Wheres the beef? Or where does it come from exactly?

You know that part of your brain that’s responsible for creativity; well lately I’ve been convinced that mine is broken.  So after a month long hiatus, I’M BACK! I have to give Jenny Dewey credit for inspiring today’s post, so if you get a chance check out what she’s up too on her two blogs; J.L.D. Photograph and Chico Locker and Sausage.

Back to the task at hand, so what is beef and where does it come from?  Today’s media has effectively skewed the public’s perception of beef and what type of cattle it is derived from.  When I googled cow, bovine and heifer the first dozen or so images were either Holsteins licking at the camera or a big ole “black and white” standing in a field.

3-Cows-lgFor instance, Chick-fil-a has done a great job marketing the “Chick-fil-a cows”.  This type of marketing has changed the public’s perception of the beef industry.

Let me first clear up the difference in dairy and beef cattle.  Dairy cattle are unique in the fact that they can produce high amounts of milk without significant emphasis on muscle mass.  Muscle mass is an important trait that is sought after in modern beef production.  Holstein cattle are a breed of dairy cattle and are the typical black and white spotted cow that is routinely seen through today’s popular media when references to cattle and beef are made.

So do we eat dairy cattle?

According to the USDA’s cattle inventory for 2012 there were approximately 39 million head of beef cows in the US and 9 million dairy cows. (These numbers reflect cows that have calved)  The inventory for steers over 500 lbs (steers are castrated males) was an astounding 15 million with heifers (young female cows that have not had a calf) a bit further behind at around 10 million.  Of this 25 million only 13% are typically of dairy influence.

Though dairy cattle are the “minority” of the cattle industry (from a total number standpoint) a portion of them do indeed make it into our food chain.  Since only cows can produce milk, the male dairy calves are typically castrated and placed on feed after weaning (weaning is a term that is used when calves are weaned off of milk) and fed to about 1250 lbs to be harvested for our consumption.

As I mentioned before, the dairy breeds don’t typically exhibit the muscle mass as typical beef breeds however, they do in fact have a tendency to show evidence of higher quality grades on average.  Quality grades are how the industry grades beef cuts, you will see them displayed as; prime, which is the highest, followed by choice, select and standard.  Quality grades are based on a combination of age and marbling (the fat that is deposited within the muscle, it can typically be seen best on fresh ribeye steaks).  On the other hand, dairy cattle that enter the food chain typically have much smaller muscle surface area.  This means, your typical ribeye in square inches is much smaller than those produced from a beef type animal.

When older dairy type cattle enter the food chain the beef derived from them usually ends up as “ground beef” used for burgers and patties.

So next time you think beef, think this.

Beef Cow

Not this.

Dairy cow[1]