery stores sell choice beef, which has added premiums attached to it for its quality leading to higher prices. Select beef, containing less marbling (fat within the muscle), isn’t as highly valued as choice and is a more affordable option. Select beef also has the added benefit of generally being leaner, perfect for consumers watching their fat intake.

Sniff out Bargains: Many newspapers often include coupons for meat counter savings and local grocery stores often have sales and specials, especially for meat that is a little older. These savings, although generally only a few dollars, can definitely add up over time and help any budget.

Sales on beef in grocery stores are always great.

Sales on beef in grocery stores are always great.

Even with these money-saving tips and beef’s record prices, beef is an affordable protein. With beef averaging about $4 a pound and a recommended serving size of 4 oz. raw/3 oz. cooked, the cost of one serving of beef comes about to about $1 per serving. Nonetheless there are still many ways to save money at the meat case and still enjoy delicious and nutritious beef.

Will Pohlman

Food Industry by-product Feeds

Cattle are animals that are classified as ruminates because they have a four-chambered stomach that allows them to ferment their food in order to digest it. Inside the stomach there are bacteria which help to break down the food they eat in a way that human stomachs are not able to do, and for this reason, cattle are able to eat foods humans cannot, such as grass and silage, and produce a product humans can eat.

The major portion of the Pennsylvania Farm show that we as National Beef Ambassadors were able to interact with consumers centered on different feed samples. Not only do cattle eat traditional cattle feeds, such as silage, corn, barley, and hay, producers are also able to feed their cattle non-traditional feeds, or by-products of the food industry, as a part of their daily diet.

chips

This easily digestible food, potato as a cattle co-feed can include the potato peels, reject chips, or leftover snacks at the bottom of the barrel.

 

corn distiller

Corn Distillers are the residue after conversion of the starch in the grain to ethanol or alcohol, they are also high in protein.

 

chocolate

Candy meal can consist of chocolate coco and some Hershey candy bars and chrushed M&M’s; high in sugar and fat.

 

spaghetti[1]

High in starch, pasta is available from pasta plants as straight pasta or as a pasta blend.

cotton seed[1]

Cotton seed halls are a by-product of the cotton industry. This feed is high in oils and fiber.

BeetPulp_sm[1]

Beet Pulp is a residue of the sugar beet industry and is fed as a high energy source for beef cattle.

Using these alternative feeds can help cattle reach the proper amount of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals cattle need in their diet. Just like humans need a complete and nutritious diet, the same goes for cattle so they remain healthy and productive. Cattle eat a TMR, or Total Mixed Ration, to ensure they receive all these nutrients. Although they can consume food by-products, they are given these in small percentages; therefore the majority of their diet still consists of silage, corn, and hay.

mixed ration

An example of a TMR which includes non traditional feed stuffs along with traditional feeds, silage still being the main food source.

Have a great week!
Demi

Get Along, Little Doggies

In order to ensure our cattle always have access to fresh feed, it is necessary to move them to fresh pasture. This is quite an ordeal. First thing in the morning, we were busy saddling horses and getting everything ready to move the momma cows and their calves. To ensure a move with limited stress on the cattle and all of us, my dad went through and made sure all of the gates that needed to be closed were closed, and that the gates that needed to be open were open. He also checked to make sure there was plenty of water waiting for the herd for when they arrived. After everything is ready to go, we set out to round up the cattle from the pasture. We check every valley and hilltop in the pasture to ensure no calves or cows get left behind.

Evan

We believe in using all kinds of “horse power”

 

During the move, there were two of us on horses and two pickups or four wheelers helping with the move. One vehicle went ahead of the herd to ensure there was no traffic coming on the roads. We also had a vehicle at the back of the herd that would stay back on hills to ensure traffic was not coming from the other direction. Evan and I were on the horses. Our job was to make sure the herd was moving at the correct pace (not too fast or too slow). If the herd moves too fast, the cattle will get worn out and stressed. If the herd moves too slowly, it can be a hazard on the roads. We were also in charge of making sure the herd stays together. The wheat fields we passed seem very appealing to a cow, and it’s our job to make sure they do not damage neighbors’ fields. If it is needed, we also are in charge of turning the herd to change direction. Horses have a much easier time getting around the herd to turn them than vehicles do.

