My pioneer adventure to the meat counter

You would think working in the beef community would make me a pro in the grocery store. You’d be surpised…

Being a (fairly recent) college student, most of my meat supply has been the lowest end. Think large bags of chicken parts from Walmart and those 10 lb rolls of hamburger meat. The hamburger meat really seems to get my Dad, who seemed horrified that the packaging allows absolutely no visual inspection before purchase. But hey, buying in bulk, and buying blindly, is the only way I’d get it!

I’m not a great cook. Mostly I make things like hamburger helper, or bake chicken that I pour some salad dressing on 30 seconds before placing in the oven. I might make a veggie for the side. But I really enjoy nice food. Steaks. Balanced healthy meals with real substance that didn’t come out of the microwave. And in the spirit of Heart Healthy Month (And I heart Beef Month), I figured it was time to get more familiar with my food to make sure that the way I eat my red meat is actually healthy, instead of drenching it in over-processed powder-to-liquid foods that battle all the nutritious merit beef has to offer.

So I ventured to Kroger’s meat counter this week, and thought it would be fitting for me to write about it, in case there are others out there equally terrified of having to communicate their cooking intentions to a stranger in a hairnet without going full detail into a recipe.

I did, however, go in with a recipe. This one & this one, to be exact. I made a little grocery list of all the items I didn’t have, which included a tri-tip roast (never heard of it) and beef tenderloin steak.

First I just went to the meat section, hoping to avoid an ackward encounter with a person who would soon find out I had no idea what I really wanted him to do. Plus, I figured it would be cheaper to find the cuts without the guy having to slice it. I found beef tenderloin steaks for $24. Waaaaaaaay more than I have ever EVER spent on an entire shopping trip on meat alone. But I figure what the hell, it’s just me and I can easily get about 8 meals out of this package.

No tri-tip to be found. I spent an unusually long amount of time looking through all the t-bones & ground beef trying desperately to have a label jump out with TRI TIP written all over it. But somehow I feel that all the grocery stores I ever go to never word the cut of meat exactly as a recipe calls for it. Is that just me??

Next I went to the meat counter. No sign for tri-tip. But now I sort of had to say something to the guy behind the counter. I asked him. He told me to check the regular meat area. So I did again. Just as thoroughly. I went back and just picked something that had ‘tip’ in the name: Beef Round Tip Steak. Now I know, round circles and triangles are not related, so these cuts probably aren’t either. Give me a break, it was either that or filet mignon. I asked for 3 lbs, an entirely unscientifically thought out number. I got 2.8 lbs for about $8.50. I even got brave & asked him to slice it into 1/2 inch thick slices so I could go home and freeze individual amounts. I got about 9 steaks out of it. For $8.50. Now we’re talking!! I’ll be visiting the guy at the counter much more frequently. Turns out he doesn’t laugh at you for being entirely clueless, which is an added bonus to the economic factor.

The whole ordeal probably took about 25 minutes. I’m sure you could survive on more like 5, but I get unnaturally shy & slow about things that I don’t know and feel should be very self explanatory. Especially in the case that I work with meat animals, you’d think I’d know how to eat it more knowledgeably. Oddly, the cows don’t walk around with the cuts of beef written on them, so alas, I’m clueless.

Beef: It’s what’s for dinner has an incredibly helpful website (I’m only just now realizing how helpful!). I encourage you to check it out. I plan to explore it further and use it to become a little more educated so I can make grocery shopping a little less stressful & a little more time efficient.

What’s your experience in the grocery store? Do you feel clueless at the meat counter, or are you knowledgeable enough to venture out of your normal 2 cuts of meat? Feel free to share any fun stories or insights, I could use the advice to help me in the kitchen!


Food For Thought: When Words Mean Everything

What if it is really agriculture that is setting the tone for our negative press?

