Why Do They Do That? – Antibiotics

I recently was at the meat counter of a local grocery store and was noticing several prime cuts of meat. They all looked delicious. I was already imagining a slow roasted brisket for St. Patrick’s Day. But I noticed some of the cuts were labeled hormone free and antibiotic free. Sounds great! I don’t want any weird stuff in my meat. But if antibiotics in meat are such a bad thing, then why do farmers use them?

beef_cow25.jpgJust like humans, livestock sometimes get sick. When they get sick, farmers what to do whatever they can to help get them healthy again. The first step is to (if possible) separate sick animals from the rest of the herd. This helps minimize the spread of an infection or illness – especially if it is at all contagious. The second step is to call the veterinarian. Just like doctors prescribe antibiotics for sick humans, veterinarians prescribe antibiotics for sick animals. The antibiotics are administered with the supervision of the vet.

Careful records are kept, too. The farmer and the vet know exactly how much of an antibiotic was given. They keep record of the date and record of exactly which animal it was given to. Antibiotics are medicines that inhibit the growth of or destroy microorganisms – specifically harmful strains of bacteria. Eventually, after the antibiotic has targeted the harmful bacteria it will start to break down in the body and be eliminated from the animal’s system. The time that it takes for the antibiotic to break down is known as the withdrawal period. Different antibiotics will have different withdrawal times and interact a little differently in different animals and different types of tissues in the body.


Sometimes the withdrawal period is short (1-2 days), sometimes it is long (2-3 weeks). Knowing withdrawal times and keeping record of when animals were given antibiotics is important. Dairy animals cannot be milked and meat animals cannot be harvested until after they have passed the withdrawal period. Milk and meat are both tested as a safety measure to ensure there are not traces of antibiotics. Following these withdrawal periods means that none of the meat at the grocery store has antibiotics in it.

But then I noticed another label that said ‘raised without antibiotics‘. This means that the animals were never given antibiotics. Either they never got sick (always the goal anyway) or if they did get sick those animals were separated and not sold with that label. In cattle, horses and other animals, antibiotics are primarily given in a case by case scenario – only as needed.

chicken8.jpgBut poultry (chickens and turkeys) and swine (pigs) can be a little different. Poultry and swine are raised with many animals in the same building. Chickens like to flock together and pigs like each other’s company. But if one animal gets sick, there is the potential that the entire flock or herd would get sick. Farmers sometimes choose not to take this risk and add antibiotics into the animal feed so that all animals receive antibiotics. For young animals that haven’t had enough time to develop their immune system, the intent is to help keep them healthy. The use of these antibiotics are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA. But animals who have had antibiotics added to their food are still subject to the withdrawal period before they are harvested so there are no antibiotics in the meat at the butcher counter.

Antibiotics seem like they are really important for animal health. And with appropriate regulations in place and safety checks, I feel confident that there are no antibiotic residues in my meat. I think I will go ahead and get that brisket and look forward to some corned beef!


Preg Check – Why Do They Do That?

Calves are starting to hit the ground!

beef_cow18.jpgThat is farmer-speak for this time of year (January, February, and March) when many cows on farms and ranches start to give birth to new calves. For the average passerby this can seem like a miracle of life. But for a farmer, it is the end of a closely watched pregnancy and something that is 283 days in the making. In the early stages, many farmers will conduct pregnancy checks on their cows. But why do they do that?

Farmers who raise breeding stock keep a close and watchful eye on their animals. The average gestation period for a cow is 283 days. But it can range from 279 up to 287 days (approximately 2 weeks longer than a human pregnancy). Human mothers will do doctor check-ups regularly throughout their pregnancy to ensure that everything is going smoothly and that the fetus is developing normally. Just like humans, cows will receive some regular check ups from the doctor (veterinarian) too. One of the first check ups is a pregnancy check to determine if the cow is indeed pregnant.

