“Awesome Agriculture- Beef Cattle- an A to Z book” Book review

As  a Beef Ambassador I promote beef to all ages.  As part of my competition preparation last summer, I used this book to educate some young beef consumers all about Beef.

This book uses the alphabet to highlight all aspects of the beef industry and lots of info about beef cattle.  From defining agriculture, pictures of breeds, and explaining sources of beef cattle feed, this book has lots of pictures for youngers to really learn about where their food comes from.  There is even a recipe activity to make a tasty snack using beef.

My favorite pictures has to be the mama and calf, so sweet!  If you are working with children, reading a book with pictures is a wonderful way to help them learn about agriculture and the beef industry.  Check with your library, university extension office or order here.

Always learning about beef,



All Hat No Cattle

My guest blogger today is Mrs. Lisa Smartt. Mrs. Smartt is a woman who loves to laugh! Born in a small town in West Kentucky, she now writes a weekly newspaper column from her home outside Dresden, Tennessee. She lives on 16 wooded acres with her husband, two sons (who sometimes fight), a cat who desperately needs Prozac, and two German Shepherd Huskies. Her husband is one of the profs at my school and she often is a guest speaker at student events. You can visit her blog The Smartt View.

All Hat No Cattle

When I was in college, I traveled with a friend to visit her family in Alabama. We both got ready for church on Sunday morning. But when my friend walked down the stairs, her very sophisticated beautiful mother said with a pure Alabama drawl, “Dahlin’, that dress is as wrinkled as a dog’s behind.” I had never heard that saying. I laughed out loud but not too loud. I didn’t want her mama to say, “Your friend is louder than a cicada at bedtime.”
I’ve been known to use my own unusual phrases when it comes to children. “Give me a hug, you little cheesy biscuit.” “Come on over here, you little cocoa bean.” “I could just pour you on a pancake and eat you for breakfast.” I know. I know. There’s a definite food theme at work in my personal life. Can we just choose not to over-analyze that right now? Yeah, thanks. I don’t want to be as depressed as a turkey the day before Thanksgiving.
I’ve always been fascinated with southern sayings or western wisdom. I recently heard for the first time a phrase that I absolutely love. All hat and no cattle. A brilliant picture in a few simple words. Because I’ve spent most of my life in the great state of Texas, I can assure you that a big expensive cowboy hat doesn’t always indicate a ranch full of cattle. Sometimes the biggest hats are worn by suburban residents who eat scones, drink cappuccino, and never get their hands dirty. And sometimes those with the most cattle wear old unimpressive hats which mark them as a commoner not a cattle baron.
But of course we all know that the term “All hat and no cattle” is not about hats or about cattle. It’s about something far deeper. When speaking to young people, I often exhort them, “The more time you spend telling people how awesome you are, the less likely they are to believe it.” The more you work on your outward impression, the less time you’re able to devote to your inward character. When someone who is deeply in debt drives a big expensive car it’s an example of all hat and no cattle. When a person brags about his high-paying job it always sounds like all hat and no cattle. Why? Because people with high-paying jobs don’t tend to talk like that. When someone constantly explains the sheer brilliance of their child in comparison to all the “regular” children out there, it’s an example of all hat and no cattle. Insecurity tends to produce that kind of jargon.
As a true Texan, I can tell you that a well-crafted cowboy hat is a beautiful thing. Impressive. The problem? You can’t eat a cowboy hat. Someone somewhere has to own a field of cattle. But I’m not worried. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. And that thought makes me happy. Happier than a pig in slop. (Again, don’t over-analyze that please.).

Thanks, Mrs. Lisa!


Beefy Mexican Lasagna

Back to school time calls for hearty meals that are tasty and satisfying. This is a family favorite my mother found in a community newsletter several years ago.

1.5 pounds ground beef
1 medium yellow or red onion
9 corn or 5 flour tortillas
2 10 oz cans mild enchilada sauce
1 (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 t. cumin
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
crushed tortilla chips

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brown ground beef and onion in skillet.
2. Combine in a large bowl- black beans, corn and cumin, mix well.
3. Spray 11 3/4″x 7 1/2″ baking dish with non-stick spray. Arrange 2-3 tortillas on the bottom, cutting as needed. Spread 1/3 of meat/ onion mixture and 1/3 of bean/ corn mixture over tortillas. Repeat 2 more times until all ingredients are used. Top with enchilada sauce.
4. Cover with foil. Back 30 minutes.
5. Uncover. Top with cheese, cilantro and tortilla chips. Return to oven for about 5 minutes to melt cheese.
6. Enjoy with green salad, hot veggies and dessert.

