Tag Archives: U.S. Premium Beef

Calf #718 becomes beef…

In Nebraska, cattle outnumber people 4:1.  My children think that this statistic is hilarious and they pass it along to anyone who will listen.  Their other favorite statistic is that on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football “Game Day”, Memorial Stadium (with its approximately 80,000 seat capacity) is the third largest city in Nebraska!

Nebraska has an abundance of grass pastures and cattle feed yards which makes it "The Beef State"!

As you may guess by the above statistics, Nebraska is the Beef State!  In fact, one out of every five steaks and hamburgers is produced in Nebraska…Calf #718 is one of 5.1 million cattle that are finished in Nebraska every year.

Calf #718 becomes beef! Drum roll, please...

I mentioned last week that I harvest my Age and Source Verified cattle (like Calf #718) through U.S. Premium Beef.  What I get paid for the animal depends on the quality and amount of beef that he produces.  What you pay at the grocery store or in a restaurant for my beef is also dependent on the quality and amount of the beef.

So what defines quality?

Traditionally, the quality of beef is determined by the amount of marbling that is present in the muscle.  This is measured at the packing plant by looking at the rib eye muscle of the animal.

While there are many things that go into making beef juicy, palatable, and tender, marbling is a huge factor.  The different levels of quality grade are as follows:

Prime

Choice

Select

Standard

Prime has the most marbling and is incredibly flavorful and tender—if you eat at a high end steak house (like Morton’s), you will most likely be served beef that is Prime grade.  Somewhere between 5-10% of the cattle that I ship to harvest grade Prime.

Choice has the next level of marbling and is still very high quality beef.  Most grocery store chains carry Choice grade beef as do many moderate to high end restaurants.  Most of the cattle that I ship to harvest (about 80%) fall under the Choice grade.  Choice grade beef is my personal favorite…

Select has the next level of marbling and, if cooked correctly, can still make a great eating experience.  When I cook a select grade steak, I am careful that I cook it no more than medium rare which helps it to still be juicy and flavorful.  Most grass fed beef will fall under the Select quality grade.  As those of you know that have eaten grass fed beef, the taste and consistency of the beef is different than grain fed beef.  It is still great beef, it is just different.

Standard beef has very little marbling.  It needs to be tenderized and cooked very carefully.

So what was the quality grade of #718?

Calf 718 Graded Choice

This is me learning how to fabricate (or cut up) a beef carcass about 13 years ago...

What other measurements are taken at the packing plant to determine the worth of the animal?

  1. Red meat yield:  Red meat yield is how much red meat is on the carcass relative to the live weight of the animal.  An animal that has a high red meat yield is an efficient animal and produces more useful/edible components relative to the total weight of the animal.  Fed cattle red meat yields run anywhere from 62% to 67% as a general rule.

Calf #718’s red meat yield was 66.64%

      2.    Yield Grade:  The yield grade is the amount of fat on the animal relative to the size of the rib eye area and the weight of the carcass.  Yield grades on cattle are 1-5 (1 being the leanest).

Calf #718’s yield grade was a 4 which means that I should have shipped him to harvest a week or two earlier than I did!

3. Rib Eye Area:  The rib eye area tells you how big the rib eye steak is.  In other words, if a rib eye steak was placed on your plate, how much of the plate would it take up! Rib eye areas in cattle run anywhere from 8-17 inches.

Calf #718’s rib eye area was 12.63

What all this means is that Calf #718 would make a great steak to eat!  His roasts would also be wonderful. If I could go back and change anything about the way that I prepared #718 for harvest, I would have shipped him to U.S. Premium beef a week or two before to allow him to be a leaner carcass with less fat trim to be taken off.

So, what is my favorite cut of meat to cook?  I love a great chuck roast (with fresh carrots and tomatoes) in the Crock Pot…it not only tastes great but it also makes my house smell wonderfully all day long while it cooks!

Dinner at the Feed Yard Foodie household is a casual affair, but it always tastes great!

In the near future, I will be adding a category to the blog entitled “Foodie Fun”.  The posts in this category will cover nutritional and cooking information about beef (including some great recipes).

Stayed tuned and EAT BEEF!

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Building Bridges…

This is the north channel of the Platte River. The south channel is about 200 yards away and is wider and shallower...

