Fluffy Cows 

Last year pictures of groomed cattle dubbed “fluffy cows” went viral on the Internet and were an overnight success. Many people who aren’t familiar with cattle or perhaps had only seen commercial cattle grazing were interested to see this new type of cow. Growing up around show cattle, I thought the concept was funny to say the least, but it’s definitely a neat segment of the beef industry to take a look at. Here’s a quick overview of the “fluffy cows.”

Fluffy cows are just highly groomed cattle that experience the best of care.

Fluffy cows are just highly groomed cattle that experience the best of care.

Fluffy cows are not a single breed. Contrary to what some comments on pictures and blogs might lead you to believe, fluffy cows are simply cattle that are more groomed than average. Many of them are purebred breeds, such as the recognizable Angus, but many are crossbred between two or more breeds.

OK…so how are they so fluffy? Fluffy cows get their fluff from intense levels of grooming. Many are washed and dried multiple times a day to keep them clean and brushed to provide the best conditions for hair growth. Most are also kept under fans or in air-conditioned rooms called coolers to keep them cool with all that hair. When at shows or other events, hair spray and adhesive may be used to stand the hair up – similar to some older human hairstyles!

Part of the "fluffy" process is frequent baths and blow drying.

Part of the “fluffy” process is frequent baths and blow drying.

Fluffy cows receive the pinnacle of care. Between multiple baths a day, a highly monitored feeding regimen of top notch feeds, spending the day relaxing in an air-conditioned barn and receiving constant grooming and other care, fluffy cows definitely lead a pampered life. While animal welfare is critical on all farming operations, fluffy cows go above and beyond to provide the best possible care for their animals.

So why? With all the work that goes into keeping fluffy cows so fluffy it’s easy to ask, “Why bother?” Fluffy cows are show cattle that spend the first two years of their lives being shown in livestock fairs and exhibitions, often through programs like 4-H and FFA. The project of showing livestock introduces kids to the farm, cattle and helps teach the value of hard work from a young age.

Showing cattle teaches kids valuable life lessons such as the value of hard work and that everything doesn't always go your way.

Showing cattle teaches kids valuable life lessons such as the value of hard work and that everything doesn’t always go your way.

What happens when they are finished showing? When cattle turn two years old, they are generally too old to show in most fairs. Some allow older cattle to show with their calf, but for most fluffy cows after they turn two they are demoted to just cows. They’ll spend the remainder of their life in the field like any other cow and hopefully one of their calves can be a fluffy cow too.

Will Pohlman

Stir-Frying with Beef

Stir-frying is a simple and easy meal for anyone who is on the run.

Stir-frying is a simple and easy meal for anyone who is on the run.

Whether you are on the go and need a quick and easy meal or have leftover veggies that need to be used, stir-frying is a simple and easy preparation method that also allows you to get creative with flavors and spices. It has quickly become one of my personal favorite methods of cooking beef recently because it is so simple and quick. Here are some tips for stir-frying at home.

Preparation is key for stir-frying. Although the actual cooking is very short, take some time to prepare by slicing the steak into thin, uniform strips. Remember to cut against the grain of the meat for the best eating experience. Toss the strips in a marinade or add a light spice rub, keeping in mind stir-fry doesn’t have to include Asian flavors (try garlic and pesto for Italian stir-fry!). While the meat is marinating, chop up the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

Stir-frying is versatile. Add a little (or a lot) of anything and everything!

Stir-frying is versatile. Add a little (or a lot) of anything and everything!

Stir-Fry is sizzling…really. The key to a good stir-fry is high heat. So while chopping vegetables, place a wok or skillet on high heat. Fast tip: don’t heat the wok on the highest heat setting so when you add the beef or veggies you can turn it up to compensate for the cooling. When you are finished chopping vegetables and marinating the beef, place a little oil in the wok. The oil should shimmer if the pan is hot enough.

Cook in batches. Don’t toss all of your beef in the pan at once, but instead cook in ½ pound batches or smaller. Overcrowding the pan won’t put a nice sear on the meat and may end up steaming instead of stir-frying. Cook the beef for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the outside is brown and remove from the pan and place to the side. At this point the beef shouldn’t be quite finished cooking. Stir-fry the veggies until they are tender/firm enough for personal taste then add the beef and stir-fry sauce to the pan. If the sauce is too runny, add some cornstarch to thicken it.

