The Responsibility of the State: “Public life is a situation of power and energy; he trespasses against his duty who sleeps upon his watch, as well as he who goes over to the enemy.” – Edmund Burke

It is just as well I am of an older generation that believes men don’t cry. But my spirit weeps when I read the conclusions of today’s generation of “animal scientists”. They continue to turn out learned studies based on laboratory research, never understanding that the proper laboratory is the pasture and the milking barn. If only these scientists were smart enough to create a single stomach cow, then they might have an animal that would be efficient with grain feeding and only then might their research have meaning.

Instead we have Ag school findings such as the following, courtesy of Troy Marshall:

“The Tenderness Dilemma

Feb 8, 2008 – Troy Marshall

Colorado State University released a check-off-funded report looking at three attributes of taste — flavor, juiciness and tenderness. Prior research indicates tenderness is by far the most important of the trio in regard to consumers’ overall satisfaction ratings of the product.

he authors calculated that a 10% increase in tenderness would add $150-$170 million in additional revenue annually to the U.S. beef industry. They also recommended slower chilling of beef carcasses, new methods of suspending carcasses, delayed chilling, mechanical tenderization, increased aging, and other practices to increase the tenderness of our product.

The seed stock industry has been looking at this data for a number of years and continues to study genetic selection options for improving tenderness. The dilemma is that it remains difficult to measure tenderness in a real-world production setting at the packing plant level; and it’s almost impossible at the live-animal level where genetic selection must occur.

Let me begin with my conclusion: these scientists are simply wrong. It is entirely possible to improve tenderness at the live-animal level where genetic selection must occur.

The so-called “scientists” who come out with edicts like the above are not cattlemen, they are tenured hirelings trying to perform a job without the credentials that would qualify them to make such a judgment. For hundreds of years, farmers knew exactly how to select for tenderness and, with no tools other than a bucket, produced cows with an ample supply of milk and 4% or more of butterfat.

Without belaboring a point I have made before, there was a time not long ago that the steaks we bought at the butcher shop were very tender and juicy and there was no grain to finish growing cattle. But that changed with politics, with government experts and animal scientists, and cheap fuel and cheap corn and failure to manage our genetics.

It is those scientists that have “informed” our practices and “taught” the recent generations of farmers. And of course it seems much more exciting to a young mind to believe there is a science to raising a cow, certainly more exciting than listening to a lecture on how many times a cow must chew her cud with each regurgitation or how many times a calf nurses in a 24-hour period.

Who would not prefer to skip over the dangers of cross-breeding, settle instead on the over-simplification that it improves production, ignore the resultant long-legged, shallow bodied animal that cannot maintain her body condition. After all, there is always the latest wonder-feed formulation to discover that will mask the damage science has already done.

When I read something like “it is impossible at the live-animal level” to measure tenderness, I scratch my head in dismay. Why have those of us who are truly responsible for producing our food turned the decision-making over to scientists and bureaucrats? The fox is guarding the chicken house! We have followed their lead and lost our way simply because science is glamorous and we are afraid to challenge what we are told. After all, they make tenured and civil service professional salaries while most farmers struggle near the poverty level. It is the modern corruption of The Golden Rule.

So let’s take a look at the three factors they don’t know how to measure “in a real-world production setting—flavor, juiciness and tenderness.

How did our “un-schooled” fore fathers address these issues? They began by selecting for butterfat. In contrast, we have selected away from butterfat and went for pounds of milk production in our beef herds as well as in our dairy herds. That kind of single trait selection results in cows that are weak in the front end (narrow shoulders); cows that can’t thrive on grass.

Resolving the deficit in flavor, juiciness and tenderness is a simple matter of selecting for butter fat, just as our fore fathers did. The beauty of the solution is you cannot have one quality trait in isolation. All traits, good or bad, come as a package. You are not going to have fine-textured, tender meat without marbling. And guess what, you are not going to have any of those naturally without high butterfat and each is in proportion to the other.

We used to know that once upon a time, until we “learned better”. Not even ultrasound can help much in creating intramuscular fat in future generations, because we don’t breed our cows in a way that insures the transfer of quality milk and meat. Ultrasound creates nothing. To introduce reliable quality into our herds takes the right kind of proponent bulls. The diversification we have been advised to seek in our animals has eliminated the accurate and consistent transfer of any trait.

I repeat, the experts we have been listening to are wrong! It is entirely possible to improve tenderness at the live-animal level where genetic selection must occur.

The industrial cattle industry wants all beef to taste the same. A burger at a Texas McDonalds should always be like the one you eat in Hong Kong or London. It is just too bad if some of us prefer a taste unlike cardboard.

But there is a whole world to be discovered and capitalized on. However, we’re going to have to abandon these “scientists” and do our own thinking as producers. We need to take back control of our herds and our future and our markets. Wine producers follow their taste buds and their instincts, develop fine wine, tweaking as they go with their knowledge of soils and processing. We can do the same with our soils, our knowledge of selection and genetics, and yes our taste buds.

As the Bible says: “There is a way unto man that seems right, but the end thereof is death.” That is the way I feel about science and EPDs in the cattle industry. I have yet to find the scientist who can create a cow with quality close to the ones our fore fathers left for us.

There are a few of those cows in every herd and many more can be created from them. By us. If we dare! All the above mentioned objectives are about genetic selection, breeding/incorporating correct genetics in our herd sires. We are food producers not beef producers or cowboys. Until this happens nothing will change.

If you wish to discuss this further, contact me.

Gearld Fry