Beef in the Bluegrass

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Settlers first brought cattle to Kentucky in 1775, with aid from famed explorer Daniel Boone. Since that time, cattle farming has played an important role in Kentucky’s agricultural economy. In fact, Kentucky farmers raise more beef cattle than any other state east of the Mississippi River! Our abundant grasses and forage make Kentucky an ideal place to raise beef cattle. Now that beef cattle are earning our farmers more than $1 billion a year, it’s a good time to learn more about this “meaty” business.

Life Cycle

Cattle are typically born and raised with plenty of room to roam on farms. An adult cow can give birth to one calf each year. This usually occurs in the spring or the fall. For the first few months, calves drink their mother’s milk and graze on pasture. At around 7-8 months old, a baby weans from its mother. By this time, it weighs between 500 - 600 pounds! All cattle will spend most of their lives on a pasture, where they graze for food. At around 12-16 months old the animal is fully grown and the farmer begins the process of finishing the animal.

Many cattle are sold to be finished in a feedyard, where they eat a carefully balanced, nutritious diet of grains and forages for 120-180 days. Some farmers, however, will finish their cattle on pasture. The farmer may choose to feed the cattle only forages or they may add grain to their diets depending on what their customers prefer. Whether they are grain-finished or grass-finished, cattle have constant access to water, room to move around, and other cattle to socialize with.

When cattle reach harvesting weight of about 1200-1400 pounds, they move to humane processing facilities. After harvest, staff break down the carcass into large sections such as chuck, round, rib, and loin. These larger cuts become the steaks, roasts, and ground beef you are used to eating at home.

A Healthy Choice

Farmers and food processors work to provide customers with safe, wholesome, and nutritious products.

Beef is a powerful protein source and is an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals like B12, B6, B3, zinc, iron and selenium. It contains all 8 essential amino acids - which are especially important for rebuilding muscle tissue.

If you’re eating right for your heart, these six USDA Select cuts meet the American Heart Association’s “Heart-Healthy” criteria: sirloin tip steak, bottom round steak, top sirloin stir-fry, boneless top sirloin petite roast, top sirloin filet, and top sirloin kebab.

To stay healthy, always cook meat to the correct internal temperature, and don’t eat raw or undercooked ground beef.

Did You Know?

Cattle have so much more to offer than just beef. By-products from processing are used in hundreds of food and non-food items. For example:

  • Cattle organs and glands are used in the production of medicine, insulation, antifreeze, cosmetics, shampoos/conditioners, and instrument strings
  • Vitamin capsules, charcoal, piano keys, and glass are all derived from bones and horns of cattle.
  • Inedible beef fat provides us with airplane lubricants, hydraulic brake fluid, biodiesel, and can be used in perfumes and medicines
  • Many foods use the products of beef cattle including marshmallows, ice cream, chewing gum, and gummy candies.
  • Hides from cattle are tanned into leather to become shoes, purses, and wallets

Conclusion:

Since the 18th century, cattle have played an important role in the Commonwealth’s economy. Our moderate weather, lush pastures of grass and forage, and large tracts of land make Kentucky an ideal place to raise beef cattle. Next time you enjoy a burger, you’ll know a little more about where it came from and how Kentucky farmers made it possible.  

Glossary of Terms:

  • Bovine - The scientific term for cattle, male or female, young or old. Most people just call these animals “cows.”
  • Cattle - A group of bovine animals which may include males and females.
  • Cow - A female bovine who has had at least one baby in its lifetime.
  • Heifer - A female bovine who has not had any babies in its lifetime.
  • Steer - A male bovine that is castrated and can’t father babies. Most male bovines are steers.
  • Bull - A male bovine that can father babies.
  • Calf - A young bovine. Plural: Calves.
  • Calve - Giving birth to a calf.
  • Bred - A cow that is pregnant.
  • Forage - Food for cattle, usually grasses, hay, and other plants found in the field.
  • Finish - A period where the animal is eating and gaining weight to get ready for processing.
  • Feedyard - A plot of dry land where animals are gathered to gain weight for market.
  • Grain-finished - A term for cattle that have been finished eating both grains and forages.
  • Grass-finished – A term for cattle that have been finished on forages only.  
  • Processing facility - The place where cattle are humanely harvested for beef.

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