Most cows that are raised together will go into heat or estrus around the same time. A farmer can introduce a bull into the pasture opting for natural insemination or a farmer might choose to artificially inseminate their herd. Through artificial insemination straws of semen, previously collected from preferred bulls based on genetic traits and characteristics, are inserted into the cow through the rectal-vaginal technique. Then 4-10 weeks later the farmer will check to see if the cow is pregnant.

If the cow is pregnant, then the farmer will be able to build their herd. The farmer can monitor the overall herd health and reproductive status keeping detailed records of the pregnancies. Once the calf is born it can be sold for meat or raised to be breeding stock. However, it is just as important to know if the cow is NOT pregnant after natural or artificial insemination. If a cow is open (not pregnant) the farmer can make better management decisions like selling during peak market prices, culling the herd to improve genetics, or trying to inseminate again. If too many cows are open and did not get pregnant, then that could be an indicator of herd nutritional deficiencies or diseases that then need to be addressed.

There are three main methods of conducting these pregnancy checks on cows. An ultrasound technician can recognize a pregnancy in as little as 25 days. This requires a fair amount of preparation and time with each animal. The machines are not cheap. The second method is a blood test. Blood samples from each cow can be drawn and sent into a lab for analysis. The blood needs to be taken at least 30 days after breeding. But the most common method is rectal palpation. This is by far the cheapest and most convenient. Trained veterinarians can identify a pregnancy in as little as six weeks (usually 8-10 weeks). This involves the vet wearing a REALLY long glove (shoulder length) and feeling inside the cow for the calf’s head. The vet can also check for a pulse in the artery supplying blood to the uterus and check the shape of the uterus. A good operation and a well trained technician can pregnancy test up to 60 cows per hour!


Image borrowed from: http://unplugging.us/how-to-check-cow-pregnancy/

The age of the fetus can be estimated, which gives the farmer a better idea of when the cow will give birth. In the cold months of the year, cows may be brought indoors to give birth or otherwise just be more closely monitored. Cows experiencing trouble during birth might be given help and the farmer might pull the calf.

Ultimately, pregnancy testing is of little use as an aid to management unless the information gained is used to make management decisions. This process of pregnancy checking can cause some stress on the cows and can result in a loss of the fetus. Pregnancy loss can be 1-3.5% when palpation or ultrasound are used. So farmers need to take this risk factor into consideration. But most find that the benefits of knowing if the cow is pregnant and making management decisions outweigh the risk. It is important to evaluate the different methods for pregnancy testing and make the best decision for your operation.

If a farmer can sell a non-pregnant female at market in August they could earn prices that are 5-10% higher than prices in October or November. Cows will also lose weight after August due to forage quality decreasing into the fall and winter months. Selling non-pregnant females takes advantage of higher weights. Cattle are sold by weight, so the farmer stands to make more money with heavier animals.  Non-pregnant heifers and cows can provide as much as 20% of the gross income to a cow-calf operation on an annual basis. Making decisions based on information and data allow farmers to manage their operation in the best possible way.


Savory Award Winning Recipes

If you are like me, you are looking for a great recipe to try for this holiday season. And depending on how many people you have at your table, you might end up with a lot of leftover Christmas ham. Well, now you can turn those leftovers into delicious hamballs! This recipe screams Iowa because it features two of the major commodities raised in Iowa – pork and corn.

Last summer, Iowans were challenged to present their best recipes at the Iowa State Fair and the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest. Iowa is #1 in the U.S. for raising corn and soybeans. Iowa also ranks #1 in producing pork and eggs. So these recipes needed to include one (or more) of those major commodities.

The contest was broken into two classes – sweet and savory. For each, a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place recipe was awarded a cash prize. Judges representing each of the commodity organizations helped decide the winners. Judges from the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and Soy Foods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council judged the entries on taste, creativity and presentation.

The winning recipe from the savory category was Sweet Corn Hamballs with Sweet Corn Glaze submitted by Sharon Gates of Des Moines, Iowa. Judges were overheard saying, “I just couldn’t stop eating them!”

