Raising responsible beef is a priority for farmers and ranchers, which includes a strong focus on environmental, social and economic efforts at feedyards and a commitment to continuous improvement. Watch this video to learn more.
Jake Geis, DVM – Veterinarian, Tyndall Veterinary Clinic
This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff.
Farmers and ranchers are always responding to the ever-changing issues facing agriculture. One of our top priorities is addressing concerns about antibiotic resistance in both human and animal health. In response, the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) is being updated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), working with farmers, ranchers, feed manufacturers, and veterinarians.
What is the VFD and Why Is It Important?
Beginning January 1st, 2017, federal guidelines will require a written or electronic prescription-like script, a VFD, to authorize the use of antibiotics in cattle feed that are important to human medicine. As a component of this change, antibiotics used in human medicine will no longer be allowed for use for growth promotion in cattle feed.
How Do Veterinarians, Farmers and Ranchers Work Together?
For a cattle owner, obtaining a VFD will take veterinary involvement. If the farmer or rancher’s primary veterinarian diagnoses cattle that are in a disease outbreak, the veterinarian can write a VFD for the treatment, prevention or control of disease that allows the farmer or rancher to obtain feed-grade antibiotics. The VFD is taken to a licensed cattle feed business, like a prescription is taken to a pharmacy, where the order is filled.
For example, a farmer or rancher might have a group of calves that have come down with pneumonia. That farmer would contact me, a veterinarian, and we would assess the situation. Rather than give each calf an injectable antibiotic, which would add stress to calves that are already sick, I elect to treat them with an oral antibiotic that is mixed in with their feed. I would write the VFD and then send a copy to the licensed feed distributor.
As a Veterinarian, What Do You Want Concerned Consumers to Know?
As a veterinarian, I feel the VFD is important for two reasons. First, it allows for the continued therapeutic use of antibiotics in the feed. This is of major importance for animal welfare, as it allows for efficient treatment of diseases in a manner that is effective and provides the lowest stress for the animal.
Second, it fosters a closer relationship between the cattle owner and the veterinarian. Having a veterinarian’s input enhances animal health decisions in providing the best treatment for disease challenges. Most importantly, veterinarians can help farmers and ranchers with preventative medicine programs, which guard against disease outbreaks.
I also want consumers to know in spite of the best preventative programs, occasionally cattle get sick. I’ve seen the frustration in farmers’ faces when a group of calves was struggling with disease despite their best efforts to prevent it. In some of those cases, feed-grade antibiotics made the difference in creating better animal welfare for the calves.
Where Can Consumers Learn More?
The VFD is only one of several strategies cattle farmers and ranchers are using. If you’d like to learn more, there are several resources that detail these other strategies. These include FactsAboutBeef.com, the North American Meat Institute, and blogs from farmers and ranchers, such as Kids Cows and Grass, Faith Family and Beef and my own blog, The Cow Docs.
Lastly, it is critical to remember that preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics is a cause for all of us. Even making sure to finish the full course of antibiotics prescribed to you or to your animals is essential to the fight against antibiotic resistance. With a dedicated effort, together we can successfully confront this challenge.
Cattle come in many different shapes and sizes – much of which can be attributed to various breeds of beef cattle. Not all cattle breeds are created equal – some are well-known for their meat quality while other cattle breeds are well-known for the amount of muscle they possess.
Here’s an introduction to five popular cattle breeds in the U.S.
Angus is probably the most recognized cattle breed. But do you know why they are so popular with farmers and ranchers? One reason is their high-quality carcass characteristics which yield well-marbled, flavorful beef. Marbling is the intramuscular fat you see within a cut of beef and Angus are well-known for their ability to yield those cuts. Additionally, Angus cattle require little maintenance during calving season, are good mothers and are very feed efficient.
