The History of the US Meat Industry

I recently spent time watching one of my favorite shows, The Food That Built America, on the History channel. This show talks about the background and history of household names of food companies.  From explaining the start of various fast-food restaurants, ketchup, frozen veggies, and soft drinks, the show shows the hard work, struggles and bit of luck that these companies had to go through to get to where they are today. 

The specific episode I was watching was focused on White Castle and the legendary creation of the hamburger. It was said that the burgers were originally cooked as meat balls.  One day, customers were getting frustrated that it was taking so long to get their sandwich, and in a bit of annoyance the cook slapped his spatula on the meat balls and flattened them to the grill. They found that this helped the meat cook more quickly and evenly.  From there the modern burger was born.

Hearing stories like this is really interesting to me. Today, we don’t think twice about where the burger came from, but there was a time that they were an exciting, original product. Similarly, today we don’t really think twice about getting meat from our freezer or buying it at the grocery store. We expect it to be available, high quality, and safe.  But that was not always the case.  Today, we will further discuss some of the history of the meat industry and show just how far we have come.

1640s-Meat was able to be sold or traded in exchange for other goods. In order for this to happen, meat had to be salted, smoked and packed into storage containers to be transported. The term “Meat Packing” originated from the salting and packing of pork in wooden barrels for storage/shipping

1662: William Pynchon-First official commercial meat packer in New England. At this time, much of the meat sold was done so from small retail butcher shops. William’s business grew in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he drove in both cattle and hogs to be butchered.  

1812: Meat Packer, Samuel Wilson, provided beef and pork to the troops during the War of 1812. When Sam was just 14, he joined the continental army where he helped care for cattle, the camp, and butchered and packaged meat products. After the war, Sam partnered with his brother to open E & S Wilson, which was a meat packing company. The business was located on the Hudson river and allowed the brothers to easily move their product. During the war of 1812, soldiers needed meat. Due to their great location and ability to ship product, E & S was the perfect company to ship the product. E & S was contracted to send 2,000 barrels of pork and 3000 barrels of beef to soldiers throughout NY and New Jersey for a year. At this point, Sam became a meat inspector for the army, ensuring that the meat was safe and packaged correctly. While spending time with the soldiers, Sam supposedly became known by his more well known title, and what we know his as today “Uncle Sam”.

1827: Following a time of urbanization, industrial revolution, mechanization, Chicago’s first packing plant was opened. At this point, meat processing was becoming more efficient (nothing like it is today, but very efficient by that days standards).

 1800s: Union Stockyards in Chicago-Major Marketing facility and was known as “Hog Butcher to the World.” Chicago grew as the meat packing capital due to its location. Near livestock, labor, transportation (water and rail), and a market for the products to go to. 

WTTW-Chicago: By the 1870s, the stockyards processed nearly 2 million animals a year.  By 1890, they processed nearly 9 million.  At its peak in the early 1920s, the stockyards employed nearly 40,000 people.

1877: Gustavis Swift electrified production lines and worked with an engineer to engage the first refrigerated railcar. The car, which circulated air over ice to chill the space, allowed for meat to be shipped to the consumers, rather than moving the live animal.

Gustavis partnered with his brother to form Swift and Company. The company’s initial capital in 1885 was $300,000.  When Swift died in 1998, the company was valued at over $25,000,000.

1906: The Jungle-Upton Sinclair-This book focused on showcasing what life was like in Packingtown. Much of the work was dangerous and done without regard to worker safety or sanitation.  Rooms were unventilated, dark. Floors were slippery. The place was dirty and the meat was not kept in cool, clean environment. Workers were paid pennies for hours and days of strenuous labor.

The book was actually intended to be focused on socialism and promoting the socialist party. Though it was a fictionalized story, it showed a true picture of what the meat industry looked like. The book became an international best seller and made it into the hands of President Roosevelt. Following this, Roosevelt started a committee to investigate the working and sanitation conditions of these slaughterhouses. The committee realized that was written was true.

Because of this, the Meat Inspection Act was put into place. This act includes Antemortem, postmortem, carcass inspection, sanitary standards, USDA inspection required for product to be checked for wholesomeness prior to sale.

