Tuesday, July 31, 2012

County Fair-The Ultimate Summer Vacation

Long days, short nights, dinner from a cooler and the last farewell to our steer - county fair week usually brings complete exhaustion, an empty wallet, and a huge pile of dirty laundry that needs to be tackled. After all the awards are given, the animals auctioned off, and the stall displays torn down, everyone is beyond ready for a hot shower, home-cooked meal and a long night's rest in their own bed. But still, just a month or two later and we're ready to do it again!!

This past week, as I arrived in Columbia, Mo for my new job, I was able to attend the Boone County Fair and be a part of the show ring action. I grew up heavily active in 4-H showing cattle, horses, sheep, hogs and even my dog one year. I participated in welding, shooting sports, public speaking, woodworking, livestock judging, and held almost every office I could. Needless to say, for the majority of my childhood, 4-H was my summer life.

As I had the opportunity to return to my roots after being out of the show scene for a couple years due to college and work, I enjoyed seeing the next draft of youngsters walking into the ring and showing off their goats, steers and hogs. It brought back floods of memories and made me think about what this program and the tradition of county fair meant to me.

I couldn't help but smile as I watched a young girl manhandle a goat that probably weighed more than she did and continuously look ringside for the cues from her coach, a young man not much younger than myself. Her determination, competitive attitude and eager spirit was entertaining as well as enjoyable. It made me laugh as I took pictures of two little girls chasing a hog around the ring in the PeeWee division of the swine show. Although they were doing little more than tapping the hog with their bats and clearly without any real control of the animal, it was still humorous to see their excited smiles and witness their desire to be in the ring at that young age.

Then I was brought back to more recent years as I listened to young people prepare to market their animals at the sale for the last time. The auctioneer announced that this was the exhibitor's last year in 4-H to encourage higher bidding. As one young lady announced she was donating the proceeds to form a scholarship fund, she explained how she had grown up raising and showing hogs her whole life and struggled emotionally to bring this journey to an end. I thought about my numerous years raising and showing cattle and what not only the competition meant to me, but the countless hours spent raising, selecting and preparing my stock for the show.

County fairs go beyond the showmanship award, champion hog or highest rate-of-gain steer. It's more than having the top selling lamb at the auction or sending the most pictures to the state fair. Spending a week at the county fair is about connecting with friends, caring for animals and committing to action everything learned over the last year. 4-H'ers know how to work hard, stay up late, get up even earlier, have fun and learn.

Over the 11 years I competed in 4-H, I can't even begin to count the many memories I made. Whether it was staying up late setting up a stall display, getting to the barn before sunrise to get 8 head of cattle ready for show, or giving my steer a hug goodbye after the sale, I had fun, made friends, and learned important life lessons. I learned about being committed to my animals and providing the best care for them. I learned my dinner and bed were always last on the priority list. And I practiced good sportsmanship whether I won or lost.

4-H is part of life for many young people, myself included. It is a training ground for future endeavors. It provides opportunities otherwise completely lost and it strengthens young leaders and promotes strong character. Without my 4-H involvement and agriculture background, I don't know where I would be today.

Not only am I proud of how it shaped my life, but I'm excited about giving back and helping the next "show team". As I told one of my "adopted moms" at the fair this year, "I'm wondering which will come sooner, me getting to show again or finding a little person to help!"

If you were involved in 4-H, how did it shape your life? What memories do you have of county fair? What do you plan to do to pass on what you learned to the next draft of youngsters?

Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin' for the brand!!!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Meet Your Meat

Courtesy www.findingdulcinea.com
With summer in full swing, and the grilling season likely at full throttle, I thought it might be a fun and fitting topic to discuss how meat is cut and graded to providing an understanding for proper steak selection.

To start with, I will briefly explain where some of the most popular cuts come from and how this relates to their tenderness, taste and consumer appeal.

Courtesy www.triplesfarms.com
A beef carcass is divided into five sections upon harvest and the front three sections are then split in half. The sections are the chuck, rib, short loin, sirloin, and round. The chuck and round are where a majority of large cuts are taken from. These sections produce a lot of roasts, ground beef and lesser quality steaks (such as Round and Cubed steak).

The rib, short loin, and sirloin sections produce most of the famous steaks cuts and bbq favorites, such as ribs and burgers. The most common cuts to come out of these sections are the Ribeye, T-Bone, Porterhouse, Tenderloin (or Filet Mignon), and Sirloin.

The Ribeye steak comes from anywhere within the rib section and is the center of a Rib steak without any bone or excess fat on the edges. This cut is also referred to as a Delmonico in some parts of the country. Ribeye steaks are an industry favorite for their tenderness and lack of extra bone and fat. When cattle are harvested, a significant trait that is recorded is the size of their ribeye area, which is measured in square inches. Sizes vary between breeds, but most ribeyes are between 11 & 18 sq.in.

The T-Bone, Porterhouse and Tenderloin (Filet Mignon) all comes from the short loin section. T-Bone steaks are taken from the middle area of this section and Porterhouse cuts are produced on the posterior end. The only significant difference in these cuts is the size, with the Porterhouse being a larger steak. A Tenderloin is just like the Ribeye in that it is the center cut of a T-Bone or Porterhouse without any bone or surrounding fat. Although Tenderloins or very palatable, tender and enjoyable to eat, they are usually a much smaller and thicker cut making them a suitable choice for high end restaurants, hotels and occasions where guests prefer a smaller portion of high quality and tender meat.