IMG_3785.JPGInto a mixing bowl combine:
¼ C. finely chopped onions
1 ear of sweet corn grilled and cut from cob (about ½ C.)
½ C. crushed unsalted soda crackers
½ C. graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp. ground mustard
2 eggs well beaten plus enough milk to make 1 ¼ C.

Mix well and let sit a few minutes. Add to the above mixture:
¾ lb. ground ham
¾ lb. ground pork
¾ lb. ground beef

Once the meat and cracker mixtures are thoroughly combined, form into about 1/3 C. balls. Place the balls into a baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Turn over and bake another 20 minutes.

While hamballs are baking, mix together:
1 8oz. can of creamed corn
1 C. unsweetened applesauce
1 C. brown sugar
¼ C. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. dry mustard

When the meatballs are browned, cover with glaze. Then bake another 45 minutes turning over half way through the process and spooning glaze from the pan over the hamballs.

2nd and 3rd

The runner-up and second runner-up recipes were not to be missed either! For breakfast, the Pretzel and Soybean Crusted Egg Bake featured soybeans, eggs, and two different types of pork (bacon and ham)! It was submitted by Emerson Hilbert of Urbandale, Iowa.

IMG_3780a.jpg½ cup pretzels
½ cup soybeans
4 eggs
¼ cup milk
3 strips bacon
2 slices of ham
3 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Crush and combine pretzels and soybeans. Melt butter. Press pretzel and soybean mix into the bottom of a baking dish and pour the butter over the top. Bake for 3-5 minutes. Combine eggs and milk. Chop bacon and ham. Layer eggs, cheese, and meats. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25-25 minutes.

The Mexicali Corn Dip, as the name implies, featured corn. But you could also find soybeans in the vegetable oil that the mayonnaise was made from! This savory snack would be perfect for an appetizer or great for when all of those unexpected guests come knocking at your door this holiday season. The recipe was submitted by Gretta Acheson of West Des Moines, Iowa.

1 – 11oz. can of MexiCornIMG_3784a.jpg
1 cup of Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup of Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 – 4oz. can of mild, chopped green chilies, drained
1 small jar of chopped pimentos, drained
1 ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Serve with Frito Corn Chips.

Enjoy! And if you have a great recipe that features corn, soybeans, pork, eggs, or any of Iowa’s great commodities you can enter it at the Iowa State Fair in the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest!


There’s a New Competition, and the Steaks are High

There’s an exciting new competition in Iowa for elementary, middle school, and high school students. It’s called High Steaks, and it’s a beef marketing competition.

High Steaks

This program is exciting because it offers students the opportunity to think critically about a product they may consume regularly, and think about what factors consumers pay attention to. It’s also exciting, because there will be prizes for the top three submissions in each division!

High Steaks is open to classes from 3rd grade to 12th grade. There are three divisions; one for elementary students (grades 3-5), one for middle school students (grades 6-8), and one for high school (grades 9-12). The purpose of the competition is the same for all divisions, but the requirements differ slightly in each division.

In the elementary division, students will choose a beef product to market, and will submit a poster to advertise it. In the middle school division, students will also choose a beef product or recipe, and will create a marketing plan and nutritional overview of the product. High school students will complete all of the steps as the middle school students, with an additional market analysis that includes a target audience and a cost analysis.


Each division will have three winners. First place will receive $200 and a BBQ lunch, courtesy of the Iowa Beef Industry Council. Second place will receive $100, and third place will receive $50. All winners will also get a printed certificate and a personalized FarmChat® of a beef farm.

This program could fit well into many types of classrooms. An elementary social studies unit could include this project to talk about producers and consumers, spending and saving, and competition in the marketplace. A middle school health class could use this project to analyze health benefits of certain products. A high school business class could use this project to help students realize careers in marketing, food science, advertising, and even graphic design. In fact, this program could be used as a starting point for FCCLA and FFA students to fit guidelines for specific competitions.

Teachers who register their classrooms to participate will also receive a packet of helpful materials, including copies of the book My Family’s Beef Farm with accompanying lesson plans, a lesson plan titled Beef: A Healthy Option, and an educator guide for the documentary True Beef. Registration is free, and will be open until January 15, 2018. Register by filling out this form. You can find the full rules here.

