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.

Cuts

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.

Quality

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.

-Will

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.

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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!

-Hannah

http://www.iowaagliteracy.org/

https://www.iowacorn.org/corn-uses/

http://www.iasoybeans.com/

http://www.iowapork.org/

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

Organizing for Agriculture

This title alone does not convey this to be an engaging blog, but let’s see if I can put a unique spin on this topic. What have you done for agriculture? What do you do to help support, promote or advocate for agriculture? Agriculture is connected to so many careers, it is important everyone becomes informed on the issues facing agriculture, food production and the environment. I encourage you to LISTEN (it’s different than hearing) to many different viewpoints, form your own opinions, and stand behind your beliefs. Boy, all those election commercials are rubbing off, sorry.

Iowans have long recognized the importance in having a voice in and about agriculture. It is the backbone of our state economy. Do you know how many Iowans have held the position as Secretary of United States Department of Agriculture? The answer: six! The most of any state! You will likely recognize some of their names: James “Tama Jim” Wilson, Edwin Thomas Meredith, Henry C. Wallace, Henry A. Wallace, Mike Johanns, and Tom Vilsack. All of these men have interesting backgrounds.  One of these gentlemen allowed George Washingon Carver to stay in his office while going to Iowa Agricultural College (ISU). Another founded the Better Homes and Gardens magazine, while another went on to become Vice President of the United States. All these men had a strong voice about the importance of Iowa and agriculture. You, too, can you be a voice. Do you visit with farmers? Do you call your legislators and speak with them to voice your concerns at a local, regional, state and national level?

And did you know at one time the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was not a member of the President’s Cabinet? An organization rallied in 1889 to make this position a part of the Cabinet. What organization do you think that was? If your answer was the Farm Bureau, you would be incorrect. The American Farm Bureau Federation did not form until 1920. The correct answer would be the National Grange, founded in 1867. To be honest, the first time I heard of the Grange was watching Little House on the Prairie. Pa got dressed up, went to a Grange meeting and wore a yellow ribbon on his lapel. (Yes, I remember the strangest things.) That is all I could tell you before I did a little research.  Did you know the Grange was also involved in the Hatch Act that created experimental stations at state colleges of agriculture. (GO ISU!) they also were involved in legislation in 1906 that promoted ethanol as a motor fuel. See, ethanol is not a new thing. There are other items in the news presented as new which, if one did a little research, would find have been around for decades (i.e. methane, GMOs, soil/water conservation).

Sugar Grove 2

The National Grange will be holding their 150th convention in November. According to the National Grange website, it states they advocate for rural America and agriculture. With a history of grassroots activism, family values and community service, the Grange is a part of 2,100 hometowns in the United States. One of these hometowns is Newton, IA, home to the Silos & Smokestacks Partner Site Sugar Grove Vineyards & Gathering Place, a rejuvenated 1870s Grange Hall. I hope you will make an appointment to visit.

These are just two examples of organizations and people that have had a voice for agriculture. I encourage you to check out FarmHer, WOCAN, Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Soybean, Iowa Cattlemen, Iowa Pork Producers, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and the many others that have a voice for American agriculture. How can you help?

-Laura, Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Summer 2016 Professional Development

#IAaitcPD

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This summer, our staff assisted in hosting eight different professional development workshops across the state. Each workshop consisted of one tour day and one day in the classroom. The tours visited a wide variety of farms and agribusinesses, which helped teachers learn more about agriculture concepts, how they tie to other subject areas, and the potential career opportunities for their students.

The tours ranged from dairy farms and beef cattle farms, to a tomato and aquaculture farm, children’s museum, grain cooperatives, ethanol refineries, implement dealerships, grocery warehouses, a wind farm, implement factory, greenhouses and even a genetics laboratory. At ethanol refineries, we were able to talk about chemistry, biochemistry, marketing, and energy issues. At the various farm operations, we were able to discuss biology, biosecurity, health, safety, logistics, and marketing. At implement dealerships and factories, we were able to discuss engineering, science, and the challenges that farmers face that agriculture engineers work to solve.

The second day of the workshops focused on tying the concepts from the first day into subject areas like science, social studies, language arts, and math. Teachers got to walk through hands-on activities and lesson plans that bridge these concepts.

During these workshops, we documented our experiences. Check out our Storify story to see some social media posts.

We also documented the workshops with a short video. Give it a few minutes and learn about what we did this summer!

-Chrissy

Castration – Why do they do that?

Rocky Mountain oysters (aka cowboy caviar or bull fries) might in some circles be considered a delicacy. But testicles are not for everyone. Beyond the occasional food eating contest, why do they castrate cattle and pigs?

When managing a herd of cattle, maintaining oversight of the genetics is important. By selecting which bulls are allowed to breed the cows, farmers can positively influence traits in the calves. Traits like weaning weight, muscling, fat, milk production, physical soundness are all closely monitored. By breeding the best quality cattle, farmers produce the best quality meat that will make it to the grocery stores.