I have been thinking a lot lately about how Agriculture is perceived. I have joined Twitter, something I never thought I’d do, but I must admit it has really helped me re-vamp my desire to blog about my passion. Twitter has also made me very aware of how many groups are out there throwing around those buzz words “Factory Farms” “industrial food” and now even “Real food” which seems to think that conventionally raised food does not qualify. All of these phrases immediately conjure up negativity, fear, and even a bit of mystery.

It is proven that people fear the unknown. It is far more likely for people to fear a certain race of people, blacks for example, if they have few interactions with people of that race. It is common for people to fear pitbulls until they come to know one. So, reasonably, people seem to fear what farmers are really doing out there on those large stretches of land, all alone, raising something that will end up on their plate. Blacks make up 12.6% of America, according to the US Census Bureau, and an estimated 8 million Pitbulls in America. At a meek 2% of the population, we really can’t expect Americans to venture out of the metropolis and suburbia and knock on one of our doors and ask to see how we live to see if their fears are well-founded. And when we are self-proclaiming food “producers” of the beef (pork, poultry, etc) “industry”, I’m pretty sure we are further contributing to the notion that we operate as some sort of machine instead of as compassionate human beings.

Bear with me as I take you down a somewhat tedious road. I think this is a topic worth the scrutiny.

Let’s break down how “food producer” might be interpreted by someone on the outside. provides us with 5 definitions for the verb “produce”

  • 1. to bring into existence. I wouldn’t really say we bring cattle into existence. Or bring meat into existence. Although if you use this definition, it would line up with some accusations that people in food production add things like “pink slime” and ammonia into meat, and THAT produce would definitely be something brought into existence by a human. Not very accurate to what we do.
  • 2. to bring into existence by creative or intellectual ability. Similar to definition 1.
  • 3. to make or manufacture. I don’t manufacture meat, and I certainly don’t want to be known as a meat manufacturer. Do you?
  • 4. to bring forth; give birth. Well, I don’t even need to explain why this definition doesn’t make me a food producer.
  • 5. to provide, furnish, or supply. Ahhh. Now this, this one fits. We definitely provide meat & other food products for Americans.

Okay, so we found a successful definition! But look how many definitions I had to look past in order to find one that maintained a positive mental image. The general public will NOT take any extra effort to prove our innocence or positive impact on the world.

Now, let’s brave the term “industry”

  • 1. the aggregate of manufacturing or technically productive enterprises in a particular field, often named after its principle product such as the automobile industry or steel industry. Not a terrible definition I suppose. It utilizes the word “produce” which leaves lots of room for negativity in itself, but it’s really the examples that make me weary. Automobile and steel industry creates a feel of cold & factory-like business. Not a great parallel for the hard work, dedication, and love we put into our herds & flocks.
  • 2. any general business activity; commercial enterprise. It is true that agriculture is a business like most everything these days. But everyone knows that businesses have one goal above all else: profit. And we know that more and more businesses in this country are putting aside ethics and morals to pick a more profitable decision. While we need to make a living from raising livestock, we do not have the option of picking profit as our sole goal. We also must incorporate ethical treatment & care.
  • 3. systematic work or labor. Again, agriculture is a business, and we need systems in place to keep things organized. But something about the phrasing still gives room for the interpretation of a factory-like, robotic, thoughtless process.

I’m thinking it’s time for the people of Agriculture to start coining their own (accurate!) buzz words, in order to hold our own & be able to dis-spell misconceptions without even having to launch into a defensive paragraph. I don’t think it will be a single solution, but I do think it is something incredibly easy to overlook, yet so very important. Every word we use to describe agriculture is carefully weighed by concerned foodies. So let’s just give it chance. I’ll start:

I am a food provider of the beef community.

Cattle Community

Provide has very similar definitions to produce (to supply, make available). But while I do not want many things to be “produced” for me, I do think it sounds quite nice to be provided for. It gives me the warm & fuzzy feeling of security. And this case, I am feeling very confident & secure that I will not go hungry because of you, the food provider.

Community. A VERY different word than industry. It is a very disarming term, and among the best of’s definitions is as follows:

“an … occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists”

Now that seems accurate to me. As agriculturalists, we all share a slew of common characteristics and interests. And we are definitely distinct, in our 2%, from the larger society (the nation as a whole) in which we exist.