Consider letting your class participate, or passing on the information to a teacher you know! For an added sense of competition, one classroom can create multiple submissions to compete against each other! We at IALF are very excited to see students’ creativity, innovation, and great ideas. We hope you are, too!


Prime, Choice, Grass-fed, Flank steak, Round roast….What does it all mean?

Standing at the meat cooler in a grocery store can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many options. And it is even more intimidating to talk to the butcher and ask for a specific cut of meat. How do you know what to ask for? There is so much lingo and jargon. All you really want is a delicious dinner for your family.

Let’s try to break it down and make sense of the word soup. Let’s be specific and talk about beef. Pork and chicken have some of their own terms.


Where the meat on the animal comes from and specifically how it is sliced or chopped, will determine the cut of meat. For beef, the animal can be broken down into four main quadrants. Cuts of meat from the hind leg are from the round. Cuts from the front leg are the chuck. The two middle sections are then the rib and the loin.

Different cuts of meat are better for different dishes that you may want to prepare. Briskets come from the chuck of the animal and can be very tough and dense meat. It needs to be cooked for a long time at a very low temperature so that the meat will break down and become softer. Briskets are perfect for corned beef. If you prefer to cook meat for a short period of time over high heat you want to start out with a cut of meat that is naturally tender. Filet mignon which is a cut of the tenderloin is known as being one of the most naturally tender cuts of meat.

If a recipe calls for a specific cut of meat, you could potentially make a substitution if you know what part of the animal it comes from. For example, you could interchange top sirloin steaks, New York strip steaks, and Filet mignons because they are all from the loin section of the animal. This video from Bon Appetit gives a complete breakdown of cuts of meat that butchers can get from a steer. Cuts from different parts of the animal can also have different flavors.


Within each cut of meat, we can assess the quality for the meat. Beef is evaluated by skilled meat graders and rated with a scale created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The meat is evaluated for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor as well as the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. The four grades are prime, choice, select, and standard.

8424794896_550f4beb1d_h.jpgPrime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling (fat interspersed in muscle tissue). It is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking such as broiling, roasting or grilling.

Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy, and flavorful and are suited for dry-heat cooking. Many of the less tender cuts can also be cooked with dry heat if not overcooked. Such cuts will be most tender if braised, roasted or simmered with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.

Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. Only the tender cuts should be cooked with dry heat. Other cuts should be marinated before cooking or braised to obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.

Standard and Commercial grades of beef are frequently sold as ungraded or as store brand meat. Utility, Cutter, and Canner grades of beef are seldom, if ever, sold at retail but are used instead to make ground beef and processed products.

Marketing terms

If you know the cut of meat and the quality you should be set for a high quality, delicious meal. Marketers try to help consumers understand the beef that they are buying. But sometimes it can actually muddy the waters.

One of the terms that is used is grass-fed. While this doesn’t have an official definition, it typically refers to cattle that have been raised on pasture their entire life. Many cattle spend the last two months of their life on a diet that is supplemented with corn and nutrients in addition to grass. This is called grain-finished beef. This diet of corn helps increase the marbling of the meat and can increase the quality of the final cuts. It is harder for cattle raised on only grass to achieve the Prime grade. In the United States grass-fed beef seems to have a perception of higher quality, in part because it isn’t as readily available. In other countries like Australia, grain-finished beef has a perception of being higher quality. Most beef sold in the U.S. is grain-finished.

Marketers might also use terms like hormone-free or antibiotic-free. Hormones occur naturally in the body and help the animal grow. The FDA regulates any artificial hormones that might be used. Meat raised with hormones have to be safe for humans to consume and can’t harm the animal or the environment. If hormones are used, they are usually synthetic versions of naturally occurring hormones. So, the meat can’t be 100% hormone free, but it could be synthetic hormone free.