Western “traffic jam”

Western “traffic jam”

Once the cattle arrive in their new pasture, we make certain that they find water. Once everyone is settled, we start heading home. At the end of the day, even though we were all exhausted and cold, we still made sure that the horses and cattle had plenty of fresh water and feed. We are responsible for the health and well being of these animals, and their needs come before our own.

Rachel Purdy
Princess Farmer

Agenda vs. Responsibility: Get the WHOLE story!

I know I promised to talk about the awesome special ways producers care for their cattle in spring, but I was slightly distracted by a more pressing topic this week.

Humor me for a moment: did you ever have a friend in elementary school that was known as the ‘Tattle Tale’? Someone who, when they didn’t get their way, always went running to the teacher, hoping the teacher would hear their plea and get someone in trouble so that they would eventually get their way.

tattletale-image

As with every story, there are two sides. The agriculture industry is no exception to this rule.  We have all seen the horrific images of animals used to portray production agriculture as a horribly irresponsible, cruel entity. Production agriculture is a very complex, labor-intensive, technologically- advanced sector of the agriculture industry. Producers are challenged every single day to be the best stewards of their resources. In a time when efficient natural resource allocation is crucial, producers work tirelessly to adapt management practices to meet a growing demand for a growing population.

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The world needs food. We must support production agriculture in the quest to meet that need.

 

Because everyone depends on a food supply, new  developments can become hot-button topics very quickly. It is no secret that production agriculture is often under fire by anti-agriculture organizations. Unlike these organizations, agriculture management practices are supported by science. Not only are the practices supported by science, but they are constantly undergoing further research to fine-tune these practices.

New technologies are constantly being refined and implemented to make sure we are making the most of our resources.

 

Also unlike these organizations, agriculture producers are not driven by agenda; agriculture producers are driven by responsibility. People require nutrients to survive. Agriculture producers produce those nutrients in many different forms, giving people options. We as consumers must recognize that when we support anti-agriculture organizations, we are supporting the regression of the human race. Whether you realize or not, the largest portion of these organizations’ donations are not used to ‘help’ animals, but instead often go to support policy reform to stop the advancement of production agriculture.

African_children_in_poverty

Children go to sleep hungry, while other people complain about safe production-enhancing management practices.

 

We all want and deserve a safe food supply. But just like the elementary school teacher, we must hear both sides of the story before we arrive at our verdict. Remember: production agriculture is based on science and producers have the responsibility to meet the demands of a growing world. If you have questions, fully research the topic and ask the people who work hard every day to put food on both your table and their own.

Dad checking to make sure the babies are doing well while their mamas snack on some grain.

 

 

 

God bless, folks!

 

Kalyn McKibben

Blonde Beef Babe 

 

What Do We Feed Our Cattle?

Since we were talking about feedstuffs this week at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, I was inspired to write about cattle nutrition. We make sure to feed our cattle a very balanced diet, which meets all their requirements. Before we start to design a ration, using the help of an animal nutritionist, we first evaluate the type of cattle we have, what their end goal is, and the feedstuffs available to us. Different breeds of cattle have different nutritional requirements, as do breeding versus market animals.

 Corn

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Corn is  the most common feedstuff used to add fat and energy to an animal’s diet.

Corn Silage

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A great source of roughage, as well as protein and some fat.  This is made by grinding the entire corn plant, stalk, leaves, and all!

Barley

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A great source of protein, and added fat for the animal’s diet

Sorghum

sorghum-grain

This is a grain that we can add for protein and is very popular in the South

Cotton Seed Hulls

cottonseedhulls

Another source of protein, but it also helps to serve as a filler so the cattle feel more full

Molasses

Molasses

Everybody loves something sweet!  Molasses helps to make the feed palatable to the animal

Cattle raisers can use lots of different feeds to help get to the right protein and fat ratio and to make sure their animals are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need to perform their best!  These are some of the basic feedstuffs that are common across the nation, but rancher’s are innovative and always looking for new ways to ensure both a quality product and a happy cow!