Frozen vegetables were made for stir-fry. I’m personally no whiz in the kitchen and the less prep work I have to do the better. Frozen vegetables are a quick by-pass to chopping vegetables by hand and can be cooked from frozen or thawed. Look for stir-fry blends (many include stir-fry sauce packets) or just purchase veggies you like and make a custom blend.

Frozen veggie mixes save prep-time and come in many varieties.

Frozen veggie mixes save prep-time and come in many varieties.

Stir-frying is quick and easy and is the perfect meal for anyone on the go. Although there is a little prep time up front, stir-frying is without a doubt a 30-minute or less meal and is extremely versatile. Try using different cuts of beef, different flavors and sauces, and new vegetable mixes to mix things up.

Will Pohlman

Economical Beef Cuts

Who doesn’t love a juicy tenderloin or ribeye steak? But let’s face it: these cuts are expensive and not always in a routine budget. You don’t have to settle for ground beef, however, when eating on a budget. There are many great cuts of beef that are both versatile and cheap. These cuts may take a little more cooking know-how, but if cooked properly can eat just as well as an expensive steak for significantly less.

Chuck eye steaks provide a cheaper "ribeye" eating experience!

Chuck eye steaks provide a cheaper “ribeye” eating experience!

Chuck Eye Steak is a great example of a cut that can mirror the eating experience of a higher quality cut. Although many of the cuts from the chuck require a slow cooker or roasting, the chuck eye can be prepared just like any other steak and grilled to perfection. When prepared correctly, many people liken it to a ribeye – no wonder the chuck eye steak is called “The Poor Man’s Ribeye!” For the best eating experience, do not cook past medium doneness (160°F – warm, slight pink center).

Skirt Steak is an extremely versatile and cheap cut that is often underappreciated. It is a long and thin steak, which may be different looking than the normal tenderloin or sirloin, but can be pan-fried or grilled. Skirt steak goes great in a lot of different recipes and is suited for marinades that will help tenderize it. It can take on a variety of flavors so get creative with your spice cabinet! Just like with the chuck-eye, the less done the skirt is cooked the more tender it will be.

Skirt steaks may not look like a typical steak but they eat just as well!

Skirt steaks may not look like a typical steak but they eat just as well!

Flank Steak is another great cut that, if prepared properly, can result in a fantastic eating experience. Flank steak is best suited to being cooked in small strips (fajitas anyone?) and can be used in a variety of recipes. Try marinating the flank steak overnight and stir-frying with leftover veggies! Flank steak has a noticeable grain and it is important to always slice against the grain. Not doing so may lead to dry and chewy strips.

When preparing flank steak it is important to cut against the grain.

When preparing flank steak it is important to cut against the grain.

These steaks all provide a quality eating experience when cooked correctly for a fraction of the cost of upper-end steaks. What’s more these steaks are all common staples to many meat cases at local grocery stores. Mix up your ground-beef routine when eating on a budget with these cheaper and delicious steaks!

Will Pohlman

Life on a Farm

Yesterday I brought a friend home for dinner and to help with chores while my brother is away for spring break. He has never lived or worked on a farm and has little experience with cattle but he was willing to learn. Here is what he had to say about life on a farm.

While cattle dogs can be great help, sometimes they can be a little difficult to handle.

While cattle dogs can be great help, sometimes they can be a little difficult to handle.

Farm work is a great way to stay active. Staying fit and healthy should be on everyone’s mind, but my friend found that working on a farm is much more interesting than spending time in a sweaty gym. Between hauling feed buckets, moving fifty pound feed bags and chasing an unruly calf across a field, working on a farm can build up quite a sweat.

Animals are unpredictable at best. While my friend was visiting, we discovered a calf needed to be treated for pinkeye, an infection of the eye that can lead to blindness if left untreated. Running the calf to the corral, however, proved to be easier said than done, with the calf darting away from the group and running away again and again. Dogs occasionally chasing cows further added to the chaotic situation.

