A Picture of Life on the Farm

Recently my Facebook timeline has been full of people doing a “10-day farming and ranching challenge.”  A picture each day for 10 days showing what life on the farm looks like but without any explanations.  Just a picture, no words. 

Now, I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a little context is a good thing.  This week, I am going to take a little detour from our meat safety and quality conversations and share a little insight into what being involved in agriculture has looked like for me. 

This time of year is so exciting on the farm because babies are being born!  I have so many great memories going out late at night with my dad to see if any lambs or calves were born. Right now, my family is in the midst of both lambing and calving.  There have been some extremely cold temps and snowy days the past few months in South Dakota; however, it doesn’t matter what the temperature is outside, farmers and ranchers don’t get a snow day.  They go to work, day and night, to ensure that their livestock is cared for.

Blue sky, green grass, black cattle, one of my favorite views!  Every summer, we bring our cattle to the pasture for a few months.  After long, dreary winters, it is so encouraging to see new life, both in the vegetation and in the baby calves! 

Putting up hay.  Not exactly the most fun job on the farm (or photogenic), but it’s work that needs to be done.  Typically, it’s the hottest days of the summer when the hay is ready to be put into the barn.  It’s a hot, dusty, job.  Storing hay during the summer gives us an ample supply to use during the winter during lambing and calving.  Square bales (like what is in the picture), can be used for bedding or as feed, depending on what the bale is made of.  It may be a lot of work in the summer, but when winter comes along we are sure thankful that the job got done!

I know that this isn’t a farm picture, but I had to include it.  It is still crazy to me to think that someday I am going to be a meat scientist.  How crazy is that?!  The agricultural industry offers so many opportunities for careers outside of farming and ranching; meat science, nutrition, genetics, and so much more.  I am so excited to see where this path leads me and what opportunities lie ahead!

You simply can’t beat South Dakota sunsets!  I grew up looking at this view every day.  I am so thankful to have grown up on a farm and for all the values that it instilled in me.  I learned the value of hard work and how to work as a team.  No matter where I end up in the future this will always be one of my favorite views.

Most importantly, on a farm  you don’t go to an 8-5 job where you become acquaintances with your co-workers.  Farms run on families.  Did you know that 98% of farms are family owned and operated?  Farming isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle; one that everyone must commit to.  Whether it be working with livestock, harvesting crops, putting up bales, or making meals for the people in the field; everyone is involved.  I’m so thankful for this bunch and couldn’t have asked for a better crew to call my family.

These are just a few photos are just a snapshot of what life on the farm looks like. I am so thankful to be involved in this industry and I hope this detour gave you a look into the ag world!

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How much meat do cattle provide?

Have you ever wondered how many pounds of beef that cattle provide?  It’s a great question, and something that livestock producers and packers care a lot about:

More muscle (what becomes meat) per animal = More pounds of saleable product

So, how much meat do we get?

The average market weight (body weight of the animal the day that it ‘goes to market’, ie: when it is harvested) of beef cattle is around 1,400 pounds.  As the animal goes through the harvest process, the head, hide, blood, viscera (internal organs and digestive system), and hooves are removed.  At this point, what is left is referred to as a carcass. 

From here, we can calculate the dressing percent of the carcass.  Dressing percent is equal to the carcass weight, divided by the live weight of the animal.  For cattle, this value is typically around 63%, but can vary depending on how much muscle and fat the carcass has, as well as what gender and breed the animal was.  A high dressing percent means that more product is available to use.

At this point, the carcass is fabricated. This means that it is cut into large, wholesale cuts, and then into retail cuts (what you buy at the store: steaks, roasts, etc).  In the agriculture industry, the amount of actual saleable product is known as the amount of yield from a carcass.  This is also referred to as the percent of boneless, closely trimmed (much of the extra fat removed), retail cuts (yes, some cuts have bones that remain with the product, but many are removed).  The percent yield in beef animals is typically around 65%.

So lets take a look at an example:

Say a steer has a market weight of 1350 lbs.  We expect that animal to produce around an 850 lb carcass.  From here, we cut the carcass into saleable product and remove excess fat and bones.  We are left with approximately 553 lbs of meat. 

Now, it is important to remember that all the product that is removed before we reach our final retail cuts is able to be used!  Almost nothing from the animal is thrown out. Here are just a few examples of products besides meat that cattle provide us:

  • Hide: leather for furniture, car seats and clothing.
  • Bones:  Used to make gelatin, used in things like jello and gummy bears.
  • Fat:  Also known as tallow, used in production of biodiesel and in some cosmetics.
  • Intestines:  Cleaned and sanitized and then used for casing for sausages and other processed products.

I hope this post helps answers your question about how much meat that one animal can provide us, but don’t forget, they offer us so much more!