Community also creates an image of “kumbaya”…of teamwork & encouragement. In the case of the beef community, there are MANY compartments (seedstock, cow/calf, feedlot, packer) that need to work together as a team to provide the end product of safe & nutritious meat.

I know, I know, I’m asking for a lot. It will take a significant amount of effort to change your habits of using terms we’ve used for a long time to describe ourselves. And it will take even longer for our new terms to reach the ears of skeptics and consumers. But hopefully I have convinced you that this is worth our consideration. “Say what you mean and mean what you say” is a very popular quote among our culture. And FINALLY, I feel that I really mean what I say, without having to give further description, when I tell you I provide food for you from within the beef community.

What do you think? Do you think something so simple and fundamental (two words!!) can really help us change our negative image? Are there other terms we use daily that may be interpreted inaccurately by someone who doesn’t have an understanding of what we actually mean?

2011 in review-thank you readers!!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Careful (Food) Consumer

As I am exploring Agriculture and therefore the origins of my food, I am becoming more and more aware of nutrition and all the buzz that surrounds it. While America has been on the alert for many years now (as obesity rates are climbing), at 116 pounds soaking wet, I really wasn’t that interested. I enjoyed veggies and salads, but I also downed 10-12 Oreos every day after school or class. I knew that eventually, my weight would start to catch up to me, and I was pretty worried how that would affect my lack of self discipline in the kitchen. Now that I’m cooking for myself, I have taken a more vested interest in my nutrition. The healthier I eat, the better I feel. And strangely, the more active I am, the more I actually crave the healthy foods. I begin to gravitate towards carrots as an after class snack, for example.

In all of this personal nutrition research and development, I even occasionally read the nutrition facts on a label or an article about healthy foods (Hey, I’m not totally reformed). When I began working in the beef industry, I began learning how nutritious beef is in a balanced diet. Protein, Zinc, B vitamins, Iron…you name it! The most interesting fact I learned about meat as a nutrition source vs veggies is the organic chemistry of it all. Now, that was not my best subject, so many of the details have since been forgotten, but the point will forever be ingrained with me: The actual molecular structure of meat is more conducive to human digestion than many vegetables of equal nutrient level. So…say vegetable A has x grams of protein, and meat A has the same x grams. Given the shape and form (molecularly) of the two, your body is able to absorb MORE protein from the meat than from the vegetable. (Maybe someone more in-tune with OChem or human nutrition can help me with some concrete facts??)

Either way, whether you are an avid meat lover like me, or a passionate vegetarian, these differences are important to realize. They are NOT explained on a nutrition label (if there isn’t enough space for one valuable Ochem lecture in my brain, there certainly isn’t enough space on a 2″x2″ label). So if it is essential to your beliefs to cut out something, make sure you are doing all the research you can. And try to look at both pro-your-choice articles and against-your-choice and make your answer as smart and unbiased as it can be. Before I preach about beef, I often look at vegetarian and animal rights activists articles and ponder whether or not their information challenges mine in a way I need to re-evaluate or research further.

When it comes to food, I believe that being a varied omnivore is the best way to achieve all the nutrients your body needs. I don’t believe in diets that cut things out…whether that be carbs, meats, or even sugars. And I weigh 116 lbs remember, so despite my scientific back up, I’d say I have a reasonable handle on the concept. Nature works so well together because each part of it has different pros and cons and compliment and balance another. Eat meat. Eat beef. But don’t trade a salad for a burger at every meal. I was always told the more color you have on your plate, the better you are doing at reflecting nature and therefore achieving the best balance your body can ask of you.

An unusual recipient of thanks giving

This year, I am thankful more than years past for our agriculturalists. Our farmers, ranchers, and feedlot workers. Turkey sales absolutely explode this time of year, and while I am not a poultry expert, I am confident that this takes a ridiculously high level of preparation from all parts of the poultry community.