1919: Green Bay Packers were formed. Funds to pay for uniforms came from the Indian Packing Company. They were willing to sponsor the team on the condition that the team be named after the sponsor.

1950s: Meat packing was at its peak.  Pieced together plants that had started in the 1800s were becoming obsolete and new places were being built. Rather than building in the cities, new plants were put near the livestock. These new plants tended to be large, spacious, well lit, easy to clean, and well designed for efficiency. Additionally, most plants specialized in one specie or segment of production. 

With the invention of refrigerated railcars, improvements in sanitation and packaging, product was now safe to be shipped around the country. 

Because of advancements in efficiency and the ability to ship meat products more efficiently than live animals, processing plants moved away from Chicago Packingtown, and in 1971-The last kill floor at the stockyards was closed.

Today:

>6,000 federally inspected meat and poultry facilities

Directly employs >525,000 people

Allied Industries employ ~5.4 million people, ~$200 billion in wages

The US has an incredibly safe and reliable food system. Although there may be concerns based on production system or methods, overall, consumers trust their food. And they should.  The industry has come a long way, and continues to improve in food safety, worker safety and production efficiency and continues to make improvements every day. I think it is pretty cool to see just how far we have come, and how much further we will continue to go.

Click here to hear The Meating Room podcast episode on this topic.

Sources:

The Constitutional Rights Foundation

Development of the US Meat Industry

Principles of Meat Science

Creating Great Tasting Steaks

How to make a great tasting steak (or pork or lamb chop):

  1. Start with an animal genetically inclined to produce a high-quality product.

Genetics + Environment = Phenotype

Basically, the genetic background of the animal, plus the environment it is raised in determines its physical appearance, or phenotype. Meat quality and quantity is a portion of that phenotype.

Utilizing genetic data, farmers and ranchers can select for specific quality traits for their livestock. For example, using ultrasound, measurements of a bull’s ribeye can be taken to estimate its size and marbling score.  Knowing these numbers can provide an estimate of what the offspring will look like and be able to produce.

2. Feed the animal correctly to let it reach its maximum genetic potential.

The environment portion of the equation can consist of the animal’s surroundings, diet and lifestyle. In order to best maximize final product quality, animals need to be fed a high energy diet. Doing so will allow the animal to meet its full genetic potential.

For example, say twin steers each were fed different diets. One of them was fed a low energy, forage (ex. grass) based diet, while the other was transitioned to a high energy, grain (ex. corn) based diet.  Both animals have the same genetic background, but their environment can have a major impact on the final product. Likely, the steer fed the high energy diet will produce a ribeye that has more intramuscular fat (marbling), which is associated with a higher quality product.

3. Keep the animal stress free and comfortable.

Stress can have a major negative impact on final product quality. Stressed animals can produce product that has color defects, limited ability to retain moisture, and tenderness problems. All these things can devalue the product, hurting the bottom line of the producer and the processor.

4. Harvest the animal efficiently.

Effectively rendering the animal unconscious and correctly exsanguinating it are imperative for maintaining product quality as well as ensuring humane handling. If the animal is not exsanguinated quickly and effectively, an increase in blood pressure can cause the capillaries within the muscle to burst, leading to splashes of blood within the meat. Not only is this unsightly to the consumer, but it also can poorly impact taste and can shorten shelf life.

5. Age the meat to allow time for natural tenderization to occur.

Storing the meat in a refrigerated environment for a period of time prior to cutting retail cuts allows natural enzymes found within the meat to breakdown protein and improve tenderness. Optimally, beef is aged for approximately 14 days, but can vary due to cut, demand, and storage space at the processing facility.

6. Cut steaks and keep them free from contamination that could impact taste and safety.

Meat can pick up contamination on surfaces as well as absorb off odors and flavors. Because of this, it is necessary to keep the environment clean and controlled. Contaminants can impact taste but can also be a food safety concern.

7. Package and store correctly.

Poor packaging and storage can lead to meat that can quickly develop off flavors or become rancid. Oxygen and light exposure can impact the color and flavor of meat products. Storing cuts in packaging that limits exposure to both is important to maintain a high-quality product. Additionally, keeping meat frozen and only thawing it as you need it is also a great way to keep quality and safety in check. For the best, safest eating experience, plan and thaw meat products in the fridge rather than on the counter or in the microwave.