Additional info: This can be put together in the morning and stored in the refrigerator until afternoon. Cooking time may be increased a few minutes.

Hope you enjoy this,


Why Science Matters: Research

There are three main concerns that we as consumers should have as we analyze the research that is being done in beef science. The first is safety. Does more research increase the safety of the beef that you and I purchase from the grocery store? Secondly, does advancements in science and technology lead to a product that is of greater of lesser quality? And finally, does research contribute to a safe, high quality product at a lower cost?

For more information on studies from A&M: http://animalscience.tamu.edu/livestock-species/beef/research/

For more information on studies from A&M: http://animalscience.tamu.edu/livestock-species/beef/research/

When considering the first issue of safety there are several contributing factors that should be talked about. One study by Texas A&M studied the effect of a feed yard ration that contained ethanol co-products and the prevalence of salmonella as a result. The study is significant in several regards, but the results which concluded that feeding wet distillers grain (a co-product of producing ethanol) did not lead to an increase in salmonella allow farmers to have confidence in using wet distillers grain as a feed for their cattle. If the results would have show a risk of higher contamination then action would have been taken to stop using those feeds. It is this type of research that might seem like a minor discovery, but they are actually ensuring a safe beef product for you and I to consume. There are countless studies concerning food safety that directly impact that quality of the food we eat.
Beef Cattle being fed Wet Distillers Grain

Beef Cattle being fed Wet Distillers Grain

One form of technology that has led producers to identify superior genetic is ultrasound. Now its not what your thinking. Ultrasound technology is used to detect pregnancy, but it has several uses in carcass analysis. With the use of ultrasound a live animal can be measured for certain characteristics that previously required post slaughter analysis. By ultra sounding the rib eye for example, a bull can be selected that will sire progeny with higher carcass quality. What does that mean for you at the grocery store? It means that beef producers are better able to select cattle with genetics that will produce a larger, more evenly marbled steak. ultrasound_title_image
At the end of the day, whether or not new research is interesting to you, what is significant is the result of that research. The hope and intention of advancements and research is to increase efficiency, reduce inputs for the producer, and make a safer, higher quality steak for you and I.

Beef & Blessings,


Why Science Matters: Meat

When you are enjoying a grilled steak, or a burger do you stop and think about all of the biological and chemical properties of the meat you are enjoying? If your answer to that question was no, I wouldn’t worry too much, because most people don’t ask those questions. But it might be interesting for you to know a little more about the beef that fuels you.

beef has a fairly high concentration of myoglobin and is dark red

beef has a fairly high concentration of myoglobin and is dark red

There are several questions that can be answered concerning the science of beef, and the first question is simple: What is Beef? Beef is mostly the muscle tissue of an animal. Most animal muscle is roughly 75% water, 20% protein, and 5% fat, carbohydrates, and assorted proteins. Muscles are made of bundles of cells called fibers. Each cell is crammed with filaments made of two proteins: actin and myosin.

Another good question is what happens in the processing of the beef?
After an animal is slaughtered, blood circulation stops, and muscles exhaust their oxygen supply. Muscle can no longer use oxygen to generate ATP and turn to anaerobic glycolysis, a process that breaks down sugar without oxygen, to generate ATP from glycogen, a sugar stored in muscle.

The breakdown of glycogen produces enough energy to contract the muscles, and also produces lactic acid. With no blood flow to carry the lactic acid away, the acid builds up in the muscle tissue. If the acid content is too high, the meat loses its water-binding ability and becomes pale and watery. If the acid is too low, the meat will be tough and dry.

Lactic acid buildup also releases calcium, which causes muscle contraction. As glycogen supplies are depleted, ATP regeneration stops, and the actin and myosin remain locked in a permanent contraction called rigor mortis. Freezing the carcass too soon after death keeps the proteins all bunched together, resulting in very tough meat. Aging allows enzymes in the muscle cells to break down the overlapping proteins, which makes the meat tender.