Farmers are committed to care. Despite all the trouble the calf caused, we were committed to treating it – even if we all grumbled about how much trouble the calf was. The alternative to treatment simply was unacceptable. My friend discovered firsthand how caring for animals is a farmer’s first priority.

Pinkeye is a common ailment to calves that requires antibiotic treatment.

Pinkeye is a common ailment to calves that requires antibiotic treatment.

My biggest takeaway from the experience of having a friend visit was the lack of familiarity of what I would consider basic farm knowledge. Not to say my friend isn’t intelligent, he simply lacked experience. Knowing, for instance, that sheep shouldn’t be fed cattle mineral due to copper toxicity issues seems commonplace to someone who grew up on a farm, but is a simple mistake for someone who hasn’t.  But for all his inexperience, my friend was able to learn quickly. He understood, for instance, why antibiotics are necessary to treat conditions that are common for calves and has newfound understanding of the challenges of raising cattle without them.

Farmers are opening their barn doors to let people know how their food is raised.

Farmers are opening their barn doors to let people know how their food is raised.

If anything, my friend’s experience has shown me the importance of opening up the farm for interested people. Producers, be willing to show people around and even have them volunteer help with easy tasks if they so desire. Consumers, if knowing where your food comes from interests you, reach out to nearby farmers and ask to visit – you never know what opportunities may arise and the worst response is a no.

Life on a farm is full of surprises, but it shouldn’t be a mystery or fantasy of those who don’t personally reside on one.

Will Pohlman

Learning from the Curtis

The Curtis is in downtown Denver, CO

The Curtis is in downtown Denver, CO

The team recently stayed at the eclectic Curtis hotel in Denver, Colorado where every floor has a different theme, the elevator talked, and games from a bygone decade scatter the lobby. Although the hotel was definitely a unique experience, I think that beef consumers and producers can both learn a few things from the Curtis.

Pieces of a Whole

Every floor at the Curtis was themed differently. For example, I stayed on the “Fun and Games Floor” where Rubik’s cubes and other game-inspired art decorated the walls. What does this have to do with beef? The beef industry is segmented into different phases of production such as cow-calf producer, stocker and feedlot and although these phases are often drastically different than others, they are still a part of the overarching beef industry and must work together. So as cattle go from phase to phase, or floor to floor, it’s important to keep the big picture, or hotel, in mind.

In the same sense, the different floors can be analogous to the choices consumers have in the meat case. Although traditional, grass-finished, organic, non-hormone treated and branded beef are all distinctly different from one another, they still comprise pieces of the whole beef industry and should be viewed as such.

Every floor at the Curtis is themed differently - like this dun dun dunnn!! themed floor.

Every floor at the Curtis is themed differently – like this dun dun dunnn!! themed floor.

Speaking Out

The elevator at the Curtis announces a particular floor’s theme. While a talking elevator is startling at first, it shows the importance to speaking out and knowing what to expect. Beef producers need to speak out about their operation and announce to interested consumers what exactly farmers do so their questions can be answered. At the same time, consumers need to speak out to producers about their questions and concerns so the farmer can know what the consumer expects.

Old Doesn’t Mean Outdated

Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots were in the lobby of the Curtis for guests to play with.

Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots were in the lobby of the Curtis for guests to play with.

The lobby of the Curtis had games such as Rock’em Sock’em Robots and Monopoly to play with and a lava lamp in the corner. While it was fun to play with these games for the first time in a long time, I think these olden games prove that age doesn’t correlate with obsolete. Many production practices in beef are old, to say the least, but still work remarkably well. Not to say new practices shouldn’t be explored, but progress for the sake of progress doesn’t always result in improvement. Whether that’s new by-products or rations for feedlots or new choices in the beef case, new shouldn’t be equated with superiority, but rather simply another choice.

It might seem counterintuitive, but there is a lot beef producers and beef consumers can learn from the Curtis hotel.

Will Pohlman

Growth Implants in Beef

In contemporary beef production, farmers and ranchers are striving to increase efficiency to feed an ever-growing world population. This includes manipulating diets, utilizing resources smarter as well as the use of growth promoting implants. However for all their practicality and safety, there are a few popular misconceptions about growth implant use and their effects. Here is a quick overview of how farmers are using safe growth promoting implants.