In cattle, male calves are castrated through the surgical removal of the testes, an elastrator band, through chemical castration, or through hormonal castration. All have advantages and disadvantages so farmers choose the one that makes the most sense for them and their operation. They try to minimize pain to the animal and increase the chance for a quick and speedy recovery.

There are several reasons that cattle are castrated. Testes produce testosterone. By lowering testosterone levels in male animals, aggressiveness is reduced. From a herd management standpoint less aggression means less fighting and less potential harm to humans. Male animals can also have high muscle pH. This can affect taste negatively. Castration reduces this high muscle pH and can increase the marbling, tenderness, and overall grade quality of the meat. The higher quality meat, the higher market prices the carcass can command.

Just look at the different in body shape and size of the two animals below. On the left is a Black Angus bull (testes intact). On the right is a Black Angus steer that has been castrated.

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The bull is much larger and much more heavily muscled. The meat will likely be tougher and not as well marbled. The meat of the steer will more closely resemble the meat from heifers and cows. Consumers crave uniformity in meat and so having a consistent product is one objective of the beef industry.

Woody_osPigs are castrated for many of the same reasons as cattle. Meat from male pigs that haven’t been castrated (boars) often suffers from ‘boar taint‘. This smell and taste of pork is caused by excessive testosterone and androstenone and is undesirable. Boars can also be very aggressive toward other animals and toward human farm workers.

Male pigs are castrated at a young age typically surgically using a disinfected surgical knife. After the incision is made and the testes removed, the wound is cleansed. The castrated pig, or barrow, will be less aggressive and have improved meat quality. There are some chemical alternatives to this physical castration. A protein compound that works like an immunization delays the maturity of the animals. This reduces the sex hormones in the animal’s body and reduces the effect of ‘boar taint’.

Castration has been a very common practice in livestock operations. It is one management tool to help ensure quality meat products to consumers. So throw another steak or pork chop on the grill this Labor Day weekend and enjoy!

-Will

Great Teachers Create Great Students

Research shows that an inspiring and informed teacher is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. It is increasingly critical for new and experienced educators to be trained so they can relay those experiences to their students.

Teachers can take advantage of a number of different professional development opportunities to learn from each other and learn from other experts in the field. This ongoing learning keeps teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technology tools, new curriculum resources, and much more. The best professional development is experiential and collaborative. It should be connected to working with students, understanding their culture, and making learning real and relevant.

IMG_2063Through a series of workshops this summer, teachers across Iowa get the chance to participate in experiential and student focused professional development. These workshops use agriculture as the context to teach science, social studies, language arts, and other subject.

Each two-day workshop is set up with one field day and one classroom day. The field days take teachers to see firsthand farms, feedlots, dairies, co-ops, ethanol production plants, and other agribusinesses. Many of these businesses are hallmarks for the community yet we don’t understand what they do. The classroom day helps teachers break down what they saw on the tours into manageable lessons and activities that they can take back and implement in their classrooms.

Integrating Science

IMG_2052One of the stops of the workshop hosted in Tabor, Iowa was to a beef cattle feedlot that recently installed a monoslope barn. Monoslope barns might not be much to look at, but they utilize a number of different scientific concepts to provide a comfortable environment for the cattle. The building is built with an east-west alignment. This alignment keeps the cattle cool and shaded during the summer months and allows for maximum sunlight during the winter months. The pitch of the roof allows for heat to rise and be siphoned off very efficiently. Even though it is open air, there can be as much as a 15-degree temperature difference between the inside of the building and the outside of the building. The narrow opening on the north side of the building also takes advantage of the Venturi effect and promotes a lot of air flow through the building.

Integrating Social Studies

Journey 2050 Final Logo Illustrated_HIGH_RGBOne of the new resources that teachers are learning about is Journey 2050. This online gaming platform explores what sustainable agriculture really means. It looks at farmers in Kenya, India, and Canada. By understanding how farmers in different parts of the world are different and how they are the same we can begin to apply different social studies concepts. We can discuss the geography of those regions that create limiting factors. We can discuss the economics of those regions that might lead to the success or failure of those farmers. And we can discuss all of the factors that contribute to sustainability including profits, jobs, community, food, education, health, infrastructure, soil, water, and greenhouse gases.

Integrating Language Arts

IMG_2186Teachers who attended the workshops were introduced to a variety of resources to help supplement language arts lessons including Iowa Ag Today and My Family’s Beef Farm. Using these resources, students can practice contextual reading and begin to understand farming. Using teaching strategies like close reading, context clues, visualization, fluency, self-questioning, and making tracks, teachers can teach language arts to their students. This can boost reading, writing, and speaking skills easily aligning to standards.

Learn more about these workshop and other upcoming workshops. Great teachers make great students! With ongoing education, we can ensure that our students have the best possible chance for future success. The workshops were made possible with support from the Iowa Energy Center, the CHS Foundation, and the Monsanto Fund.

-Will