Beef Life Cycle
Born on a Ranch
No really, all calves DO spend the majority of their life on a ranch, out in the wide open spaces. Yes, I promise it isn’t just my cattle.
When calves reach about 10 months of age and “head off to kindergarten,” we keep them in smaller pens that have a feed bunk so that they can receive a chopped hay ration while they become weaned from their mothers. After a couple of months they are sold to a feedlot where they spend 120ish days. Not as long as you were thinking?
Life on the Feedlot
Many people think they have permanent residency on a feedlot, but they are sorely mistaken. During their time there they spend their time brisketed up to the feed bunk, eating an extremely well balanced and meticulously calculated diet. I wish I had someone carefully counting my macros and preparing food for me. A girl can dream, right?
While I was in college at California State University, Chico I had the opportunity to work on the feedlot and in the packing plant where my family’s cattle are sent in Central California.
On the feedlot, the goal is for the calves to go from 900-1000 pounds to 1200-1300 pounds or what is called their finishing weight. They often get fed twice a day, get to lounge under large shade canopies and be in their favorite social setting, a herd. After the 120ish days pass, the calves are finished out and referred to as “fat cattle.” Fat cattle are as pretty as they come, their coats are gorgeous, they nearly shimmer in the sunshine. Fats are chosen every day to be shipped to the USDA packing facility.
At the plant, food safety and animal well-being is the number one priority from the moment they arrive. I was absolutely blown away by the endless protocols they had to insure the cattle stayed calm and clean, and that the product remained pristine throughout the plant. As cattle wait outside the plant to walk in, they hangout under shade canopies meanwhile being sprayed down by a firehouse on their topside. Their bellies are cleaned by the built in sprinklers from underneath. A couple of them gave me that, “A little to the right, yeah, right under my ear, ahhh, that’s the spot” look.
When I worked at the plant, we were butchering around 1100 head of cattle each day. As I sat behind men and women who had very specialized jobs, I was fascinated by the entire process, the many steps taken to keep each employee and the beef clean and safe. This experience meant the world to me, to see our calves go completely full circle. I saw the calves come in on a cattle truck from the ranch. I was around them throughout their time on the feedlot. Then I was able to be at the packing plant when they arrived to be butchered. I was on the rail when they were graded by the USDA a few days later.
Back in the Day
Watching this production happen before my eyes I began thinking about back in the day, how everyone did their own butchering because that was just part of the way of life. To keep a steady supply of protein headed to the grocery stores, meat markets, and restaurants near us we count on skilled individuals whom work relentlessly.
The biggest advantage in putting this responsibility into the hands of less people isn’t all bad. Butchering your own animals is a massive workload. This work was taken off of the shoulders of men and women that were now choosing different careers besides life on the farm or ranch. Many rural families began moving to urban areas. They no longer had the space needed to raise a steer for themselves, so they had to rely on the grocery store to purchase their protein.
Beef at the Meat Counter
Unfortunately, the flip side to this, is that many have become so far removed from the process. They aren’t really sure how that cut of beef got in the glass behind the meat counter. They are certainly unfamiliar with which cuts of beef come from what part of the beef animal. Not for long though because you are here. You care about this process and I thank you for that, because I care about it too. I know you are already super busy with the many demands of life, yet you are going the extra mile to connect with farmers and ranchers. Knowing us will give you behind the scenes access that will allow you to make decisions about what your family eats with great confidence! Heck, it may even lead to a memorable family vacation or experience before you know it. I can guarantee you will leave having had new experiences, a full belly, and a greater appreciation for what you place in your cart or Clicklist the next time you are grocery shopping.