Charolais cattle, (pronounced “char-lay”) originated from France and were brought to the U.S. in the mid-1930s. They are used in many crossbreeding programs to increase the amount of lean muscle on an animal because they are large-bodied, heavier cattle. Charolais cattle are able to withstand cold relatively well, be more heat tolerant than darker hided breeds and raise heavier calves. Charolais are generally white or creamy white in color and are naturally horned, however, through genetic selection by farmers and ranchers, polled Charolais (with no horns) have become an important part of the breed.
The Hereford breed, (pronounced “her-furd”) was developed in England nearly 250 years ago by farmers who needed cattle that were efficient at converting native-grasses into beef for a growing population. That trait continues to be a boon for ranchers today as Herefords are widely used worldwide. Their popularity is due in part to their resilience in difficult climates, high reproductive performance and low maintenance costs.
The Simmental cattle breed is another example of a breed with multiple color variations – there are both red and black Simmentals. They were introduced to the United States in the late 19th century and have been positively influencing the beef community ever since. They are a larger breed in terms of body frame, but they require little assistance during calving season and have excellent weight gaining potential. Additionally, Simmental cattle are renowned for their docility, mothering abilities and carcass characteristics.
Yep, you read right. There are red Angus cattle! Although they are not raised as widely as black Angus, they offer the same valuable carcass characteristics that result in increased marbling and flavor. And just like their black relatives, red Angus are a docile cattle breed and possess good mothering traits, although they are more tolerant of hot temperatures than black Angus.
Red, Black or Cream – All U.S. Beef is Nutritious
While there are many physical differences between the various cattle breeds in the United States, they have one thing in common: all breeds yield nutritious, wholesome beef that can be part of a healthy dietary pattern. So, don’t get hung up on the breed of beef on the menu, focus on the cut you are choosing and remember to pair it with a variety of whole grains, fruits and veggies for a well-rounded, delicious meal.
Rancher(s): Rodney and Sadie Derstein
Location: Kismet, Kansas
Ages: Rodney, 31 – Sadie, 26
Operation Name: Cimarron River Cattle Company
Facts About Beef (FAB): Tell us a little bit about your operation and what you do at Cimarron River Cattle Company.
Sadie Derstein (SD): We are a custom backgrounding operation, which means we source calves from cow-calf farmers and ranchers and give them the specialized attention and care that they need to continue to grow. One of the most important things that we can do to boost the animal’s immune system is to make sure that they have a well-balanced diet, so we work closely with our cattle nutritionist who formulates our cattle’s diets with the best mixture of protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins the cattle need to thrive and grow.
FAB: How is your operation unique? What are some of the challenges?
Rodney Derstein (RD): You could say being a young, married couple who work together every single day makes us unique. When we first bought our ranch it was just us two doing it all. We work well together and have found ways to divide responsibilities on ranch.
SD: We are also unique in that Rodney, in addition to helping run our ranch, works full-time for a feed company where he sources unusable by-products, such as wet and dry distillers grains—the unfermented grain byproducts that contain protein, fiber, and fat—that are used as part of the scientifically-balanced diet for cattle.
FAB: How do you use technologies such as growth promotants and antibiotics on your ranch?
RD: All of our cattle are owned by other farmers and ranchers—we’re their caretakers—so we follow the direction of our customers to determine which technologies we can or can’t use on certain animals. Often times, this depends on which marketing program the animal will be entered into once it becomes beef—for example, if the animal will go into a “naturally raised” or “certified organic” marketing program, it cannot and will not be given a growth promotant. When it comes to our antibiotics usage, we work hand in hand with our consulting veterinarian, Dr. Nels, on a weekly basis in order to determine the right amount of antibiotics, use them for the right amount of time and in order to treat the right illness, and we’ve worked out a written treatment protocol which we follow closely.
FAB: How do you play a role in raising high-quality beef?
SD: We believe that high-quality beef starts with high-quality care, so we follow the BQA (Beef Quality Assurance) standards when handling cattle, making sure that we move animals quietly and in low-stress ways—and we also educate our employees on proper cattle handling. In addition, cleaning water tanks at least once per week, providing any shelter that we can and making sure the pens are cleaned regularly are always at the top of our list. We want the cattle in our yard to be as comfortable as possible.