8. Don’t overcook it!

Undercooking meat products is a food safety concern; however, overcooking them can lead to a product that is tough and dry. Using a meat thermometer is your best bet for a safe, high quality eating experience.

Who would have thought something as seemingly simple as a steak could be so complex? All these steps can add up to create a great tasting product. Similarly, an error at any point can hurt the final product (ex. great quality product that gets forgotten on the grill and is overcooked). One of the exciting things about careers in meat science is that we are constantly studying ways at every point throughout this process to try to improve the final product. We want to ensure a great eating experience every time that product is consumed!

Home Harvest

This post was originally published on the UNL BeefWatch webpage under the title “Things to Consider before Harvesting a Market Animal at Home” and was co-authored by Carol Schwartz, NE Extension Educator. Given the influx of market ready animals following plant shutdowns/slowdowns as well as backup at the local processor level, many people have considered trying a butcher project at home. Now, this may be a good idea for some, however, it can be a big undertaking with a lot of necessary prep work.

Many people are looking for opportunities to buy market animals to harvest at home, which has led to many questions about the best way to complete that task. Prior to making the decision to try home harvest, there are a few important things to consider:

1.  Food Safety:  Can you properly cool the carcass and keep it clean to ensure meat safety?
One of the main concerns when harvesting livestock at home is temperature. If handled poorly or not stored properly, meat can be a great place for bacteria to grow.  It is important to cool the carcass to 34-45F within 24 hours after harvest. In addition to environmental temperature, care needs to be taken to decrease the chance of carcass contamination (feces, dust, etc.) that could lead to bacteria growth. Furthermore, meat can absorb off odors and flavors from the environment.  Scents such as manure, gasoline, etc., can be absorbed and lead to problems with odors and flavors within the meat. If harvesting at home, it is necessary to ensure the environment is cool and clean.

A beef carcass is likely to be >850 lbs. This requires a cold area to thoroughly cool as well as the right equipment to safely and effectively break it down into cuts.

 2.  Animal Welfare:  Can you ensure humane handling and stunning?
Having the ability to handle livestock humanely both prior to and during harvest is of utmost importance.  This means limiting animal stress and having the ability to effectively stun and exsanguinate (bleed out) the animal quickly.  

 3.  Meat Quality:  Can you effectively harvest the animal without negatively impacting meat quality?
Meat quality is focused on the palatability of the final product. If livestock are excessively stressed prior to harvest, quality issues can ensue.  In beef, long term stress can lead to a product that is dark, firm and dry, known as a dark cutter. This effect produces a product that not only is unappetizing, but also retains moisture, making it more susceptible to bacteria growth.  In pork, short term stress can lead to a product that is pale, soft and exudative; meaning it is light in color and is not able to hold water well. This results in product that is dry and not very flavorful. Additionally, if exsanguination is not performed quickly and effectively, blood splash can occur within the muscle. A significant challenge when harvesting livestock at home is aging the product to improve tenderness and palatability. Aging requires refrigerated storage space that is clean and limits potential for bacteria growth. Holding meat in refrigerated storage for 7-14 days prior to cutting into retail cuts (steaks, chops, roasts) is beneficial to improve the final product’s palatability and overall eating experience.  

 4.  Equipment/Facilities:  Do you have the equipment and facilities to work efficiently, ensure worker safety, maintain a cool environment, and store the final product?
From start to finish, the process of harvesting livestock offers potential for worker injury.  Having good equipment and knowledgeable help is necessary to ensure efficiency and safety.  Prior to harvest, it is necessary to think about what type of equipment you may need, such as sharp knives, hoists, meat saws, packaging and much more. As the meat is being divided into retail cuts, it is necessary to keep a cool environment to limit bacteria growth. Once the carcass is packaged into steaks and roasts you will need plenty of freezer space for storage. Meat from a whole hog will require approximately 5 cu. ft. of freezer space, whereas meat from an entire beef animal will require approximately 16 cu. ft. of freezer space.