Antibiotics are an essential strategy to help animals get healthy if they get do get sick. Just like a doctor might prescribe an antibiotic for a sick human, a veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic for a sick animal. The important thing to know is that antibiotics have a withdrawal period before that animal can be harvested. Many antibiotics have a 60 day withdrawal period. That means that the animal waits 60 days or more before it is slaughtered. The animal won’t have antibiotics in its system or in the meat. If the meat is being sold, it is required by law to be antibiotic free. The label ‘antibiotic free’ doesn’t mean much.

beefcow34.jpgYou might also see beef labeled as 100% Black Angus. Black Angus is a great breed of cattle. There is a certification process to guarantee that it is Certified Angus Beef. However, is Black Angus better than Hereford, Simmental, or even Holstein? Some might argue that it is, but all three can grade the same and be Prime or Choice. If looking at two steaks right next to each other you, probably couldn’t tell the breed of the animal or which one is a Black Angus steak. And both steaks are going to taste great.

So the next time you are at the grocery store, stop and look at all of the labels. See if you can decipher the code and pick the best cut of meat for your next dinner.


Where Is Agriculture?

From the moment you woke up this morning to the moment you’ll lay down for bed, your life is surrounded by agriculture. What is agriculture? It’s the industry that supplies the food, fuel, and fiber in our daily lives. From the food we eat, to the fuel in our cars, to the clothes we wear, to our common household items, agriculture created it all.

Who is the workforce behind this industry, you may ask? Farmers. And today’s farmers are not your typical “Old McDonald” farmer that has a red barn, a cow, chicken, horse, and pig. Today’s farmers are usually specialized in one or two livestock or plant species and using the most modern technologies on their operation. Farmers are the men and women who grow and raise the animals and plants that supply our daily products. Without farmers, we would each have to produce the food we eat and grow and make the clothes we wear. Without farmers, we would each have to become the farmer.

Before we go on, I want you to look at the picture below and I want you to identify the items that came from agriculture. Keep a count of all the products that come from agriculture.

PaintA2-without directionsjpg

There may be some obvious products like milk that comes from diary cows, and eggs that come from chickens, and carrots that came from a garden. But what if I told you there are 40 products in this picture that come from agriculture. Go ahead, I’ll give you another second to do another count…

The 40 products that come from agriculture that are in the picture are:

Bathroom– band-aids, hair conditioner, tissue, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, tooth brushes, toothpaste, towels, vitamins

Bedroom– baseball, baseball bat, baseball glove, bed frame, bed sheets, night stand/table, pillows, rug, slippers, teddy bear, wood floors

Kitchen– bone china, cabinets, cook books, eggs, flour, flowers, fruits and vegetables, ketchup, milk and cheese, pie, soup with a spoon, sugar, soda, pepper, oven mitts, and ham.

This picture shows how our daily lives are filled with agricultural products that we might not generally think of. Agriculture is more than just an industry, it’s a necessity.

Coming from the state of Iowa, we are one of the top agriculture producing states, and produce products that are exported internationally! Iowa is a leading producer of corn, soybeans, pork, and egg production. Now you may be wondering how toothpaste and Band-Aids can come from agriculture? In order to explain more, I’d like to take a closer look at the corn industry.

You might think all that corn growing in the Iowa fields is sweet corn, but it’s not. 99% of the corn grown in Iowa is field or dent corn and it’s not something we can eat right out of the field. Less than 1% of the corn grown in the United States is sweet corn. Dent/field corn is mainly used for ethanol production and as a feed source for livestock, but it also helps make over 4,000 other products we use every day. The starch of the corn plant goes into making adhesives for glues, plywood, fireworks, sandpaper, and wallpaper. The oil of the corn plant goes into making tanning oils, printing inks, and vitamin carriers. And the corn cob goes into making cosmetic powders, cleaning agents, and construction paper. Products like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, medicines, glues, chewing gums all have corn in them. The picture below offers more of the products that were made possible by corn.

corn post jpg

How is this possible? Well we use the by-products of plants and animals to make these items. By-products are goods that are produced additionally to another product. For example, the main purpose of beef cattle is for meat production. After the meat has been harvested there are still many uses that can be made from beef cattle. The hooves, horns, and bones are used to make toothbrushes, toothpaste, cosmetics, glues and adhesives, paper, Jell-O, marshmallows, and bone china. The hide of cattle is used to make leather products such as sports items like baseballs and gloves, as well as belts, shoes, and jackets. And beef fat helps make soaps, shampoos, and other personal hygiene items.