FAB: What would you say to critics who call you a “factory farm?”
SD: Well, we would have to invite them to come and spend the day with us. Come and spend the day on horseback and see what actually goes on and how the animals are treated. This is our little paradise; we work side-by-side every day and put everything we have into raising beef. The cattle here are comfortable and their needs are put ahead of ours, every single time. We are proud of being able to play a small part in the beef community. Early mornings and long days are worth it when you know that you are helping feed others.
FAB: How do you prepare your favorite cut of beef?
RD: I like my steak medium rare with a dash of salt.
FAB: If readers want to follow your ranch activities on social media, where can they find you?
Instagram: @rderstein and @sderstein
Facebook: Cimarron River Cattle Co.
Farmers and ranchers are always looking for ways to improve how they raise cattle for beef. Whether it be natural resource use and environmental sustainabilty, improving animal care, or responsible use of antibiotics, farmers and ranchers care about improving and responding to consumer preferences. Real changes happen daily on farms, ranches and feedyards around the country.
Real Change is Underway
We’ve talked in previous posts about how and why antibiotics are used in raising cattle for beef, as well as the long-standing commitment of cattle producers to using antibiotics judiciously. In addition to Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Judicious Use Guidelines which have been in place since the 1980s, the beef industry is now working to reduce the use of antibiotics that are medically important to humans under new guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) known as FDA Guidance 209 and 213, which will be enforced by the federal government. The new antibiotics use guidelines will be fully enacted by January 1, 2017, but cattle farmers, ranchers and feedyard managers have already begun implementing these changes, many of them going above and beyond what is required by law, working with veterinary health professionals, regulatory officials and the general public to ensure healthy animals and safe beef.
Here are five fast facts about the new FDA antibiotics guidelines:
- The new FDA guidelines will restrict the use of antibiotics in livestock that are used in feed and water and are medically important to human health. These drugs will no longer be used for growth promotion and will only be used to treat, prevent and control disease only under the oversight of a veterinarian.
- Farmers and ranchers will be required to form even stronger relationships with a licensed veterinarian, called a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, in order to receive authorization from their veterinarian for the appropriate antibiotic for a specified illness for a specific time period.
- Per FDA guidelines, farmers and ranchers will utilize very specific detailed orders for antibiotics in feed as authorized by veterinarians, called veterinary feed directives, that will outline exactly how long an antibiotic can be used, for what illness and for a specific number of animals. Increased use of detailed records on the part of the farmer or rancher and their veterinarian will enable them to more precisely evaluate their use of antibiotics.
- Farmers and ranchers are continually seeking new and effective cattle health and nutrition alternatives, such as probiotics or nutritional supplements, which can help contribute to improved overall herd health and may reduce the need for some antibiotics. Looking for alternatives to antibiotics is an ongoing area of research throughout agriculture. In fact, many animal health companies have pledged significant resources to further researching these alternatives.
- In addition to what is required by law, the beef community is committed to going above and beyond to ensure responsible antibiotic use in animals to protect the efficacy of antibiotics for humans and animals. This year, cattle farmers and ranchers have made further research on antibiotic resistance their number one research priority and are directly investing their dollars to advance research in this area. Additionally, the industry is proactively developing educational materials, including webinars, posters, presentations at local and national meetings and other training resources in order to educate cattle farmers, ranchers and feedyard owners to ensure that they are equipped with the resources they need to follow these new guidelines. Partnerships with groups like the American Academy of Bovine Practitioners and other science-based organizations are ongoing and instrumental in making sure that we’re protecting the health of animals, while simultaneously protecting public health.