Packaging and storage space are extremely important to consider prior to harvest. Air tight packaging not only helps keep the product safe, but also retains quality (ie. palatability).

Although it may seem like a simple task, home harvest is very labor intensive and requires a lot of planning. While it may be a good decision for some, it is important to think through the entire process prior to making the decision to harvest livestock at home. If unable to confidently answer the questions about how to handle food safety, animal welfare, meat quality and equipment, it may be beneficial to consider other options for harvest.

Featured

Who am I?

My name is Brianna Buseman, and I am the author of The Meating Room! I grew up on a farm in SE South Dakota where my family raises cattle.  Being involved in agriculture was a huge part of my life, so much so, I decided I wanted to study it in college.  I attended South Dakota State University where I graduated with a double major in Animal Science and Agricultural Business.  This degree combination let me take a variety of classes, from livestock nutrition, meat science, genetics, and swine production to economics, accounting, and marketing. 

Following graduation, I decided to continue my education and moved to Idaho for graduate school.  In May 2020 I graduated from the University of Idaho with a master’s degree in Animal Science with a Meat Science emphasis. 

Currently, I am the Youth Meat Animal Extension Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In this position, I focus on engaging students and developing materials to teach them about meat science.

Now, what exactly is meat science?  Well, basically it is the study of all things meat:

What makes meat tender? 

What makes meat taste good? 

What steps can we take to make sure meat is safe for people to eat?

What can we do to make sure consumers are satisfied every time they eat a steak, or a pork chop, or (insert whatever cut of meat you prefer)?

PLUS we get to jump into other areas of animal science, like how livestock genetics and nutrition impact meat. Meat science takes every step in the production process, adds it together and serves it to you in the form of a big, juicy, T-bone steak.  So that’s meat science in a nutshell, and I think it’s so cool!

Through my education and in this current position, I have the opportunity to learn a lot of interesting information and hear of cool research that is happening to try to improve the eating experience for consumers. I will use this blog as a way to share some of what I know and continue to learn. I hope this page will become a good resource to help answer any questions you may have about the industry and to demonstrate the steps that go into producing a high quality, nutritious product!

Steak Science: Making a Marinade

A few weeks ago I had the chance to be featured on Nebraska 4-H Living Room Learning. This program focuses on sharing activities with students that can be done at home to teach lessons in science, math, engineering, and more. The lesson I taught was focused on meat science, and discussed how to make a marinade.

Using marinades when cooking is a great way to add flavor and improve tenderness of various meat products. There are a few key ingredients that should be used when mixing marinades in order to have the best results.

Oil: This is used to bind ingredients and can help seal in moisture during cooking. I prefer to use olive oil, but any cooking oil will work.

Acid: The acid helps improve tenderness by breaking down protein. Common acids that can be used in marinades are lemon and lime juice or white wine.

Flavor: This is where you are going to add in your key ingredients to create a specific flavor profile. Are you hoping to cook a product that is savory? Spicy? Has some sweetness? Using various herbs, spices and other seasonings allows you to create a specific flavor profile. Some common ingredients include garlic, chili powder, brown sugar, mustard, pepper and onion powder.

Salt: This is a key ingredient for flavor, but also helps the marinade penetrate into the cut you are working with. It is important to be careful with the amount of salt you add to the mixture as it can quickly produce an off putting flavor and can draw out moisture in the meat, leaving you with a final product that is dry.

When mixing your marinade, plan for a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of marinade per pound of meat. Place the meat in a resealable bag or container with a lid and pour the marinade over the meat. To keep the product at a safe temperature, make sure to marinate it in the fridge. The length of time that you will marinate depends on what cut you are using and your goal for the marinade. If you are using a tougher cut with the goal of improving tenderness (round steak, sirloin steak, etc.) marinades can be used for 6-24 hours. If you are simply trying to add flavor (chicken, strip steaks, etc), marinate for 20 minutes-2 hours. Do not mix or store your marinade in a metal container. The acid can react with the metal, producing off flavors and can damage the container.

Marinades are a great way to improve tenderness and change the flavor profile of your favorite cuts. There are a lot of great recipes out there, but it is also a fun way to experiment in the kitchen and develop your own favorite flavor profile. This is your opportunity to perform your own steak science experiment. The best part? You get to eat your research!