This year, as we were baking our 21-lb turkey (which, by the way, somehow was still raw after 7 hours…it became quite the interesting affair), I reminisced about my time on the feedyard. I spent only one major holiday at this job, but it will leave an impression on me “for always”.

It was Easter Sunday. Of all holidays, this one is not my most favorite. It’s religious significance certainly speaks to me, but the traditions around it aren’t very sentimental. I usually would go home to North Carolina for church and a nice Easter dinner. As kids, we always did Easter baskets, and my mom still gives me one every year. Despite it not being top ranked, I am, across the board, a holiday and tradition fanatic. When I was in 2nd grade, we lived on the 14th floor of an apartment building in Singapore. My mom made Easter Bunny prints from real dirt from our doorway, into the elevator, onto the “14” button, and in our apartment lobby. God bless her. And the people who wondered where the heck dirt came from in the cleanest city in the world.

Easter Bunny, via google images

Anyways, this holiday was different. For one, I actually had to work. A full day. Beginning at 5:30 AM. But being myself, I prepared for the holidays like always. I went to all the local stores trying to find those plastic easter eggs. Then I bought M&Ms and other candy and filled 1 egg for each of my +/- 36 coworkers (I made a list). I figured if we had to work a holiday, we may as well have some small sign that we knew it was going on around us. It really amazed me how well that little gesture went over, considering it wasn’t a real easter basket. Those stupid eggs stuck around our office for months. People just loved them. And I just enjoyed the chocolate 🙂

Secondly, of all jobs on the feedyard, I was on deads. On Easter Sunday. I hated deads. Everyone did, but probably me worst of all. “Being on deads” requires the 1 (maybe 2 but not in this case) people on said duty to drive around in a large telehandler all day, listening to our radio system for people to call in pen numbers where there is a dead steer or heifer. You then pick it up on your forks, bring it to the necropsy area, and then proceed to “cut deads”. Essentially this is an autopsy. No animal caretaker wants dead animals, and it is our job to find out exactly what went wrong so we can handle it as soon as possible. This is an essential job. Nonetheless, it is probably about as grotesque as you are imagining. Maybe more so. It requires all of my 110 lbs to jump in and out of this massive piece of machinery to open/close gates, herd cattle out of way, reel a chain out, tie it to a carcass leg, reel in the chain, bring the body into a fork or bucket, drive it through all sorts of bumps (praying not to have the body bounce off), drop it off, sharpen your knife, and cut the body from nose to anus. You have to break ribs to access the lungs. You have to fling the legs over. You have to examine the insides of the stomach and intestines and heart and everything else. And let me tell you, this isn’t like a science lab where they are all cleaned out with formaldehyde. It takes an incredible amount of strength to complete an autopsy and break bones of 1200lb animals with your bare hands and a 6-in knife. Since I’m not really that muscular, it requires me to basically climb in, on top of, and around, a carcass in order to assure I do it properly.


You go home smelling horrible. Covered in guts. Not really the way you want to go home to cook up a nice easter meal for 1. It was really a disheartening day at first. I am the SLOWEST person on deads because while  it takes some people under 10 minutes to determine cause of death, it could take me 40 to even reach the lungs. And it’s EASTER. I mean, you have to cut them, and meanwhile the others have to feed the healthy ones, and still others have to treat the sick ones, so there is plenty to do. But you surely don’t want to DAWDLE on a holiday. But I bucked up and decided to just get into it. Blasted my ipod and went to town. I actually did end up forgetting there was a holiday going on around us, despite my colored easter egg project. Until I was met by 2 coworkers who were frantically trying to reach me to see how many I had left to pick up. They had families to go back home to. I had, in my selfishness, become completely oblivious to the idea that perhaps some of my coworkers were not 1800 miles from their families, and they DID want to cook a nice meal and sit with family or go to church.  But instead of leaving me when they finished their daily duties, they stayed and helped me until “the deads” were finished. Even though my only foreseeable plan was to shower and collapse in exhaustion on the couch. And their family probably wouldn’t want to sit next to them at the dinner table until they took at least 3 showers.

