I’m goin in!

I haven’t been able to keep up my initial momentum in posts. The 14th I got an offer to become an intern at one of the largest feedyards in the world!! A week later, and I have driven across the country, found and moved into an apartment, and life is still moving at a lightning fast pace.

My internship will be a 3 month adventure into the workings of a cattle feedyard. For those who don’t know what this translates to, a feedyard (or feedlot, or CAFO) is the last stop for most mainstream cattle before the slaughterhouse. For 3-6 months, the cattle are kept in large pens and fed a high energy diet. This allows them to gain additional weight and fat (marbling) to add that lovely juicy flavor into your steaks.

One of the biggest reasons I’ve been pursuing a job on a feedyard is because they don’t have a great reputation with the public. In a square mile or so, there can be over 100,000 animals. That doesn’t play into the happy-go-lucky image of Bessie on a big open field, side-ways munching on luscious greens. I’m curious to see how they really work. I can’t believe they are as bad as extremists make them out to be. As I’ve said before, and I know I’ll say it again, the people in the cattle business are fabulous. There is no way they would send the animals they’ve cared for during so many months to a horrible place to spend their remaining time on earth.

The concerns range from environmental to animal welfare to human nutrition and beyond. These feedyards are predominately out west where there is a large area of land, so I’m not sure of all the inner workings yet. My specific job will be working with Herd Health and the hospital area to care for any cattle who arrive or become sick while at the feedyard. I’m really excited to get my hands dirty and start doctoring some (OK, thousands! of) animals!

I’m curious to hear the opinion of anyone reading, concerns, questions, or whatever. My hope through this  work experience is not only to further my own education and knowledge of this significant stage of beef production, but to help provide a window for anyone else who is curious about them. I’d be interested to find out what many of you already know about feedlots, and what you think of them so far. I want to be able to answer your questions, discuss your opinions, and hear your feedback. Feel free to email me, comment on the post, or contact me in any other way. I’ll be sure to find an answer for both of us. Also, if you know a lot about them, share that, too! I’m a little nervous about this move and the new job, and I really don’t know what to expect. Clue me in :). And in the meantime, keep checking in because you’ll probably see me exploring my own concerns or delights that maybe you hadn’t considered.

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About Farm the Start

I grew up in cities from North Carolina all the way to Asia, but never really interacted with farm animals or farmers until I began college at Virginia Tech as an Animal & Poultry Sciences Major. I thought I would become a vet for puppies and kitties. Little did I know what I would learn and the love I'd find for the lifestyle, practices, people and animals involved in food production.

Posted on March 1, 2011, in Feedlots and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Hi there! I am looking forward to following you on your adventures! Your bio is fascinating to me, as I grew up around agriculture and in the country, so we definitley come from differnt backgrounds. Although it sure seems like we are alike in a lot of ways too. I was a lot like you when I was a child….caring for every single animal, it’s just that I knew that our livestock had a purpose of becoming nourishment. Can’t wait to read more, and best of luck on your endeavor!

  2. Valerie,

    I never knew you wrote like this! This is awesome. Your writing is so effortless and flowing, it shows how much your heart is in your words. I love reading this and have come back to see if you have posted something new pretty regularly. I am so excited for you and your internship and can’t wait to read about it on here and to talk to you whenever! Good luck and I am sure you are going to learn so much and teach others about everything you learn. I am following you!

  3. Valerie, what a great website your have created! Congratulations! And, of course, you make your Dad proud!

    Besides the well deserved praise, let me add some controversy. 🙂 Perhaps slightly off topic since I am on the eating side of the food chain and there are some stops between the feedlot and my mouth.

    As you know I am currently living in Johannesburg South Africa. The controversy is this: steak here is good; no not good, it is great. Every traveller I have talked to has commented on it. Most have said that they have had the best steak of their lives here. This includes many Americans, but also a Hungarian and a Swiss. The Swiss fellow in particular had the best steak of his life here and he has eaten steak in the US, Europe, Asia, Argentina and Brazil.

    Back at the house, we loved the restaurant steaks so much that we found some meat in our local supermarket so we could try some at home. Two large T-bones for the equivalent of US$10. They looked great. But when I cooked them they were tough as nails. Had to change knives to cut them and we chewed and chewed to get them down. What happened? I think that the meat I got at the supermarket was not aged at all and that was the difference.