Garlic Herb Marinade:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine or lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 4 cloves minced garlic (1 Tbsp minced garlic)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 lb of meat

Mix all ingredients and pour over cut of your choice. This recipe will make enough marinade for 1 lb of meat. I used round steak when I did this talk. After letting it soak in the marinade for approximately 16 hours, I grilled the steak to medium, sliced it thin and served it over greens for a steak salad.

Check out the “Steak Science” episode on NE 4-H Living Room Learning!

Simple Steak Science: Tenderness

With the school year starting, both in person and virtually, your kids may be looking for a science fair project.  Rather than focusing on a solar system or volcano, here is a simple project that can open up your kids to the world that is meat science!

All that is required for this project is canned and fresh pineapple and a box of jello. Making jello with canned pineapple works great! The jello will set up as expected and even makes a great treat.

Making jello with fresh pineapple, on the other hand, does not work. The jello will not set up and will remain a liquid even if cooled for longer than the recommended time period.  This is due to an enzyme found in pineapple called bromelain. Bromelain breaks down protein, which makes it a great ingredient in meat tenderizers.  It is also what causes some people to say that their mouth becomes sore if they eat a lot of fresh pineapple. During the cooking process while canning, bromelain is broken down and is no longer functional. This is why canned pineapple works to make jello, but not fresh pineapple.

Now what does this have to do with meat science? Store bought meat tenderizers often contain bromelain or papain, which is a similar enzyme found in papaya.  Similarly, meat naturally contains an enzyme called calpain. Calpains are activated by calcium and work to break down protein. They are responsible for the tenderness improvement that occurs when meat is aged.  Aging meat, or holding it in a refrigerated environment or a period of time, allows more time for the calpains to be active and to break down more protein.  This improvement in tenderness makes for a better tasting steak.

This experiment would also make a great 4-H project.  Students could pair the jello and pineapple with the science of aging and tenderness or use it as an introduction into talking about marinades and dry rubs when cooking meat.  Either way, it is a simple project that contains a lot of science!  It may just be the opportunity your kid needs to spark their interest in a future in meat science!

Meat Science, is it Where You Belong?

Last week I had the opportunity to be part of recording a webinar for the Nebraska Pork Producers Association Pork Mentorship program about my experience getting involved in meat science and opportunities within the industry. 

I didn’t get involved with meat science until I was in college.  It wasn’t until I snuck my way into an upper level meat science course my freshman year that I was introduced to this career path.

What drew me to meat science is that it is really all encompassing. Not only do you have to understand livestock production in terms of genetics, nutrition and handling, but there is also a whole host of things can influence meat quality and safety after the animal has been harvested.  The process of getting a safe, tasty product from the farm to your table is extensive. Meat science is also a great way to relate to consumers.  Not everyone has had the chance to work in a feedlot, but most people have eaten a hamburger. Connecting the story of agriculture through the actual food people consume is a great way to promote the industry.

Through great classes and opportunities in my undergraduate and graduate programs, I was able to learn more about the industry and the science behind meat production. This led to my current role in youth meat extension for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Now, my story is heavy on the academics. I love to learn, and higher education was a good path for me.  However, there are so many more ways to get involved in the industry than just working in academia. Being involved in the meat industry can involve a wide variety of careers.  Below are just a few areas that barely crack the surface of opportunities within the industry:

  • Livestock Production and Health: What happens on the hoof is incredibly important in determining the quality of the product produced. Sickness, stress, bruising, all can lead to later problems with the carcass. Combine that with genetics, diet and environmental factors, and people with roles in this area can make huge impacts in the meat industry.    
  • Research and development: Everything that you see in the grocery store that contains meat has been researched. This includes determining the safety of the product, nutritional value, flavor, shelf life and best packaging for each product.  
  • Industry: Packing plants or butcher shops are what most people think of when considering careers in the meat industry. The fact is, they do provide a lot of opportunities. From line workers, management, marketing, and food safety controls, these businesses are incredibly important to the industry and provide thousands of jobs across the country.
  • Government: Food safety and meat quality are determined with government oversight.  Additionally, jobs in policy, trade, and labeling, all impact the value of the final product.
  • Technology: The amount of technology and automation within livestock and meat production blows my mind.  From feeding systems for the live animals, to machines that assist in harvest and fabrication, to the packaging that holds the final product, the technological advancement in the industry is incredible.  Careers developing and maintaining these technologies are abundant.