And that day, as gross as my experience and description was, encompassed all the reasons every one of us should be thankful to our farmers and agriculturalists this Thanksgiving. Because while we wake up to entertain guests and sit around a long afternoon of eating before collapsing onto the couch after achieving next to nothing, they worked hard not only to prepare that turkey for our oven on regular working days– they were probably working while we watched the post-meal football game. They were doing their work diligently until the job was truly completed. No matter what hour that meant they got home. And their families are probably not sure WHAT time they will get to eat, because raising livestock does not (EVER) go according to any scheduled time slot. And so that worker may miss the family dinner and eat cold thanksgiving dinner. Or the family may politely sit at the table, patiently listening to their growling stomachs, until the cows are happy and full and that missing family member can join them. There are many heroes that are missed during holidays, when their career duties unfortunately must take precedence over quality family time, but let’s not forget some of the most quietly sung heroes-the ones who most directly help us make thanksgiving meal traditions possible in the first place.

The Great Self-Pampering Conundrum

Have you ever had a day off where you decide to be lazy beyond reckless abandon? You set out to accomplish absolutely nothing, just like that song “Today I don’t feel like doing anything“? I bet there are several of you out there now, feeling wistful about the last (probably long, long ago) day that you spent all day in your PJs, woke up and went back to sleep 5 times, ordered food in or ate all the junk food in your cupboards, watched marathons of a TV show you had never even heard of 8 hours earlier when you first tuned in. Ahhh. How great…

photo courtesy of Colours And Joy Blogspot

I often find myself stressing about all the hours I pour into work, how much housework needs to be done, how the cat/dog/other dog is just as starving as me after a 12 hour day, but because they yap and yap they always manage to get fed before me (such manipulative fluff balls…), and I  just plead with the world for a day of lazy. Of doing everything in bed. Extra sleep, eating in bed, watching TV from bed…maybe I could also walk the dogs from bed?

The weird thing about all of this is, however, that I make time for these days on occasion. At least once every two months. And I’ve made a startling discovery. I wallow around among sheets & pillows & junk food, and all of the sudden, the sun is gone. I’m sort of hungry in a spot that junk food hasn’t hit after 3 bags of chips. My hair is greasy. And then this inching dread feeling creeps in…because tomorrow the ominous stresses return. And the day of high life is already over! And the dishes are still in the sink, the fur balls are still tumbleweeding around the wood floors, I still haven’t showered…and all of this seems to negate the peaceful day of rest I was fully embarked upon.

I have actually found, much to my dismay, that days relished by speed-scrubbing down the house, a nice, well-cooked hot lunch, and easy afternoon of reading or taking the dogs to hike at the state park seem to provide much more satisfaction then the coveted Day of Rest. I accomplished something. And more that, I accomplished something more than what I do at work.

I think that this discovery is the link to one of the reasons I have loved Agriculture. I get so much more self-worth out of doing things. And the physical labor often associated with agricultural jobs is plain evidence of things done. For example…Today I moved 300 cattle, sorted them by weight, began them on new feed, ear-tagged, fixed 3 fences, walked 8 miles, and fixed a tractor. That is a satisfying day. Something to be proud of. You come home physically exhausted, mentally worn, but you feel you have honestly worked for your place on this earth.

On the other hand, my current job has that indoor environment. I spend days going to Chamber Meetings. Seminars. I spend hours speaking with people to coordinate with on event planning. It’s not that I don’t accomplish anything, I actually accomplish quite a bit. I mean, I reduced my emails today from 577 to 498 today, for heavens sake! But I go home mentally tired and physically a little larger from having sat in a chair or car all day. Mental exhaustion sometimes turns instead into a racing mind. Tossing and turning. Forgetfullness. Physical exhaustion, on the other hand, improves focus, builds body structure and function, and at a certain point, forces you to slow down long enough to charge your batteries. And there are plenty of problem-solving opportunities for your mind to engage in as well. And whether for work or leisure, I find the physically & mentally challenging days to be far more relaxing than the mind-numbing days spent staring at a computer monitor or zombied to the TV.

