You call that a steak?

We ate a fair amount of beef when I was a kid. That was one of the benefits of living on a farm. Dad would pick out a steer or heifer that had some kind of physical problem like a bad eye, bad leg, or one memorable calf that had a lower jaw that was about three inches shorter than it’s upper jaw. Why did he choose these calves to fatten up for our own meat supply? Buyers at cattle auctions are very particular. An animal that has a physical defect has a high probability of not doing well in a feedlot where it is to be fattened up for slaughter. Buyers will insist that animal be separated out from the rest of the load of calves it is being sold with and sold separately. That usually means that calf will sell for very little money or it may not even sell at all! The best return on the time, effort, feed, water, shelter, and medicine (i.e. vaccinations) invested in such an animal is to raise it for your own table.

We would arrange ahead of time for a local Locker house to schedule processing. That is what we called the slaughter, butchering, packaging, and initial freezing of the meat from said selected animal. The processor got our input on the packaging. What should be left as roasts, what cut thinner into steaks, and what ground up for hamburger?  How thick should the steaks be cut? Should the hamburger be in one or two pound packages? Did we want the liver, tongue, and/ or heart at all? (We did.) The same things apply to processing pork. Did we want the bacon cured? Did we want sausage? There were a lot of decisions based on how we wanted to eat what we got out of an animal.

A typical steer should dress out at 62% for beef cattle, 59% for steers, 74% for hogs, and 54% for market lambs. “Dressing percentage” is  how much of a live animal ends up as a “carcass”. A carcass is what is left after you get rid of the inedible parts. The carcass cutting yield is the percentage of that carcass that ends up as meat in the package. This varies by whether you want your meat boned or not, how much fat gets cut away, and whether you have t he meat “aged”. Aging is drying of the meat. The reduction of moisture also reduces ending meat poundage. Average cutting losses on a side of beef are around 28%. Many different factors go into the amount of meat that ends up in the freezer at home. A 1000 lb. steer sounds like a huge amount. It is a huge amount even though around 425 lbs. end up on the table.

See this website for a more thorough breakdown.

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I lived on a dairy farm. We generally had calves that were half dairy breed and half beef breed because the dairy cows were bred to a beef breed bull. I’ll go into the reasons some other time. Beef breeds are primarily for meat for a variety of reasons. they generally put on more meat more quickly than dairy breeds. Dairy breeds, non surprisingly, produce more milk. Our half and half calves were also not fattened out on high protein feed to the extent that feedlot steers usually are. We ended up slaughtering mostly grass fed animals. That meant the beef was usually not as tender as a feedlot steer. When I say “not as tender”, I kind of mean “tough as shoe leather”. The meat was very tasty though. That home grown grass fed heifer tasted darn good! Plus, you got to chew it a while so you had time to savor the flavor.

Do yourself a favor. Look up a local meat packer. They may or may not have meat available to sell at retail. Check out your nearest Farmer’s Market. Try some of the meat. It probably won’t be old dairy cow. You may be in for a very tasty experience.


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