Like I said, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. With the growing population and more mouths to feed, career opportunities within the meat industry will only continue to grow. You don’t have to be an animal scientist to be active in the meat industry. I encourage you to look into the world that is meat science, you may be surprised to find that it is right where you belong.    

How Many Pounds of Meat can we Expect from a Beef Animal?

This post was co-written with Nebraska Extension Educator, Randy Saner, and originally posted on the UNL Beef Extension website on August 1, 2020. The link to the original publication, which includes more graphs and reported data, is included at the end of this post.

Consumers who buy a live animal from a local cattle producer or 4-H member for custom processing are often surprised by the amount of beef they receive, the amount of freezer space needed and that they did not get back the entire live weight of the animal in retail cuts.  This article will discuss how to estimate how much meat you will receive when purchasing an animal to harvest.

Dressing Percentage is an important term to remember as it represents the portion of the live animal weight that transfers to the hot carcass weight.

Dressing percentage is calculated as: (hot carcass weight ÷ the live weight) x 100.

The hot carcass weight (HCW) is the weight of the unchilled carcass in pounds after the head, hide and internal organs have been removed.  For most fed cattle, the HCW will be approximately 60 to 64 percent of live animal harvest weight.  For example, a 1400-pound animal with a hot carcass weight of 880 pounds has a dressing percentage of approximately 63%, which is calculated as follows:

(880 hot carcass weight ÷ 1400-pound live weight) x 100 = 63%.

It is not uncommon for the buyer of a live animal to question, “The dressing percentage of my 1400-pound steer was 63% but I only got 550 pounds of meat – where is the rest of my meat?”  The calculation of dressing percentage is based on hot carcass weight.  The hot carcass weight includes bones, excess fat and moisture loss that will not be packed and wrapped for home consumption. The hot carcass weight is not the actual amount of meat that the consumer will put in his or her freezer. 

Many factors can affect the dressing percentage.  Anything that adds weight to the live animal but does not appear on the carcass will lower the dressing percentage.  Factors that might add to the live animal weight but not be included in the hot carcass weight include:

  • Hide
  • Horns
  • Pregnancy
  • Mud and/or manure on the hide
  • Gut fill

All beef animals are not created equal.  Therefore, the dressing percentage is not consistent from one animal to another.  Some of the primary factors that influence the dressing percentage include breed of the animal (dairy vs beef), live weight and how it was finished (grain fed or grass fed). The table below shows the relative dressing percentage for various types of beef animals and background conditions.

A beef carcass is composed of 70 to 75% water.  As it is chilled, water evaporation will cause the carcass weight to decrease.  It is not uncommon for a chilled carcass to weigh 2 to 5% less than the hot carcass.  That means our example 880-pound carcass could lose nearly 40 pounds during chilling solely due to water loss by evaporation!

After a carcass is cooled, it will be further processed into the retail cuts you bring home.  The carcass is split in half, and further separated into “primal” (or wholesale) cuts.  This process is referred to as “breaking down the carcass or fabrication.”  Beef primal cuts in the front-quarter include the rib, chuck, shank, brisket, and plate; while the hind quarter is composed of the flank, round and loin (short loin and sirloin).  The table below shows the typical weights and percent of a carcass of various primals from an 880 lb. carcass.

Wholesale or primal meat cuts will be further processed into sub-primals or retail cuts. The basic concept of fabricating beef retail cuts is to separate tender muscles from less tender muscles, thick muscles from thin muscles and fat from lean portions.  What remains when bone and fat are removed is referred to as yield, or the percent of boneless, closely trimmed retail cuts. For example, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association publication entitled “Beef Cut: Primal and Sub primal Weights and Yields,” the round typically makes up 22% of the hot carcass weight. For an 880 – pound carcass, the round would be approximately 194 pounds.  About 20 percent of that weight is made up of fat and bone. This leaves approximately 155 pounds of meat, including steaks, roasts, and ground product, that will be packaged for consumption.

