Although I was not compensated for this post I did receive incentives such as lodging and free meals. I was not required to write this post. All opinions are mine.
I spent the last two days on the campus of Michigan State University in Lansing learning all about beef. Did you know it takes 2-3 years for beef to go from farm to fork? Here’s the inside scoop.
97% of US cattle farms and ranches are family owned and operated. On average a farmer makes only $30 profit per cow they sell! This is one of the reasons cattle farms are usually huge in size. Farmers require lots of animals to make a decent profit.
Most beef calves are born on cow-calf operations, where cattle graze in herds or large pastures within sight of their mother. After the calves are weaned (age six to 10 months) they will then usually go to a stocker/backgrounder who will prepare the animal for the feedlot.
Cattle usually spend approximately four to six months in the feedlot before being sent to a processing facility. Producers work very hard every day to keep their cattle healthy with constant access to water and a carefully balanced diet of grain, vitamins and mineral supplements.
The use of vaccines and antibiotics usually depends on the producer. Dr. Roberts, large animal clinician at the MSU Veterinary Medical Center, explained their use of vaccines at MSU to us. They would rather focus on keeping the animal healthy rather than treating sickness/illness. If one animal gets sick it can affect the whole herd.
Antibiotics are expensive and farmers try to limit their use or preferably not use them at all. Vaccines are put into place to limit/prevent the use of antibiotics on cattle.
The Processing Facility-
Once cattle reach market weight- typically 1,200 to 1,400 pounds and 18-22 months of age- they are sent to a processing facility to be harvested. USDA inspectors are stationed in all federally inspected packing plants and oversee the implementation of safety, quality and animal welfare standards.
We didn’t get to visit a processing facility this time around but I’ve personally visited one in the past. While it wasn’t a perhaps “pleasant” experience it was eye opening. There’s lots of regulations in place and they take safety very seriously. If the thought of processing facilitys makes you cringe I recommend looking up Temple Grandin, the autistic animal scientist who developed a system to keep cows stress free during the process with the help of her heightened senses.
At the MSU facility we learned how beef is graded from Prime, Choice or Select. Prime is produced from young cattle and has an abundance of marbling. It is usually sold in restaurants. Choice Beef is high quality but with less marbling than Prime. Select Beef is fairly tender but lacks some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades.
We also learned how beef is cut at the teaching center and I got my Honorary Meijer Beef Cutting Training Certificate. It’s not as easy as it looks to cut into a huge hunk of meat. I got mad love for the talented meat cutters out there.
After the meat leaves the processing facility it then ships directly to our stores and markets. Some stores such as Meijer do their own meat cutting and grinding. You can purchase fresh meat through their meat case or pre-packaged meat on their shelves. Did you know Meijer is the number 1 seller of certified angus beef in the world? Perhaps even the universe!
Today we are seeing more choices of beef than ever before in the meat case. Producers have adapted their businesses to provide us with choices such as grain-fed, grass- finished, natural beef and organic.
After purchasing the beef from your local grocery store we bring it home to eat. Hopefully you have some delicious recipes picked out! Here’s some great resources that can help in the kitchen.
www.MIBeef.org — Cook’s Corner, Nutrition, Beef Safety & More.
www.BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com — Interactive Butcher Counter, Guide To The Right Cut, Recipes & More.
www.certifiedangusbeef.com — Cooking Methods, Recipe Ideas & More.
www.ExploreBeef.org — Beef Facts, Beef Lifecycle & More.
Fun Facts About Beef:
- Just one 3-ounce serving of lean beef provides nearly 50 percent of the daily value of protein.
- Beef is an excellent source of protein, zinc, Vitamin B12, Selenium and Phosphorus and a good source of Niacin, Vitamin B6, Iron and Riboflavin.
- Research shows that a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle that included lean beef, even daily, improved cholesterol levels and help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- You would have to eat at least 8 ounces of cooked chicken breast to get the same amount of iron as in 3 ounces of beef, and nearly 7 times (20 ounces) the amount of chicken to get the same amount of zinc as in a serving of beef.
- Steers and heifers account for the majority of our meet supply.
I came away from this event with a newfound appreciation for our farmers and everyone in the beef and agricultural industry. I love informative and educational trips where I can get my hands dirty and dig in. Next time you reach for that juicy steak remember how much time, love and hard work was put into it.
A big thank you to The Michigan Beef Council, The Kentucky Beef Council, Ohio Beef Council, Beef Checkoff, Certified Angus Beef, Meijer, Michigan State University for hosting and or sponsoring and making this event possible!