The sirloin section produces one cut-the Sirloin. This steak can be eaten as a Pin Bone Sirloin, a Flat Bone Sirloin, a Wedge Bone Sirloin, or a Boneless Sirloin (which is most common). These cuts are interesting because they start with the Pin Bone being taken nearest the loin and the Wedge Bone harvested prior to the round, however the closer to the loin the larger the steak but the closer to the round, the more meat is in each cut. Again, the Sirloin that most people are familiar with is a center cut of any of these three steaks, with no bone and minimal surrounding fat.

Now that we've discussed where the most common cuts of steak are harvested, let's look at how meat is graded and how that affects quality, taste and tenderness.

Courtesy www.thecattlesite.com
Beef is graded according to "Quality" and "Yield". Quality grades are divided into seven groups: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter/Canner and are based upon marbling (speckles of fat layered in the meat) and maturity (age of the cow). Prime is the top end grade and meat with this title are young animals with abundant marbling which provides desired flavor, tenderness and juiciness. Most cuts with this grade are found in high-scale restaurants and hotels. Cattle grading Prime are purchased at a premium price because of their high quality. Choice graded meat is the most common among the majority of consumers because of it's availability. Most restaurants and higher end grocery stores where consumers purchase meat offer Choice graded beef. This beef is moderate to light in marbling and can be harvested from animals under 42 months of age. Select graded beef is found in most fast-food chains and contains minimal marbling. Meat following into the remaining grades consists of hamburgers and filler meat, such as that used in hot dogs and pre-packaged meat items.

Yield grades are determined by the percent of boneless closely trimmed retail cuts from the above mentioned sections of the carcass. This grading isn't as important to consumers as quality but attributes to the amount of meat within the cuts. Yield grades are numbered 1-5 with 1 providing the most meat from a carcass (over 52%) and 5 yielding less than 45%.

So next time you decide to grill, you can determine if you would like a Prime Ribeye, a Choice Sirloin, a Select Tenderloin (yeah right!) or if you just want to settle for a good ol' hamburger!!! Understand the cuts, evaluate the quality and fire up the grill to enjoy a juicy and mouth watering piece of beef!!!!

If you have any questions about meat grading or carcass quality, leave a comment or visit these following websites:

Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin' for the brand!!!!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Proud and Privileged

         What an honor and privilege to produce a video showcasing the next generations of cattle producers. For anyone who's unsure about the future of the beef industry or those consumers who are skeptical about the people who raise their food, let these young men and women give you a peace of mind that the industry will progress and your beef will be raised right! Please watch and PLEASE SHARE!!!!! Let's get this message to the masses and help people put a face to their food!!!!

Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin for the brand!!!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Stand Up and Speak Out!!

She wore jeans and boots to school everyday and was made fun of. She worked hard at home on the farm and was criticized for it. She stood up for her beliefs, passions, and dreams-and was completely disregarded. She came home one day to find her car, home, and concrete cow yard ornament vandalized. And she still wants to do the right thing.

I was angered, saddened and shocked to hear this story and sympathized with this fellow young cattle producer who was treated harshly and ridiculed for her love and lifestyle. But it was a resounding reminder that not only are there people among us who don't understand what farm families do to provide for this nation, but they can even be abusive and violent because they disagree with what we do.

This past weekend I had the distinct honor and privilege of leading a group of young cattlemen and women at the MJCA Show-Me Beef Leadership Conference. The focus of the conference was being an Agvocate and defending and promoting agriculture to friends and consumers. Participants were given tips on how to use social media, face-to-face opportunities and the internet to share the story of agriculture as well as how to interact and connect with consumers. It was stressed over and over the importance of being proactive and taking the initiative to reach out and educate the public about what we do and how we care for our livestock. It was rewarding and exciting to hear and 8th grader say he wanted to continue to learn more about how to reach out to his friends. And the young lady who was ridiculed through high school-she still wants to reach out to her classmates and help them see the truth!

Feeding Santa Gertrudis steers
The issue of uneducated consumers and the topic of being an advocate for agriculture has been pretty heavy the last couple years, however as producers, we have still become very lax in our approach to being the ones to tell the story instead of constantly defending what we do. The battle in which we find ourselves with not only animal rights activists and organizations, but simply uneducated consumers, is one that will not end soon-if ever. And it is getting more intense as time goes on.

The quote "If not me, who. If not now, when?" struck a chord with me this weekend. We can't continue relying on others to tell our story and just do our job without connecting with consumers. Agriculturalists have to take action NOW and be the ones to tell the story-our story.

So please join me in becoming active in educating. Whether it's creating a video for youtube showing you caring for your animals everyday, keeping a blog that shows the emotion and dedication to give to ensure safe and healthy food is produced, writing letters to the editor and politicians or just talking to a customer in the grocery story about how meat, milk and eggs are produced, we can all take part, and we NEED to take part in telling the story and revealing the truth!!!

Now, I will turn this around...

Consumers-we are at fault for not keeping open lines of communication about farming and how we raise livestock and crops. We want to tell you how and why we do it, we want you to understand, and we want you to feel safe about what you eat. So, in order to help us educate and give you a peace of mind, please comment by telling us what you want to know and how we can help you made quality decisions about your food. What questions do you have about beef production? What do you want to know about how corn and tomatoes are raised? What would you like explained about raising pork and poultry?

If you ask, we'll answer!!!!!

Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin for the brand!!