Alicia

The Ruminant Recycler 

Growing up I always disliked salads. They never filled me up and I just didn’t feel satisfied. I found out later this was because many of the nutrients in salads are indigestible to monogastrics like humans. But how can cows eat only plants, I wondered? It turns out that ruminants such as cattle can utilize indigestible materials and convert them into nutritious and delicious beef! This expands the land area available for human food production.

Cattle's stomachs have four compartments which allow them to ferment forages with bacteria before digestion.

Cattle’s stomachs have four compartments which allow them to ferment forages with bacteria before digestion.

How can cattle do this amazing feat? Well actually they can’t! Cattle have four compartments to their stomachs and the first few contain bacteria and other microorganisms that utilize plant material as food. These bacteria convert the indigestible material into bacterial protein and sugars, which can then be digested. So really cattlemen are feeding a cow, but they’re also feeding the “bugs” in their stomach as well!

What does this ability to digest forage mean from a practical standpoint? My home state can help provide the answer. Much of Arkansas is dominated by deltas and flatlands perfect for row crop production, specifically rice. However the majority of the cattle in the state are found in the Ozark Mountains, where I call home, furthest west from the Mississippi river and flatlands. The rockier soil and rougher terrain in the mountains isn’t suitable to crop production and pastures dominate the landscape as a result. While most of this land could not be used to produce food fit for human consumption, cattle that don’t mind the hills can graze it. Thus the entire northwest corner of Arkansas, inadequate to large-scale crop production, can graze cattle and produce beef, utilizing more land for food production!

The hills of Northwest Arkansas are spectacular, but not suited to crop production...that's where cattle come in!

The hills of Northwest Arkansas are spectacular, but not suited to crop production…that’s where cattle come in!

Cattle’s ability to increase food production can also be seen in feedlots. While cattle are fed recognizable grains such as corn, they can also be fed by-products from industrial activities such as brewing, converting otherwise wasted material into edible food. I’ve also visited farms near potato chip plants that use wasted or discarded chips as the main source of energy in cattle diets!

Table 1. Common By-product Feeds Derived from Food and Fiber Processing
Raw Product By-product Feed Component Removed
Soybean Soybean Meal Soybean Oil
Soy Hulls Dehulled Soybean Meal
Wheat Middlings (Midds) Flour (starch)
Bran Starch & Germ
Barley Brewers’ Grains Starch & Alcohol
Corn Distillers’ Grains Starch & Alcohol
Gluten Feed Starch & Sweeteners
Hominy Degermed Corn Meal
Cotton Whole Cottonseed Cotton Fiber
Cottonseed Meal Hulls & Oil
Sugar Beets Beet Pulp Sugar & Starch

Alternative Feeds for Beef Cattle by Mark L. Wahlberg

Ruminants such as cattle greatly expand the amount of land that can be used for food production and utilize material that would otherwise be wasted to produce a nutrient-dense and digestible food source. This ability to recycle unusable products into a nutritious product contributes to the sustainability of food production and helps decrease waste. So the beef in local supermarkets is the recycled product of inedible grasses, by-products, and maybe even potato chips!

Will Pohlman

Millennial to Millennial

This past weekend, I traveled one state over to experience the largest indoor farm show in the United States. Pennsylvania Farm Show is a combination of exhibits representing different sectors of agriculture and commodity groups. As National Beef Ambassadors, we worked in the “Today’s Agriculture display” barn which was an interactive barn with livestock where farm show attendees were able to look at farm animals which consisted of a beef cow and calf, dairy cow and calf, pigs representing three stages of their life, ducks, turkeys, and chickens. The target audience of this building was the millennial generation, and although we interacted with an array of individuals and answered questions such as what we feed our cattle and different food by-products Pennsylvania farms utilize, such as candy meal and pasta, we also had the opportunity to interview two ladies representing the millennial generation and learn about their perceptions and questions that most concerned them with the beef industry.

Alicia and I

Connecting to the millennial audience

 

As we compiled our questions and answers, we felt that the responses best fit under the categories of background of the beef industry, consumer questions, cooking with beef and social media interactions.