Efficiency is King as the world population is rapidly expanding. Current estimates hold that by 2050 there will be an additional 2.3 billion people on the planet. That’s a lot of extra food – in fact most sources agree that an additional 70% of food must be produced to feed all of these extra mouths. In an effort to meet this growing food demand, efficiency will produce the biggest gains. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations predicts 90% of additional crop production to come from increased yields and increased efficiency will need to be mirrored in protein production.

Farmers are already working to increase beef efficiency.

Farmers are already working to increase beef efficiency.

Beef producers are already increasing efficiency by conserving natural resources and altering diets through supplemental nutrition or other additions to rations to name a few. But increasing the amount of beef produced from the same amount of grain is supremely valuable to increased efficiency. Growth implants are invaluable to this strive to produce the most product with the smallest amount of resources.  A single implant can increase weight gains by 8-18%. This coupled with additional measures to increase productivity can significantly increase the amount of beef available for consumption.

These implants are safe natural hormones and their analogues that have been scientifically proven safe for use in animals as well as humans and have been cleared by the FDA. Many of the active compounds in growth implants are recognizable to anyone in a basic human anatomy course. Estradiol (estrogen), testosterone and progesterone are all naturally produced by the human and bovine body and are safe to be supplemented.

The levels of growth hormones in beef are miniscule.

The levels of growth hormones in beef are miniscule.

These hormones are found in small levels in beef and are much less than other food products, such as cabbage and soy. Some criticize the use of growth implants as altering natural hormone levels, yet the levels of estrogen in implanted beef are a mere .001% of the levels found in soy. To further place the depreciable amount of hormone residue in implanted beef into context, the average male produces 100,000 nanograms of estrogen while non-pregnant women produce 5,000,000 nanograms – implanted beef contains 10 nanograms per pound.

Growth implants in beef increase the efficiency of beef production to feed a growing world population. Not only do they help feed the world, but they do it safely by providing a nominal residue that is significantly less than normal human levels as well as levels in plant foods. So enjoy your steak happily, knowing that someone somewhere else gets to enjoy one too thanks to the use of safe growth implants.

Will Pohlman

The Efficiency of Beef

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about beef is its efficiency. Too often chicken or pork is touted as being more efficient with regards to pounds of grain to pounds of gain. While this ratio is correct, it is woefully myopic to use it as a direct comparison of the efficiency and “greenness” of proteins. At best some efficiency calculations operate under the erroneous assumption that cattle spend their entire life on grain, a product of the lack of familiarity with beef production. At worst it is a deliberate manipulation of statistics to cast beef as inefficient and unsustainable. You may be surprised that beef is just as efficient, if not more, than chicken and pork!

Cattle eat grass..go figure! Why calculate grain efficiencies assuming they don't?

Cattle eat grass..go figure! Why calculate grain efficiencies assuming they don’t?

Cattle don’t spend their whole life on grain!

While this may seem like an obvious statement considering cattle grazing in a field is a common sight across the country, many comparisons of protein efficiency do not correctly account for the time cattle spend on grass or simply ignore it. In fact cattle spend the majority of their lives on grass. By the time the average steer enters a feedlot it already weighs 750 pounds, over half of its market weight of 1300 pounds. Quite simply put, many studies include these 750 pounds in their number crunching or compare pounds of grain to pounds of gain ratios at surface value and are nothing short of incorrect.

Correctly accounting for grass consumption, beef utilizes less grain than chicken and pork!

Correctly accounting for grass consumption, beef utilizes less grain than chicken and pork! (Courtesy of the Noble Foundation)

As you can see, the grain:meat ratio for beef is equivalent to chicken and superior to pork, both of which spend their entire lives on grain-based diets and consuming far more pounds grain than the beef industry. Cattle consume less grain than other key proteins and possess the added benefit of utilizing billions of pounds of otherwise useless forage.

However beef cattle, as ruminants, are able to utilize by-products from other industries, substituting some grain in rations.  Common by-products fed to cattle include distillers’ grains (a product of the alcohol industry), beet pulp (from the sugar industry), and soybean meal (from the soybean oil industry) to name a few. I have even visited farms where chips and popcorn from a nearby plant replace corn as an energy source. With these by-products contributing a growing portion of feedlot rations, the true grain:meat ratio of beef is more than likely less than the reported 2.5 and will continue to decline as these by-products are more widely used.