I guess it kind of makes sense. I mean, in all of the Kourtney & Kloe marathons I’ve watched on lazy days, I never once have seen an episode where I have watched either Kardasian stay in bed or even turn on a TV. I certainly don’t watch them facebook stalk. Because obviously that is BORING. So I wonder why I think putting myself through those activities would be instead rejuvenating? I want to watch them Take Miami! Conquer, explore! Why? Well, because silly, that gives them something to talk about. Regardless of whether its enough to deserve a TV series, it does give them much more adventure and award them many more bragging rights than anything I accomplish on lazy days. Even on days off with cattle, I’d still have to get out of bed early to feed & check fences. And by the time I get back, I usually don’t really want to go back to sleep. It’s only 10am and you have all day to enjoy! I’m already out of bed, breakfast fed, and dressed, so I may as well get to the good stuff now!

Does anyone else find this conflict: desiring a day of lazy and in reality needing a day of doing (even though the day of doing must require the “doing” to be different from your “daily doing” schedule)? How do you spend your days away from the job?

Finding Agriculture in Africa & Discovering to Say More with Less

I was recently given the great opportunity to visit South Africa. It was a beautiful chance to discover more about myself through adventure and meditation. I have noticed, in the past year or so, that I am incredibly wordy. Some of the people I find most power, however, (an ex-bf’s mom, our guide in Kruger National Park), are people of incredibly few words.

So, in my effort to move towards saying more with less, I bring you my post in mostly pictures. How I found the transparency of Agriculture in other societies.

A small stone carving, representing "Waiting for the Rain"

This small figure (atop my journal of my adventure) was hand-carved by a local shopkeeper. Even now, living in the populated city of Johannesburg, this man was atuned to the importance of Agriculture and the world around him. American farmers’ livelihood often relies on the outcome of “waiting for the rain”

Wine Country, Western Cape, South Africa

Enjoying the “fruits of thine farming labor” through wine! A lot of hard agricultural work and crop science goes into producing those wonderful flavors.

My beaded Hampshire

My hand-beaded Hampshire sheep. I was really suprised to see one that resembled a breed we have in America (most beaded animals were lions, zebras, antelope…) It takes 3 full days to make this guy. I don’t think I’ve seen an American souvenir that was made in America in a long time. Even if there are made in the USA, I bet you they’re mass produced…

Cattle in Mpumalanga, South Africa

I found cattle! Oddly, I have better pictures of lions. The guides don’t slow down so you can photograph cattle the way they do about lions, but I found both fascinating. Cattle look drastically different, whether your comparing US to Thailand, US to South Africa, or Thailand to South Africa. Through the thin body condition, it is obvious that there is not a large disposable income to feed cattle to their capacity. Even though they are one food source, humans must be feed before cattle. Veterinary care is usually minimal, and starvation a possibility. Also, the large ears and loose skin around the brisket are bred characteristics to help cattle rid their bodies of extra heat in a warm climate.

Different Grazing Styles...

Property laws seem a little different in South Africa. Even on your way to the airport in Johannesburg, you can find small fields covered in free-grazing cattle. No fences, no ear-tags, no brands. I can only assume the use of the occasional cow bell helps keep track of who owns which animals. I was warned against hitting black cattle at night, as they sometimes wander across the highways in search of greener grass. As you can see in the picture, they tend to grass right on the highway curbs.

Story Time with our Guide

Our guide, Israel, explaining the balance of human life and nature. He spent 7 years in the African bush of Kruger Park as a ranger, there to protect the animals and the people. His stories included those of elephant attacks, watching a lion kill a human, and mutual respect of nature for what it is, and not what humans want to make it.

My blog needs a makeover. Maybe even facial reconstruction surgery.

