The story of a steak begins long before it finds your plate. In fact, for this story to begin, we must rewind over two years from when you purchased that steak, to baby making season…
Farmers make careful genetic decisions to improve their herd and the quality of meat that the animals produce. There are numbers called Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs), that help producers predict how specific traits will be passed down to future generations of livestock. Think of these numbers like batting averages. That number helps you predict how your favorite player will hit and gets more accurate every time he is up to the plate. EPDs work the same way; helping producers make decisions with their accuracy improving with the more offspring an animal has. EPDs are often used if a farmer is buying a bull or choosing one to use for artificial insemination. These predictions can be specific for birthweight, ribeye area, marbling ability, and much more.
Natural breeding is common to the beef industry, but many operations incorporate artificial insemination into their program. Artificial insemination (AI) is an incredible technology that producers can use to help improve their herd genetics. To use AI, semen is collected from the male, frozen and can then be shipped all over the world (In fact, when I visited a farm in China, they were using semen from a bull owned by a farmer I know in South Dakota!). AI can be a relatively low-cost option to farmers to purchase limited quantities of semen, rather than making a large investment in a bull. AI can be very successful for many operations and allow for specific breeding choices to be made, improving livestock quality.
So now that the cows are bred, they need to be taken care of in terms of nutrition, health and environment to ensure a healthy calf is born. Working with nutritionists and veterinarians help ensure that the cows are getting the nutrients that they need and are cared for.
Then, about 283 days later…. it’s baby time! Calves are born and a whole new round of excitement begins. It’s calving season right now, and many farmers and ranchers are keeping busy. This winter has been hard on a lot of producers and livestock. Farmers check on the livestock day and night to ensure new calves can be dried off and warmed up.
When a calf is born, it is important for them to be able to stand up and eat. The first milk that they receive from their mama’s is colostrum. Colostrum contains antibodies and nutrients that are passed on to the offspring. This first meal is vital for future health of the animal.
It is important to care for the calves during this time, but it is also necessary to keep a close eye on the cows. The cows need to be fed a good diet that provides them enough energy to maintain themselves, as well as helping their calf grow strong and healthy.
This is just the beginning of the story of how meat makes it to your kitchen table. Simply having a calf turns into a big process and requires so much time and hard work; from selecting a bull, to breeding, to keeping the cow healthy, to calving. But all that hard work pays off knowing that it is the first step in providing a high quality product for consumers.