Cattle don't just eat grain! By-products like these cottonseeds can be utilized by ruminant cattle to make deliciously edible beef!

Cattle don’t just eat grain! By-products like these cottonseeds can be utilized by ruminant cattle to make deliciously edible beef!

So is beef the pinnacle of grain inefficiency so often cited in sustainability studies? To be frank: absolutely not. Manipulating statistics at best out of unawareness of the beef lifecycle and at worst out of malign intent to serve an agenda, these studies incorrectly account for beef’s grain:meat ratio in terms of grain:gain efficiency. In reality ruminant cattle utilize inedible forage as well as otherwise wasted by-products to produce a nutritious and edible product at an efficiency ratio superior to monogastric animals.

So eat red meat confidently knowing that it is efficient and green!

Will Pohlman

 

Antibiotic Use in Cattle

There is a growing concern about the safety of the American food supply and this includes antibiotics use in meat animals. Why do beef producers use antibiotics? Are these antibiotics safe? Do these antibiotics make it to the plate and impact human health? Here’s a quick overview of antibiotic use in cattle.

We've all been sick...but cattle can get sick too and antibiotics help them recover.

We’ve all been sick…but cattle can get sick too and antibiotics help them recover.

Cattle Get Sick!

Sometimes we get sick, and often antibiotics can help us get well quicker. Cattle are no different! I’m currently in a Livestock Disease’s class and something I’ve learned so far is there are a lot of ways an animal can get sick…a lot. Treating illness in cattle is part of cattlemen’s commitment to welfare and care for their animals. What’s more, many of the diseases contracted by cattle are often transmissible to humans. So it is pertinent to treat sick cattle not only for the care and well being of the animal, but also to protect human health.

Antibiotics are SAFE

Just like drugs for human use, antibiotics used on cattle go through stringent testing for safety by the Food and Drug Administration. These drugs are evaluated not only for their safety for the animal, but also safety for humans and the environment too. It takes many years for a drug to make it from the lab, through rigorous testing, and onto shelves at farm stores.

Rigorous testing and monitoring helps ensure that antibiotic use in beef is safe.

Rigorous testing and monitoring helps ensure that antibiotic use in beef is safe.

Residues are Constantly Monitored

Some people are concerned about residues, or leftover antibiotics, making it to the table and impacting human health. However these residues are constantly monitored and tested through the U.S. National Residue Program to ensure no violations are made. The latest testing cycle in 2013-2014 found 99.96% compliance in beef. Part of drug testing is to determine withdrawal times, the time it takes for the drug to clear the animal, and producers work closely with their veterinarians to ensure these times are followed. In fact new legislative changes will require more veterinary oversight for the use of antibiotics to further ensure proper use.

Antibiotics used for Growth

Certain antibiotics can be given to cattle to improve their growth. This is accomplished through reduction of harmful bacteria and increasing the efficiency of the gut. While legislative changes are evaluating this use, it is important to realize that common antibiotics used for growth promotion are not critical to human health. Ionophores are widely used to control the levels of certain bacteria in the cow’s rumen and have never been shown to have use in human health.

The bottom line is that antibiotic use in cattle is necessary for welfare, responsibly used by producers, safe and closely monitored.

Will Pohlman

Safety First: A Quick Guide for Proper Handling and Preparation

No one enjoys being sick, but what’s worse than getting sick from a delicious family meal? Despite progress in safety for all food production industries, incidences of food borne illness and even product recalls are still a fact consumers must face when purchasing groceries or preparing dinner. While progress is being made on the production side of the plate to decrease the incidences of food borne illness, there are many things that can be done when handling and preparing beef to guarantee a safe eating experience.

Remember the Danger Zone: 40-140°F

Bacteria grow best in the temperature range of 40-140°F

Bacteria grow best in the temperature range of 40-140°F

Long story short: bacteria grow best at these temperatures so keep your beef and other meats cool or hot. This is why the meat case should be your last stop at the grocery store and why meat needs to be refrigerated or frozen. Remember that ground beef placed in the refrigerator should be used within 1-2 days and steaks and roasts within 3-5 to guarantee freshness and safety.