I’ve been doing some research about successful blogging. And what I’ve discovered is, I think I started really strong. I have a great starting point…a passion…and a decent hand at colorful writing. And now looking back, with a few posts omitted, my blogging has become incredibly lazy. And it shows.

Somewhere along the line, I got really wrapped up in sharing facts. statistics. and lots of other things that I hated in school, now find somewhat interesting to read about agriculture cuz I breathe this stuff, but certainly can’t imagine why anyone else would find it interesting. My own family members turn glazey-eyed at the latest facts. But I began writing this blog to share experience, not facts. Stories. Fun little items. A little agriculture-shock humor. The struggles in trying to enter a working world and living culture that you were not born into. Learned practices and the strange truths about them. And maybe those struggles overwhelmed the creativity out of me for a while. Maybe its just my mix of agricultural life and my “old” life that makes things difficult. I have LOTS of hobbies and interests. And some weeks I just simply don’t do much in the world of Ag. But I’ve learned plenty over the past 4 years to have more stories than I’ve shared.

So, I’ll keep researching how to improve. One way is this thing wordpress calls “Post A Week 2011” challenge. Essentially, you challenge yourself to post at least once a week. Doesn’t sound hard, but so far I haven’t succeeded very well. But I have hope, and I hope you have it for me as well.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way. Comments happen all the time on facebook, but not so much on blogs. Follow me. The more “stalkers” I see that I have, the more my confidence grows and the more I feel like I better do a good job. Ask questions. Not all this stuff makes sense. But even if you think I’m full of poop and you vehemently disagree with everything I have to say, let me know! It could get interesting.

Maybe you could help me get started on next week’s blog. What Agricultural topic would you want to read about next? Pigs? Sheep? Tractors? Cows? Babies? Artificial insemination? Semen collection? Cow pies?

What I know about “pumping antibiotics into your future steak or hamburger”


image courtesy of

“Bio 11!”

Someone moves to fill the syringe with 50 mL’s of dark, syrupy liquid and attaches a 3/4″ needle. Five small injection sites later, a steer leaves the chute with a clang.

*(normal temp is 101.5, so 104.7 as referenced above is considered very sick)

Every day, I inject numbers of sick, fevered* cattle with antibiotics. Cattle that will soon be entering the supermarket as your favorite burger or steak or brisket. By now, every American is well versed in the dangers of overusing antibiotics both in animals and people. Giving your toddler antibiotics for every round of sniffles will make a medicine-resistant germs that will infect your loved one later, and leave them prone to more allergies. Antibiotic residues entering your body through food has been linked to having the same effect (although these studies are still largely inconclusive).

So let’s consider this: Are we creating super bugs that can run rampant through our population, making us miserable and sending medical experts reeling for new drugs to stop the ever-stronger pathogens??

First, we need to understand that there are very similar principles involved with human and animal antibiotic use. Just because we’ve learned antibiotics are NOT the answer to everything, especially viruses which can’t be cured with them anyway, doesn’t mean there is not a place for them. There are times when antibiotics are incredibly useful. Ever had strep throat? Antibiotics are a life-saver! Without taking antibiotics, strep throat poses the risk of becoming bad enough to hospitalize you for kidney damage or heart valve inflammation. Before antibiotics, people died from simple sickness. The same is true in cattle. It is not the answer for everything, but it can ultimately prevent a death by treating an illness before it overtakes the animal’s body or spreads to the entire herd to create an epidemic. And a dose of antibiotics can save significant levels of animal suffering, which I think most human beings would agree is our invaluable responsibility for the animals in our care.