Dawson County, Nebraska is divided in half by the Platte River.  Shortly after I moved to the Cozad area, I learned that there were those known as “north siders” and those known as “south siders”.  In 1997, it amazed me that a river could create such a concept of “dividedness”—after all, it took only about 15 seconds to drive across one of the many bridges that now span the river.

The tradition of “north siders” verses “south siders” took root in a time where the shallow, yet wide Platte River created a chasm between homesteaders on either side of the river banks.  The quick sand found along the bottom of the river made both crossing the river and building the structural supports needed for a bridge very challenging.

Today, what seems an easy trip from one side of the river to the other was virtually impossible when the town of Cozad was settled…

This little one was born on AL Ranch and grew to weigh approximately 850# before being moved to my feed yard.

With the exception of only a very few farms in the United States, the cattle industry is divided into segments.  Mama cows and bulls which provide the breeding herds of our nation’s beef supply are located on cow/calf ranches.  This is where baby calves are born and spend the first 8-18 months of their lives depending on the amount of pasture and feed that is available in any given year (Mother Nature plays a big role in determining this!).  Cattle that are to be grown for the production of beef (not to become part of the future breeding herd), are then moved to either an intermediate farm to be “grown” or into a finishing feed yard to be prepared for harvest.  The feed yard is the last stop for the animal before he is transported to a packing plant for harvest.

#718 and his herd mates line up for breakfast at the feed yard!

When I went to work at our feed yard at age 22, I was amazed at the independence of the cattle farmers that made up the different segments of the beef production cycle…At times it seemed as though one Platte River ran between the cow/calf rancher and the feed yard, and another ran between the feed yard and the packing plant…

I, along with many other cattle farmers, have spent the last 14 years building bridges.  Tradition, economics, and government regulations have kept my cattle production cycle from becoming completely vertically integrated.  However, it is now vertically collaborative.  It takes a concerted team effort to produce the best beef possible!

Collaborating with Al and other ranchers like him is very rewarding...

I work closely with my cow/calf ranchers (like Al and Sallie), and we pass information back and forth to ensure that we set our animals up for success.  A close communication system allows each calf to be traced from birth to harvest.  This also provides for optimal calf care and performance, as well as the most efficient use of natural resources to grow great tasting and healthy beef.   As we have traced Calf #718 over the past couple of months, you have *hopefully* seen the success story of good genetics, good communication, good care based on Beef Quality Assurance protocols, and an efficient use of natural resources to raise cattle and grow beef.

There is a solid bridge made of trust and respect that connects Al and Sallie and I as we work together to raise our cattle and make beef.

So, what happened when Calf #718 left my feed yard and went to harvest? Does the teamwork continue?

Calf #718 was harvested through U.S. Premium Beef, LLC.  Started in 1996, U.S. Premium Beef is a marketing company which provides U.S. beef farmers and ranchers an opportunity to retain ownership of the beef they raise from the ranch to retail. It is owned by beef farmers who produce high quality cattle that will go into value-added beef products designed specifically to meet consumers’ demands. U.S. Premium Beef owns National Beef Packing Company which has harvest facilities in Dodge City and Liberal, Kansas in addition to one in Brawley, California.  Calf #718 was harvested at the Dodge City, Kansas facility which is located approximately 4 hours south and east of my feed yard.

Because U.S. Premium Beef focuses on value-added beef products to meet consumer desires, they make a great partner for my high quality cattle.  They enable me to build a bridge to the consumer of my beef products through a pricing structure that rewards high quality Age and Source Verified beef as well as providing me (and Al and Sallie) with individual carcass performance data on the cattle that are harvested at their facility.  This means that Al and Sallie and I can complete the beef production cycle.  We can literally trace Calf #718 from birth to harvest.  U.S. Premium Beef provides the final “pieces to the puzzle” of our beef production.

The Flat Iron steak was "discovered " in the University of Nebraska meat laboratory. It is part of the Chuck muscle and makes a very tender steak. Thanks to the Nebraska Beef Council for the great picture!

While independence and tradition are important, evolving to meet the needs of our beef consumers is more important.  For that reason, we have become innovative “bridge builders” in a vertically collaborative system which sets us all up for success.  After all, “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner”!

Next week we will look at the different components of “carcass performance data”, and further explore what makes a truly great steak!

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