Soybeans also contribute to the list of items made from agriculture. Some of the more familiar products from soybeans would include soy milk, soy sauce, and bean sprouts. But also edamame are immature soybeans and tofu is another use of soybeans. Soybeans also go into products that we may not generally think of like pastry fillings, whipped toppings, paints, crayons, biodiesels, laundry detergents, antifreeze and so much more. For more information on products that come from soybeans check out the picture below.

soybean poster

The last commodity group that I will hit on is the pork industry. Not only is the pork industry known for their juicy pork chops and sweet honey hams but it also contributes largely to the medical industry. If you are diabetic the insulin you use comes from the pancreas gland of pigs. Cortisone is produced from the adrenal glands and heart valves come from the heart to aid in medical surgeries.

So, my question for you is do you think you could live a day without agriculture? If you did, that first picture would look a little bit more like this.

Without Ag jpg

Almost everything we use and eat come from the agriculture industry. Without this industry our lives wouldn’t be what they are today. So, I encourage you to stop and take the time to think about how your life would change without this industry and ask yourself, “Where is Agriculture?” Not only that but if you want to learn more I encourage you to join in the conversation. Connect with farmers and ask them questions or if you are looking for more educational resources check out these resources and continue to learn about the industry that impacts us all!






Why do they do that? – Early Calving

thinkstockphotos-87175110Traditionally, spring is thought to be the time when baby animals are born. Spring is a season of new life, but on many Iowa farms calving season begins in the winter. So why do some farmers plan to expand their herd when the weather is still cold?

Farmers take several things into consideration when deciding when to breed their cows. The gestation for cattle is 283 days, so calving will begin about 9 months after cows are bred.  Most cattle farmers today use artificial insemination to breed their cows. Among the many benefits, artificial insemination allows them to better plan when calves are born.

Farmers choose to breed their herd to calve at different times, depending on what is best for their operation. The two main things they consider are time and weather, and these two factors go hand in hand.

Many farms, especially those in the southern half of the state try to plan calving in February and March. This enables calving to end before spring planting begins, and gives them more time to dedicate to it. Farmers’ first priority is the health and safety of their animals. They check on expecting cows and new calves often, sometimes hourly. They check to see if cows are going into labor, if new calves are born, and that moms and babies are doing well. Most cows are able to give birth on their own, but farmers are ready to assist if the cow or calf’s health is at risk. Occasionally farmers or veterinarians must pull calves that are stuck in the birth canal.

Herd of cows in a field at sunsetSome farmers move expecting cows to a pen or small paddock so they can closely monitor them as their due date approaches. It is common for farmers to move the cows into a barn or protected area of the pasture just before or when they go into labor. Some farmers have equipped their barns with Wi-Fi cameras, so they can keep an even closer eye on the cows in labor.

Weather is another key factor that farmers consider. Although it may seem odd to plan to have baby calves arrive when temperatures are low, the cold weather can be advantage.  Generally speaking, diseases don’t spread as quickly in cold weather. Frozen ground can also be an advantage. Muddy ground in the spring is difficult for young calves to walk in.  They can even get stuck in the mud.

Black Angus CattleAlthough there are benefits of cold weather, extremely cold conditions are not good either.   Farmers in northern Iowa, where it is common for temperatures to drop below zero regularly in January and February, generally breed cows so that calving begins in March when conditions are a bit warmer. This makes for a very busy spring for farmers who also raise corn and soybeans, since spring tillage and fertilizer application often begin in March. But with proper planning and management, farmers are able to balance both.

Be sure to check out Chrissy’s recent blog, Vo-COW-bulary to learn more about cattle.

– Cindy