Q: What is your background in agricultural and the beef industry?

Sarah: Her parents are from Los Angeles and New York City, so they had no previous understanding of agriculture and commodity groups. Although this was the cause, once in Pennsylvania, she connected with friends in 4-H and began taking rabbits to the county fair. She then became interested in pigs and beef cattle and exhibited a market steer twice, and throughout the process of caring for and showing her steers, she learned about the beef industry along the way.

Rachel: Our second millennial grew up in a small town in New Hampshire where there was no crop or livestock industry, but rather forestry wood production. With neighbors that had horses, she soon became interested in studying Equine in college, but had never came in contact with beef cattle until she decided to major in media and communications in college so she had the opportunity to connect with all commodity groups.

Consumer Questions about the Beef Industry:

Q: What preconceived ideas do you have about the beef industry?

S: The belief that all beef comes from feedlot farms and that there are not many family farms left.

R: The term “family farms” to her means one to two cows per family. With this, she had never connected family farms on a larger scale, totaling around 40 cow/calves as the average size.

Q: As a consumer, what would you like to see changed in regards to the beef industry?

Both interviewees said that they would like to see more education and interaction with beef producers and advocates towards consumers. Including ways of being proactive as an industry to inform consumers where there beef comes from such as T.V. commercials to showcase the family farms in the industry as well as ways of interactive learning between producers and consumers. This will allow consumers to become more aware of where their food comes from and have a chance to ask about the “buzz” words in the industry, such as organic, and get answers from actual producers or beef advocates.

Feed Displays (1)

Talking to consumers about the different feeds cattle eat

Cooking Beef:

Q: Do you include beef in your daily diet?

S: Beef is a very nutritious protein and because of this, Sarah enjoys cooking beef. When shopping for beef though, she only buys beef that is on sale because it is more affordable.

R: Beef is a great red meat that supplies energy to the body, and because of this fact, Rachel includes beef in her daily diet. However, she feels she lacks education on how to cook in general and cooks ground beef for herself frequently because it is easy to prepare, and as a college student, more affordable to purchase. As a consumer of beef, she also commented that she would be willing to learn more about beef and ways to cook this protein.

Social Media:

Q: What role do social media play in your knowledge about beef?

S: Social media is very effective in my life because I am able to choose cuts of beef that people have posted about or taken a picture of to include in a post that they have had success cooking.

R: Media is such a fast way to transfer knowledge and you can connect with multitudes of people is the reason Rachel finds herself using social media outlets. She also finds that people can draw others in when they post recipes or pictures of the beef they cook.

Throughout this interview and surveys taken at the farm show, we found that millennials are most concerned about the beef they eat and understanding the safety of the beef industry. With research done by the beef community, we are able to understand and work towards a more transparent industry keeping the lines of communication between producer and consumer open.

3 ladies

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary stopping by to talk about the beef community

 

My Favorite Quick and Easy Recipes

Cooking is my kryptonite. So when I cook, I try to stick with simple recipes that turn out great. Here are my favorite quick and easy beef recipes!

  1. Beef Sausage & Egg Muffin Cups This is one of my favorite beefy breakfast recipes! It’s simple and delicious!

    Perfect use for a muffin tin!

    Perfect use for a muffin tin!

  2. Easy Slow Cooker Meatballs I love the slow cooker, all you have to do is stick everything in it and come back to a hot meal!

    Slow cookers are a great investment!

    Slow cookers are a great investment!

  3. Slow Cooker Pot Roast Soup. Another great slow cooker recipe-perfect for those chili winter days!

    This recipe even features one of the lean cuts of beef!

    This recipe even features one of the lean cuts of beef!

  4. Beefy Sweet Potato Hash. I love recipes that use left-overs, so I only have to cook once!

    Cook once, dine twice!

    Cook once, dine twice!

  5. Muffin-Style Cheeseburger Pizza. I love these little pizzas because they are quick and easy but still taste great. I like adding mushrooms and other favorite pizza toppings to this.

    Ready in 30 minutes!

    Ready in 30 minutes!

For more recipes and beef inspiration, visit http://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/