Now to the science we all care about… cooking the steak! What is really happening when you cook beef?
Individual protein molecules in raw meat are wound-up in coils, which are formed and held together by bonds. When meat is heated, the bonds break and the protein molecule unwinds. Heat also shrinks the muscle fibers both in diameter and in length as water is squeezed out and the protein molecules recombine, or coagulate. Because the natural structure of the protein changes, this process of breaking, unwinding, and coagulating is called denaturing.

Who would’ve thought that a delicious burger could be so complex? Next time you sit down to a beef dinner I hope you have a deeper appreciation for the science behind beef.
For more information about the science of the food we eat check out

Beef and Blessings,


Why Does Science Matter?

This summer I put myself through 8 weeks of Organic Chemistry. As an Animal Science major, I am

How could organic chemistry matter to a cattle farmer?

How could organic chemistry matter to a cattle farmer?

required to take several chemistry, biology, and any other “ology” class you can think of. Sometimes I wonder why it is necessary for someone like me, who wants to study beef cattle to learn about Newman projection of molecules, or the official IUPAC nomenclature for organic compounds. How can knowledge of organic chemistry be of any benefit to me as a cattle producer? Or maybe a better question to ask is how does science, specifically scientific advancements in beef production result in a higher quality, lower cost beef product for you to purchase at the grocery store?
In these next few weeks in my blog posts I want to “geek out” and talk about the simple science behind how beef gets from the farm to your fork, and why you should care about what research is being done to make advances in the animal science field.
What I came to discover these past few weeks is that science does matter, even organic chemistry. As we all know, science has led to inventions that have allowed our country and world to make huge advancements. But agriculture has had its fair share of advancements due to science as well.
Many times science and technology are grouped together in the same boat. While they both lead to similar results (a safer, more efficiently produced, higher quality product) I don’t think that they should always be thought of in the same context. We need them both, but science and technology play different roles in the beef cattle industry.
Science and technology are allowing farmers to produce higher quality beef

Science and technology are allowing farmers to produce higher quality beef

The science of beef cattle can span as broad a range as you want to explore. But these next few weeks I want to focus on reproduction, nutrition, health, and food safety. I will also touch on some new technologies that are being researched and used in beef cattle production that are allowing farmers to reach further in their pursuit of high quality beef production.
Even though I am completely in love with everything science, I am still intimidated by the big words, and concepts that don’t make sense. That’s why I want to break down those barriers and find the simple science behind better beef.
How does science take beef from farm to fork?

How does science take beef from farm to fork?

Join me as I start asking the question, “Why does science matter?”


“You act like you were raised in a barn…”

‘People say “you act like you were raised in a barn” like it’s a bad thing. I was raised in a barn, and that’s where I learned the most important lessons in life. I watched life begin and end in a barn. I discovered hard work builds character and killed no one. I learned respect, love, and compassion. I realized sometimes optimism is the only way to keep going. I found sometimes you have to let go even when it breaks your heart. I dreamed and learned to never give up on those dreams. I failed and kept trying until I succeeded. I gained confidence in myself and my abilities. I understand you have to stand for what you believe in. The next time someone tells you that you act like you were raised in a barn, thank them because I can’t think of a better compliment.’

Disclaimer: I did not write this quote. I searched unsuccessfully to find the original author. If you know who wrote this, please let me know so I can give them credit. But in any event, it is so True!!

I was raised in a barn,


Do farm signs mislead customers? What else are we missing?

My guest blogger this week is Ryan Goodman. Ryan lives in Helena, MT and comes from an Arkansas cattle ranching family. Since growing up on a family cow/calf and stocker-calf operation, he has spent the last several years learning about farming systems across the country. Ryan is a graduate of Oklahoma State and is currently working on a Master’s degree from the University of Tennessee. He works continuously to share his story of ranch life through community outreach and social media, all while encouraging others in agriculture to do the same. Ryan is the Manager of Communications for the Montana Stockgrowers Association

One of the first things noted when I began my blogging efforts back in 2009, was the fact that so much is taken for granted in the way of knowledge and experiences when sharing my story of ranch life.