Healthy Cattle, Safe Beef
When it comes to healthy animals, no one cares more than farmers and ranchers. The beef that farmers and ranchers raise and sell to restaurants and supermarkets is the same beef they feed their own families, so it’s no surprise that they want the best care for their livestock to ensure everyone has safe, healthy beef. Implementing new antibiotics guidelines from the FDA and working with their veterinarians more closely than ever before is just one example of how the cattle industry is continuously improving.
Ashley Broocks, Emily Andreini, Megan Rolf, Ph.D., and Sara Place, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University
This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the US Department of Agriculture.
Many people have suggested that removing beef from the human diet could significantly lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In reality, completely removing beef from the diet would likely not result in huge declines in GHG emissions and would have negative implications for the sustainability of the U.S. food system.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), beef cattle production was responsible for 1.9 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2013. Comparing food production (essential for human life) to transportation and electricity (non-essential for human survival, but important to our modern lifestyles) is problematic. Electricity and transportation produce much of the GHG emissions in the United States, but most people do not call for the elimination of electricity or transportation. Instead, efforts are made to lower the GHG emissions produced to provide the same energy and transportation services (e.g. switching to renewable energy sources for electricity generation).
Studying the different ways resources like feed, water and land can be used more efficiently throughout the beef lifecycle to reduce GHG emissions per pound of beef would provide the means to maintain the same level of food production while reducing GHG emissions. Beef production has made impressive advances to meet the protein demands of a growing population while reducing the amount of natural resources required. For example, due to improved genetics, animal nutrition, management, and the use of growth promoting technologies, the U.S. beef community has decreased its GHG emissions per pound of beef 9-16 percent from the 1970s to today.
Another key component of reducing GHG emissions from the beef system is the role of the consumer. Over 20 percent of edible beef is wasted at grocery stores, restaurants and in the home. As with other foods, the amount of non-renewable resources used and the environmental impacts that went into producing the portions of beef that are being sent to a landfill are often overlooked. Consumers could improve beef sustainability by 10 percent if beef waste were reduced by half.
Additionally, cattle have the ability to utilize forages such as grass and hay, and by-products (e.g. distillers grains) that are unfit for human consumption. Cattle can utilize cellulose, one of the world’s most abundant organic molecules, that is indigestible by humans, and can also convert low-quality feeds into high-quality protein from land not suited for cultivation, thereby reducing soil erosion and enhancing soil carbon storage. U.S. beef farmers and ranchers feed their cattle feed sources that are not in direct competition with humans and/or would have gone to waste.
Beef is a valuable asset to the human diet. Along with being a significant source of lean protein, beef provides key nutrients such as iron, zinc and B vitamins. Removing beef from the food chain would result in consumers having to seek alternative protein and micronutrient sources. As with all foods, the production of beef has impacts, but direct emissions from the U.S. beef community are only estimated to be 1.9 percent of the total U.S. GHG emissions.
Public lands grazing is an important component of cattle ranching, environmental preservation and wildlife conservation. Ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands are stewards of the land and help manage millions of acres of public lands. However, many people might not know how public lands grazing came about or how it works on a day-to-day basis.
Rancher and veterinarian Jake Geis explains how public lands grazing operates and the benefits to both ranchers and the land through this mutually beneficial collaboration.
Read more about public lands grazing in this post.
You may have recently heard about cloned Chinese beef in the news and have questions. You can find the answers to commonly asked questions about meat from cloned animals below.
Does cloned beef exist in China?
In China, cattle will be cloned to enter the Chinese meat supply. Chinese scientists have determined that cloning cattle could help increase the availability of protein in China because they don’t have enough meat for their growing population.
Am I eating cloned meat?
It is highly unlikely that you will encounter meat from cloned animals in the United States for several reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, the United States does not import meat from China; so you will not find cloned Chinese beef in the U.S. meat supply. While there are some cloned cattle in the United States, these clones are primarily utilized to produce elite breeding stock or animals that have great genetic traits, not for animals that are raised for food. These high-quality breeding stock are very expensive, so it doesn’t make business or financial sense for those animals to be raised for food.
Are cloned animals safe to eat?
