Monday, November 17, 2014

Cattle Ranch Tour with Certified Angus Beef

On my recent trip to the Sacramento area with Certified Angus Beef, we went to visit a cattle ranch. On the drive there, the dry grasslands really made us realize the drought problem in California.
We went to visit Five Star Land and Livestock, which is managed by Abbie Nelson, the current matriarch, and her son. The ranch began in the late 1800s when her great grand father bought the first Angus beef from Scotland. The grandfather bred using a bull named Earl Marshall, whose genes now present in 95% of Angus cattle today.
Her father moved to California in 1930 and thus the current ranch got its start. Now, Five Star doesn't raise cattle for meat, but they raise bulls for seed stock, which is sold to other farms for breeding.
Breeding and insemination is very scientific these days, apparently. They don't just select by weight and eyeball method, but they also use DNA testing using tail hair and use ultrasound to see the intramuscular and back far.
It's a blend of the art of breeding and the precision of science. 

There are currently 29 million cows in US, which is the lowest lately because of drought (now there's drought in California but a few years ago there was drought in the middle of US). Because of the low supply, these days a weaned calf is worth about $1500!

Well that may seem like a lot but a lot goes into it as well. You see, when a calf is born it weighs about 80 lbs. They weaned at around 600 lbs, and it usually takes around 7 months!  
Now, the drought. Thanks to the drought there's obviously not much grass to feed the cattle with so these days they buy alfalfa pellets, which are grass-based. 
After they're weaned, they're fed on alfalfa pellets to gain more weight and get more marbling. I asked Abbie Nelson is she prefers these to corn. You get more marbling with corn, but you can't feed them just corn because it upsets their stomach. For a farmer like Abbie (and many others - 95% of cattle farms in the US are family-owned), the choice isn't as simple as which one is better, but it also depends on the price of these pellets at the time. The alfalfa pellets are expensive.

In the past year, their family has had to sell a lot of their cattle because of the financial problems the drought has caused. I learned quite a bit during this trip. There are still questions in my mind about grass-fed vs more marbling (learn about the USDA grading here), but for farms like these, it's also a matter of staying afloat. The cattle I've seen here sure look happy and well-treated, though. There are also things that need to be more transparent, especially with organic farming. There's a steer at Five Star with an eye infection and they are treating it with antibiotic. If that happens on an organic farm, they would have to move that cow to a different location to treat it with antibiotic or the whole farm becomes inorganic.


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