Of all the factors used to determine high quality beef, "happy" was never a term I had heard before. However, I recently overheard a conversation between two ladies as they were browsing the meat aisle of their local grocery store. "What do you look for when determining what cut of meat to buy?” “Well, grade of course,” replied the other. “Not me,” said her friend. “I need to picture them grazing in tall lush green pastures, not con ned in overcrowded, hazardous cold concrete bunkers where they never see the light of day, or beaten into submission on the way to slaughter.”
She went on to say that she didn’t think there was that much difference in beef, so why eat meat that has been subjected to such inhumane conditions. “I want happy beef,” was her parting remark as she and her friend cordially went their separate ways.
Happiness is all about perception–but what could be further from the truth than that of ignoring those factors of grade that make all the difference in the world about the taste of beef?
Grade is determined by marbling, age, and con rmation, all of which contribute to taste and acceptance by the consumer—the higher the grade, the higher the quality. It has been nothing to do with "happiness"–or this lady’s image of happiness.
To acquire these attributes of high quality, it requires extremely costly input. If you build in the "happiness" factor the cost of production would be prohibitive. "…So lady, you can’t have your choice steak and eat it too. It’s just too costly."
To achieve what this lady is talking about, you would have to nish your cattle in the liberal con nes of lush green pastures with access to free choice self-feeders lled with scrumptious corn. The animal would have the best of all worlds, and the lady would have the best of all beef. But this is a world of fantasy that doesn’t deal with reality.
In the real world, cost of production becomes paramount to all other considerations. Feeding cattle is a very competitive business. You do it to make money; not satisfy the whims of the heartfelt passionate few.
One can’t ignore the happiness factor, but it’s kind of like raising kids. If we gave in to their every cry for happiness we would have them living in a candy store, without alarm clocks. They might be temporarily happy, but in the end what kind of product would we raise?
The same can be said for cattle. Though the grass-fed pampering concepts have a popular ring to them, sometimes we have to learn to say no, and do the right thing.
The only people that enjoy grass fed beef are those who don’t know any better. It’s like eating day old bread. It’s good until you’ve eaten the real thing, fresh out of the oven. Or, to think you’ve been loved until you experience love with passion, caring, and hope. It’s like tasting beef with marbling, age and con rmation: You’ ll never go back to the ol' stuff!
So if this lady wants to be really happy, she should do some comparison-shopping. The answer will be easy, as it takes corn to produce choice beef–about 100 bu. per head to be exact. That’s a far cry from grass-fed, tasteless beef; kind of like cake without sugar!
Oh, I see the red ags going up, "But all that fat isn’t healthy for you!" To those people, my response is one of moderation. Like sugar, too much isn’t good, but without it you might as well not even bake the cake. Without marbling you might as well be eating shoe leather.
The beef industry respects those justified concerns of unhappy cattle, and too much of a good thing can be too much—thus, the origination of cutability grading. This is a measurement of too much fat, where leanness is compensated for with premium payments. In their quest to meet the demands of the consumer, the industry is constantly attempting to improve both quality and cutability grades.
What the industry lacks is an adequate means of educating the public. The average Joe on main street is easily swayed into buying into the latest fads, scare tactics and uneducated standards of meat selection. This has led to the production of a lot of inferior, poor quality beef. And if people keep buying into it, it will ultimately hurt an industry that has devoted more than 100 years of research and development.
Do we want to go back in time where wild game was our primary source of red meat? Today, hunting is a recreational sport, for which the antlers are of more value than the meat. For those who might disagree, please put your own taste panel together. Compare a similar venison steak with that of a choice beefsteak. Case closed!
If you’re unhappy with what I’ve had to say, remember the truth hurts. And if you do your own research, you will find that the majority of the cattle being nished today are raised in a happy, safe and healthy environment. So please be ever mindful and respectful of the fact that cattle are animals, and should not be compared to human beings.
With that being said, may all of your happy beef come from happy cattle.
Related: Selecting "Happy" Cuts of Beef
Read more insightful stories written by Ken Knight: PONY TALES by PONTY
Ken E. Knight is the author of the “Knightro Report”, a nationally syndicated livestock-marketing column, which is featured in this publication on a regular basis. Mr. Knight is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a major BS Degree in Meat and Animal Science and a minor in Communications. In addition to being a professional auctioneer, public speaker and livestock judge, he brings many years of corporate level meat and livestock market management and expertise to the industry for which he now serves as an independent voice of shared knowledge and experience.
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For more in-depth information regarding the topics that have been touched upon in this report, Knightro conducts livestock marketing seminars on a regular basis. To schedule a seminar, auction, judging, or speaking engagement, please contact Ken Knight, Knightro, W11911 County Road FF, River Falls, WI 54022, phone toll free 1-877-KNIGTRO, phone 715-262-8480, fax 715-262-8480, e-mail [email protected]t; or contact the Midwest Farm & Livestock Directory at [email protected].