This picture demonstrates yield. A carcass includes muscle, fat, bone and connective tissue. As a the meat is divided into retail cuts, excess fat, bone and tissue are removed to provide a boneless, closely trimmed product that is ready for consumption. Photo Credit: Jessica Lancaster, University of Idaho

Factors that affect yield of retail cuts include:

  • Carcass Fat – External carcass fat, or backfat, has the greatest impact on the percent of retail product from a carcass.  As more fat is trimmed away from the retail cuts, less weight will be included in the final packaged product; thus, a lower percentage of retail cuts.
  • Carcass Muscularity – Superior carcass muscling can increase the yield of a carcass.  Dairy – type animals with lower lean-to-bone ratios typically yield lower than beef type animals.
  • Cutting style or cutting directions given to the processor can affect carcass yield.  For instance, the amount of bone-in versus boneless cuts, trimming of retail cuts and the percent of fat of the ground beef will affect retail yield.
  • Aging – the two major advantages of aging meat are improvement in tenderness and enhancement of a “beefy” flavor.  A typical aging period of seven to fourteen days allows for tenderness development. Long term aging also can have a negative effect on carcass yield as it results in more weight loss from the carcass due to further moisture loss.

In summary, the amount of meat that is cut and wrapped for consumption will be much less than the live weight of the animal.  A 1400-pound beef animal will yield a hot carcass weight of approximately 880 pounds.  Once cooled, the carcass weight will be approximately 840 pounds. When deboned and trimmed, there will be approximately 570 pounds of product to fill your freezer.

It is important to remember that fat, bone and trim that is discarded from the carcass are not simply thrown away. These products are known as byproducts and can be used in various industries across the spectrum.  From leather, pet food, and fertilizer to medical equipment, cosmetics and sporting equipment; the value of a harvested animal stretches far past your freezer.

It is important to understand that these numbers will vary based on many factors.  Not all harvested animals weigh 1400 pounds.  Some may be harvested at 1100 pounds and some at 1500+ pounds. Some animals may be dairy type and others may be beef type.  Some may be grass finished and some may be grain finished.  All these factors contribute to how much meat you take home.

When deciding to purchase an animal for harvest, keep in mind the space you have available for safe and effective storage. A quarter of beef takes an approximately 4.5 cu. ft. of chest freezer or a 5.5 cu. ft. upright freezer.  A side (half), requires around 8 cu. ft. of space, while a whole beef will need 16 cu. ft.

To summarize: A 1,400-pound steer, one-half inch fat, average muscling, yields an 880-pound carcass. The 880-pound carcass yields approximately:

  • 570 pounds boneless trimmed beef;
  • 280 pounds fat trim and bone;
  • 32 pounds of kidney, pelvic, and heart (KPH) fat, trim loss and carcass shrink.

https://beef.unl.edu/beefwatch/2020/how-many-pounds-meat-can-we-expect-beef-animal?fbclid=IwAR0Xfo63fE4c6jy4fRZAHW1-I87U14gfye-QlyxfF5OmWxY5NIEtzN7uZWs

Sources:
Preparing to buy a Quarter of Beef, University of Minnesota Extension
Beef Cuts Primal & Subprimal Weights and Yields Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
How Much Meat To Expect From a Beef Carcass University of Tennessee Extension Publication 1822
How Much Meat Can You Expect from a Fed Steer, South Dakota State University

The Beef with Burger King

Last week, Burger King released an ad toting the beloved (at least by me) Walmart yodel kid singing a song about cow farts releasing methane and leading to green house gas emission. This video quickly went viral and was met with a lot of jokes and some mixed reactions, from annoyance, to frustration, and honestly, a lot of confusion. Personally, I fell within the confused group.  On one hand, I was glad that Burger King was still using and promoting real beef on their menu.  On the other hand, the video seemed to provide a lot of misinformation that did not represent the beef industry well. I couldn’t be angry, but it certainly didn’t make me crave a Whopper! 