Second, not only do veterinarians monitor the use of antibiotics in food animals, but the FDA is incredibly involved. They do continuous studies to ensure that there are no residual drugs, hormones, or pesticides of any kind entering your body through a steak, hamburger (or veggie!). They work directly with the drug companies to test the meat treated with antibiotics. Over the years, injections have been moved onto the neck (instead of the rear) to help both with bruising the animal and the damage to the meat. These FDA restrictions have also lead to withdrawl times, which are well-known and strictly enforced by every working member on the feedyard. A withdrawl time is set by the FDA and printed on the drug label for easy access. Many steps are taken to ensure no antibiotics are in the cows system at all by the time they are slaughtered:

Cattle are restrained in a chute for cattle/person safety, cattle comfort, and injection accuracy. Photo courtesy of

  •  Animals are only injected in the neck instead of the rear of the animal. This means that in fact, the more popular cuts of beef (round, steaks, etc) are not ever directly injected with antibiotics. Antibiotics are also injected subcutaneously, or just under the skin, instead of directly into the muscles that you eat.
  • Several injection sites are used in order to prevent a high concentration of antibiotics in one region. If the medication is not properly spread out, it can sort of ball up under the skin and does not circulate properly (therefore not being as effective in treating the sickness)

These are the acceptable injection sites as set out by Beef Quality Assurance

  • The withdrawal time (in the case of Bio, ~30 days), means that any animal given Bio absolutely under NO circumstances can leave the yard for that time period, until it is positively known that the animal does not have any trace of antibiotic travelling through their bodies.
  •  Every animal that is run through the hospital receives a hospital tag. This tag is individual to this animal, and is also entered into a computer database.
  • Any animal that receives an antibiotic gets a notch cut out of the ear tag in a specific area to signify which drug has been given, so you can look at the animal and see that they have been treated during their stay on the feedlot
  • The computer system tracks the date and dosage of every trip through the chute, whether or not it gets antibiotics
  • If an animal has received 3 doses of antibiotics and comes back sick again, it is deemed “Chronic” and will be put down if it becomes too ill/fails to recover. Even feedlots recognize that there is a point to which antibiotics are not doing their job, and continuously treating an animal not only increases risk of it retaining an illness, but also stresses an animal. Unfortunately, if an animal doesn’t get better after our best efforts, the best option is to put the animal out of his misery and continue to protect the people consuming beef daily.
  • When a pen of cattle is shipped (to slaughter), all animals of that pen are checked to be sure they are “clear” –they have met every withdrawl time and therefore are not containing any drug residues.
  • Any animal that is not clear must be moved to an entirely different pen prior to the ship to ensure that no one accidentally adds them to the truck.
  • As the pen ships, it is entered as such in the computer. The computer also checks again for any “Hot” (not met withdrawal times) animals. If after all the human checks, the computer finds that a hot animal is on the truck, the entire truck must be stopped on the highway and turned back to the feedyard, where every animal is unloaded and reloaded only after they have ensured that hot animals have been moved off the loading area into the designated “hot” pen. It is very rare that it ever gets to this point (it hasn’t happened in my 5 months here, and I have only ever heard of 1 instance…and many employees have been around for 10+ years)
Antibiotic rules are constantly modified and checked on. Every person administering antibiotics must know the withdrawal times and responsibly give the proper dosage in the proper areas– not only for animal comfort and well-being, but for ours as well. It’s a very detailed system, with many back-ups and checkpoints. Straying from any label guidelines is strictly prohibited and illegal. And trust me, no feedlot can afford to risk being shut down by simply not following directions on a label. Veterinarians are also constantly checking on our practices. They are tailoring the medication programs to better help the animals and to reduce overall antibiotic levels. They are updating staff on new study results. Our vet visits once a month with graphs and notes on all of our treatment histories and data. He reviews every doctor practice that we carry out, and gives us new goals or criteria to go on for the next month. The FDA checks their studies not just when a new drug first reaches the market, but afterwards as well to ensure that no results change as time progresses. To read more about FDA regulations on drug use in food animals, you can visit their website here.

Healthy Cows are Happy Cows! Photo courtesy of

TODAY: ‘Beef up’ your meat-buying knowledge

If you missed the news this morning, check out this video! Kari Underly teaches us how to choose a cut, how to utilize a live butcher (you know, that guy behind the counter that personally scares me because I have no idea what, really, i want him/her to do for me), and even some quick cooking tips.Don’t forget to cook to a safe and savory temperature of 160°!

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