Wash your hands and utensils…and watch them too.

Before carving up a steak or forming hamburger patties make sure that you’ve washed your hands with warm soapy water. Also make sure any utensils and cutting boards as well as the counters are cleaned as well. It doesn’t do any good to buy a safe product and then contaminate it at home! Make sure that you assign certain cutting boards and utensils specifically for beef and other meats to prevent cross contamination to other foods you might also be preparing.

Follow proper cooking temperature guidelines to destroy any potential pathogens.

Follow proper cooking temperature guidelines to destroy any potential pathogens.

Give ‘em the heat

The single most important step that can be taken to ensure a safe beef eating experience is to cook your meat thoroughly. The process of cooking destroys any bacteria that may be present and proper cooking guidelines should be closely followed to guarantee that safe temperatures have been reached. Remember that while steaks and roasts need only be cooked to 145°F internal temperature, ground beef should always be cooked to a minimum of 160°F.

Store leftovers properly and use them quickly

Maybe you overestimated how many burgers to make or just couldn’t finish that steak. No worries! Store any leftovers in shallow containers in the refrigerator to help them cool off quickly and use them within 3 days. Just remember to reheat to correct temperatures and if you’re in doubt about whether some leftovers are safe or not, throw it out! It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Although outbreaks of food borne illness are still a fact of life, it’s important to note the progress that has been made to reduce incidences. The beef industry invests $400 million each year in testing and research to further improve beef safety and E.coli rates have plummeted significantly over the past decade. And just as beef producers are working hard to provide a safe product, there are many steps that you can take to guarantee the beef dinner your family enjoys is as safe as it is nutritious.

Will Pohlman

Cooking Beef: From Challenging to Confident

Millennials love food. Well…everybody loves food, but millennials particularly enjoy it with so-called “foodies” becoming increasingly more popular and microwave sales among millenials decreasing. What does this mean? It means millenials love the kitchen and making “real” food. However from selecting product from the grocery store to preparing beef at home, many younger cooks are facing challenges. Here are three big challenges to cooking your own beef and some easy solutions.

The Interactive Butcher Counter has great tips for how to select and prepare any cut!

The Interactive Butcher Counter has great tips for how to select and prepare any cut!

1. Selecting a Cut

When purchasing beef from the grocery store, many consumers are overwhelmed by the “sea of red” in the meat case and simply don’t know which cut to choose. In fact, 54% of millenials say they are confused at the meat case. But picking the proper cut for a dish it is the first crucial step to a delicious beef meal. If your grocery store has a staffed butcher, ask them to give you the run-down about which cut would be best for your dinner plans. No butcher? No problem! Check out the Interactive Butcher Counter at www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com for a picture of each cut as well as a other common names.

2. Preparing a Cut

There is nothing worse than dishing out the money for a quality steak and ending up with a dry, flavorless meal. Many struggle to get restaurant flavor and tenderness out of beef cooked at home and 56% of millenial’s burgers and 55% of millenial’s steaks “just didn’t’ turn out right.” Luckily the Interactive Butcher Counter lists the best methods of preparation and cooking for each cut. www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com also has helpful infographics under the Cooking tab with tips for the best cooking experience and flavorful and fun recipes under the Recipe tab so you can get the most out of each cut you prepare at home.

Ground beef can go from the freezer to skillet in 4 minutes!

Ground beef can go from the freezer to skillet in 4 minutes!

3. Quick and Easy Beef Meals

With the hectic pace of most people’s days and many consumers deciding what they will have for dinner only after they get home, quick and easy meals are a must. But many forget to throw the ground in the refrigerator in the morning and will opt for frozen chicken over frozen beef at 6:30p.m. when the kids are hungry. However ground beef can be thawed from frozen in 4 minutes! There are also many great recipes online that can be made in 30 minutes or less so even if you decide what’s for dinner at the last minute beef can still be a part of your family’s meal.

Following these simple solutions to challenges of cooking beef at home can help anyone cook confidently and produce a meal that’s as delicious as it is nutritious. Happy cooking!

Will Pohlman