Since then, Burger King has pulled the ad and has enlisted the help of Dr. Frank Mitloehner of UC Davis who specializes in air quality to ensure accuracy of their advertisements. I had the chance to hear Dr. Mitloehner speak at the International Livestock Congress at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo earlier this year and was so impressed by his presentation on the impact of livestock on the environment. Prior to the BK video release, Dr Mitloehner was active on social media sharing his insights and experience.  Since the video dropped, more scientific information about the impact of livestock production on the environment, and people are listening.

This info graphic was produced by UC Davis and was shared on Twitter. It explains the role that livestock play in the carbon cycle.

It is encouraging to see a company like Burger King make the decision to work alongside the livestock industry to accurately promote a product.  Admitting that their claims weren’t what they initially thought and being willing to stop the distribution of costly advertisements is a huge step.  In the future, I hope to see more companies work with experts in animal science, whether that be farmers and ranchers, faculty at Universities, or others in the industry from the beginning to ensure factual advertising.  This could go a long way to promote their product, accurately represent the ag industry and build consumer confidence in the food they eat.      

This video produced by UC Davis is a great resource explaining how methane from livestock impacts the environment and makes it easy to understand. I highly recommend a watch!

Harvest the Fruit, Burn the Tree, and Move On

About a month ago I defended my thesis, completing my M.S. degree in Animal Science at the University of Idaho.  Following my defense, I packed up my apartment, loaded a U-Haul and hit the road back to South Dakota.  The past few weeks I have been busy at home helping AI cattle, butchering a pig for our family, and finishing up my TA responsibilities.  Although it has been so great to spend time at home with my family, it was a tough way to say goodbye to what had become a second home.

Two years ago, when I made the decision to move to Idaho, I was excited, but also nervous.  I was excited for new adventures, but nervous about doing research and making friends.  I had never worked in a lab before and my meat cutting skills were limited to what I had learned in the Intro to Meat Science course in my undergrad. On top of that, I didn’t know anyone in Idaho.  I had met the professors I would work with during my two-day interview, but other than that, I didn’t know a soul. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement.

I knew that Idaho was the place I was meant to be.  I had prayed a lot about this decision and after meeting with the professors I would work with, I knew the move was the right decision. Shortly after I moved to Idaho, I began to get to know the other graduate students and our undergraduate lab employees.  As research projects ramped up, we spent more time on the kill floor, in the processing room, and in the chemistry lab.  Although it took a while, I became more confident and comfortable with these processes.

I was busy preparing for my final defense when the quarantine began. At first, it was nice to be able to work from home. I had no excuse not to get my thesis finished and my presentation put together.  Soon, however, I realized that this was how I was going to end my experience in Idaho.  Graduation was cancelled, research projects were postponed, classes and my final defense was moved online. I had moved 1200+ miles from home, built a life in a new state, made friends that became family, and this is how I was to say goodbye. 

During this time, a story that a pastor had shared with our congregation a few years prior kept coming to mind:

A man had a beautiful apple tree that he tenderly cared for. It was his pride and joy. One night, a storm came through and tore the tree from the ground.  The next day, his neighbor came over and said, “You put so much time and effort into helping this tree grow, what are you going to do now?”  The man with the tree turned to him and said, “I’m going to harvest the fruit, burn the tree, and move on.”

Harvest the fruit: My experience in Idaho was incredible. I am so proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and moving somewhere new. I learned so much, was able to see some incredible sites, developed strong friendships and gained experiences that prepared me well for my future career.

Burn the tree: I was sad, but I let myself be.  I had worked hard on my degree and was disappointed that this is how it was coming to an end. I let myself mourn the ending that I had planned for and wasn’t able to experience.

Move on: I am home now, and I am so thankful for the time I have been able to spend with my family. In a few weeks, I will begin my job at University of Nebraska-Lincoln working as an Extension Assistant Professor. Had the pandemic not occurred, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy this time with my family and it would have been a quick transition from school into the new job. It is easy to be upset with all that has been happening in our world, but the time at home has been a major blessing.

There is a lot of sad things happening in our world, but I rest assured that it is in God’s control. For me, I know that although it may have come to a bittersweet end, I will forever be thankful for the time I had in Idaho. It is an experience I will not soon forget.