Yes. After an extensive study of animal cloning and food safety, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that meat and milk from clones of cattle, swine, and goats, or their offspring, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals. These conclusions can be found in the FDA’s Animal Cloning: A Risk Assessment and are based on FDA findings that “the composition of food products from cattle, swine and goat clones, or the offspring of any animal clones, is no different from that of conventionally bred animals.”
Does cloned meat have a label?
There is no mandatory label for meat from cloned animals – the FDA has found no science-based reason to require labels to distinguish between products from clones and products from conventionally raised animals. However since cloned animals in the U.S. are used primarily for breeding purposes, the likelihood of consuming cloned animal products is very low.
You can be confident in the safety of U.S. beef and that America’s beef community is committed to providing high quality beef products that you demand.
When it comes to questions about sustainability, U.S. agriculture sometimes gets a bad rap. We know you might have questions about the sustainability of the food you eat and want to know what farmers have done (and what they are continuing to do) to be more sustainable. Of course, the best people to answer questions about sustainability in agriculture are the farmers and ranchers living it every day. On US News & World Report, Registered Dietitian Toby Amidor interviews five different types of farmers, including Kansas rancher Debbie Lyons-Blythe, to share some of the environmentally-friendly changes in their methods of raising and growing food.
“I live in the Kansas Flint Hills, one of the last remaining natural tallgrass prairies in the world. To protect the prairie, we work hard to maintain the water and water quality in our ponds.
The water comes from rainfall on the surrounding hills and is filtered through the grass as it runs into the ponds, providing access to clean, fresh water for cattle and wildlife alike. According to recent studies, up to 75 percent of wildlife in the U.S. lives on farms and ranches. We manage for the entire ecosystem and diversity is the goal – both in wildlife and grasses. That makes for a healthier grassland and healthier cattle.” – Debbie Lyons-Blythe, Blythe Ranch, Kansas
Read the rest of the article.
Myth: The new 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating less red meat, like beef.
Fact: Actually, the new guidelines reaffirm the role of lean beef in a healthy diet and confirm that Americans are, on average, consuming fresh, lean red meat (which includes lean beef) at levels consistent with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. The new Dietary Guidelines are good news for beef lovers!
It’s also important to keep in mind that the Dietary Guidelines are just that: guidelines. They are not prescriptions. The recommendations for protein vary widely based on age and gender and are for people who get less than 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Your needs may vary significantly from another family member’s. For example:
- A growing teenage boy who is active in a variety of sports may need more protein for optimal performance and health compared to an older sedentary person.
- A young, first time mother who is nursing a child or running after a toddler may need more protein to nourish herself compared to a middle-aged adult woman who doesn’t have as many family demands.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that one size does not fit all, so we all need to find ways to meet our protein and nutritional needs while using these recommendations as a baseline.
Just as we are all different, not all meat is the same. The new Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans choose lean proteins. While you may not think of beef as lean, there are now 38 cuts of beef that meet government guidelines for lean, including some of America’s favorite cuts like sirloin steak and 95% lean ground beef.
You may have also heard the Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming a plant-based diet. Does that mean we should cut back on meat? Not necessarily. Most Americans do not need to change how much beef they enjoy, but we all should be mindful of balancing our diets. Many of us would benefit from eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with but we can do this by choosing empty calorie foods less often. Even teen boys and adult males, who do tend to eat more total protein, are not approaching the upper end of the acceptable range for protein outlined in the Dietary Guidelines.
Lean beef is a wholesome, nutrient-rich food that helps you get back to the basics of healthy eating. A single 3-ounce serving of lean beef provides 10 essential nutrients in about 150 calories – including nutrients like iron, zinc and B vitamins that are critical for development and optimal health throughout life.
So how much red meat should you consume? This protein calculator estimates your suggested protein intake based on height, weight, age, gender and level of physical activity. Americans with special dietary needs or who are looking for individual advice about how to build a healthy diet with lean beef may want to seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian or their personal physician.