    At the restaurant, they post the amount of aging that each cut of meat has, with a minimum of 21 days. But I don’t really know that aging is the difference. And I don’t know how long US beef is aged before it hits the supermarket.

    To continue my story, the first thing I did was to eliminate my grilling as the problem. Local restaurants are happy to sell you raw meat to prepare yourself. So on a recent visit to my favorite steak place I ordered two small grain fed fillets to take home. (This restaurant sells both grain fed and grass fed — so far I have stuck with the grain fed.) I cooked them on the grill a few days later and they tasted great! OK so it is not my cooking. Too bad because I could change that the easiest.

    You’ll notice that I said I cooked some fillets, and not filets. That is because the meat is cut differently here than in the USA. Not sure where a fillet is vs a filet… I just eat them (and always medium rare.) And I believe that the South African meat is leaner than US meat. Hard to see any fat on them either marbled or on the edges. Always thought that fat gave the flavor. These had plenty of flavor and were very tender. But no discernible fat. Must be in there somewhere.

    By the way, other than salt and black pepper no spices were added either at home on the Weber grill on at the restaurant (I declined their special ‘rub’.)

    So, is it the type of cattle, the way they are raised, the cut, the aging or something else? Perhaps the restaurant is getting a super special type of meat and the pricing (US$14 for a 350gr steak) is because of the economic differences between the USA and ZA. In other words maybe I am eating steak here that I could not afford often in the USA.

    On the chance that the difference is in the way the feedlot works I thought that I would comment on your blog and perhaps get an answer.

    Regardless of whether this comment is useful to your blog, I am looking forward to seeing your updates and the results of all your hard work over the last several years!

    Dad

    P.S. Here is one of the restaurants: http://www.localgrill.co.za/
    Maybe you need to stop by and I will take you out for a steak. 🙂

  4. Paul Van Dyke

    Following my post from a while back I have a little more information on the difference between US and ZA (South Africa) beef courtesy of a talkative store owner of a premium butcher shop a few weeks ago here in suburban Johannesburg, South Africa.

    The difference is twofold. First, the age of the beef, 12-15 months in ZA vs the 36 months in the USA. You all can correct the butcher if he is wrong about the US age when cattle are slaughtered. Second it is the percentage of fat, less than 11% in ZA and over 30% in the USA.

    In his view, US beef is superior to ZA beef, better tasting due to both of these differences. He loves to go to Chicago to get a good steak — about a 10,000 mile trip for dinner! I mentioned the chain Smith and Wollensky with outlets in NYC and Chicago. He knew it and said that a South African started the chain. Not his favorite place there though.

    Back in ZA, most restaurants here make up for the lack of flavor by adding spices. Each restaurant has their special ‘rub’.

    I think that the butcher-price is pretty good too, although my US knowledge base may be a little outdated. ZAR 126 for four fillets (about 1/2 pound each.) That is $17 at the current exchange rate or about $4.25 per fillet. The sale was vacuum packed for me when I said that we were not eating them that night.

    Reviewing my previous post then, it appears that I like my beef very lean and tender, trading off better flavor.

    OK I think I am done on this. Looking forward to being home on the 4th of July to continue my comparative taste testing! (You raise ’em, I eat ’em.)

    Dad

  5. So what is your conclusion from your time at the feed yard? and how did it end up

    • Well, I wouldn’t say it was all rainbows and sunshine as I had hoped, but in the end I learned what I had gone out there hoping to learn: that feedlots aren’t as big and bad as HSUS and PETA make them out to be.

      I created a blog to promote Agriculture because I have seen so many cool and positive things through it. Since my blog is still up and active, it is definitely safe to assume that even after working on a CAFO, I still wholeheartedly support feedlots, the cattle industry, and agriculture in general . That being said, it definitely was not an easy journey. And Feedlots have struggles, they work on improvements just like any company on the globe. But from my experiences, their values and decisions are based on caring for the animals they have on the yard, getting them to gain a lot of weight without suffering from corn-based diets or harsh living conditions, and safely sending an animal closer to becoming an amazing meal for my family. I saw a huge group of people who work hard in all types of conditions to uphold those values and preserve the hard-earned reputation, even if there are struggles along the way. All-in-all, the company I worked for was truly an excellent one.

      And if you get really interested, there are already some more recent posts about my feedlot experiences, and more still to come.

  6. Hello there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and
    tell you I really enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums
    that cover the same subjects? Thank you so much!

  1. Pingback: The Great Job Search…A Lesson in Preserverence « Farm The Start…

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