Over the past few years, I have received so many questions asking me to explain what a term, phrase, or object is. I often take it for granted that everyone else know what that object is used for, simply because I have used it my entire life. This is so true, that the subject of my most popular blog posts is often a simple explanation of things used or referred to frequently in farm or ranch life.

open cattle guard

According to the Illinois Farm Bureau blog, ILFB.org, a 2010 survey of 1,109 Illinois residents found “those surveyed believed 54 percent of farms were owned by corporations based on what they had seen on TV, commercials, and signs along farm fields.” Could something as simple as crop variety signs on our farms be misleading to passers-by?

For many involved in agriculture, we recognize these roadside signs as displaying the different crop varieties planted. It provides a simple, easy to identify visual of how different varieties of crops are performing. However, to many non-farm consumers, these signs may be perceived differently. IFB found that many see the signs as displaying the owner of the farms, often as mega-corporations instead of family operations.

illinois farm road sign

One Illinois family took charge to fix this problem by adding some personalization to their roadside signs.

What farm terms, signs, objects, or practices do we take for granted and assume everyone else understands their meaning?

Next time you are explaining your work on the farm, or trying to think of a new blog post topic, remember to explain some of the simple things or ask your audience to make sure they understand what it is you are discussing.

Enjoying summer,


Raising my second calf

I kept asking my mother to get me a milk cow. I assured her that I would milk it two times every day and we would like to drink the milk, make ice cream, make yogurt, and make butter. She kept denying my request. But she did take me on a field trip to the University of Tennessee Dairy Research Station in Lewisburg, TN where they have a herd of Jersey cows. These beautiful light brown cows are raised and milked by university staff and researchers. I learned about how the cows are raised, the health routine including vaccines, and how the milk is processed. The farm manager even let me help with the feeding. Now I really wanted to take one of these lovely ladies home!

jersey calf

Instead, we got a bull calf. Because the research station is studying milk production and mastitis, they sell the bull calves when they are born. So on a cold November morning right before Thanksgiving, we got the call that we were to come pick up our calf. We jumped in the truck and headed to the station. And there he was! He had been born in the early morning and was just waiting for me! On the way home we stopped at the TN Farmer’s Coop to buy a bag of Calf Milk Replacer (think baby formula in a 50# bag), bottle (1 qt size) and nipples.

I fed my calf two times each day and he grew quickly! After 2 bags of milk replacer I weaned him to hay and calf grain. Soon he was ready!

Jerseys are know for their milk production, and especially for the high butter fat content of their milk. They were once considered the ideal milk cow for the family farm because of the smaller size but good milk production. And their milk, with the high butter fat content, made excellent cheese and butter. But Jersey bulls and steers are good meat producers. The meat has a lower fat content, although is marbled so is very tasty.

Busy Promoting Beef in Tennessee!

Busy Promoting Beef in Tennessee!

DSCN1515Things have been busy here in Tennessee as we are gearing up for July Beef Month! We have held several events over the last few weeks that target our millennial mom audience. One of the events was a Girl’s Grilling Class. We held a contest with Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, and the winner received a grilling class for her and 15 of her friends. These millennial moms were taught how to prepare simple beef appetizers, properly pat out hamburgers, and cook juicy steaks. Overall, the Girl’s Grilling Class was a huge success, and we look forward to providing and hosting similar events in the future!

photo2 Another event we were proud to sponsor was Battle of the Burger Nashville. Restaurants from the Nashville area competed in a live burger competition and served up samples to a large and hungry crowd. The spectators could then vote on the burger they liked best! The winning restaurant, Burger Republic, was given a golden ticket to compete in the World Food Championship later this year in Las Vegas. We were able to engage with consumers by sharing cooking tips, giving out burger cookbooks, bumper stickers, fans, and hamburger shaped cupcakes! GrillMaster Michael McDearman was also at our tent cooking mouth-watering steaks for the participants to sample. We hope everyone had as much fun as we did and hope to see an even larger crowd next year!

photo3With several more months of grilling season still to go, we have many more events planned throughout the summer where we will have the chance to spread the great message about Beef! For more information about Tennessee’s July Beef Month and upcoming events follow us on Facebook (TN Beef Council) & Twitter (@TNBeefCouncil)!
Happy Grilling!

This post was written by my guest blogger, Janna Sullivan, who works with the Tennessee Beef Ambassador program.