Community Agriculture Alliance: It’s a great time to learn about local food options
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — We look across the Yampa Valley and see an abundance of cattle grazing in the scenic working landscapes. It can seem distant from our global food system.
Normally we go to the grocery store and buy fresh or frozen meat, in whatever form we plan to serve. But recently our traditional food chain is suffering a breakdown, and meat availability and affordability has changed. It’s a great time to learn more about local food options.
Can we buy locally raised beef? Of course, the answer is “yes.” Many ranchers produce and sell animals for local consumption though private negotiations. A number of producers sell individual cuts via Community Agriculture Alliance online farmers market, and 4-H and FFA members raise and sell quality animals. The common theme for all animal production is it takes planning and patience.
For the producer it is a two-year process. In Northwest Colorado it starts with a summer breeding program. Following a gestation period of nine months, cows give birth the following spring. Calves stay with their mothers five to six months before being weaned and then are fed throughout the winter and into the next summer until the animal weighs around 1,000 pounds.
Once the animal is slaughtered, the carcass cools in a climate-controlled facility and matures “on the rail” for 10 to 40 days. This allows the natural enzymes in the meat to increase tenderness and flavor. Cutting, wrapping and delivery take another week to 10 days.
Approximately 430 pounds of edible beef is available for consumption from a 1,000-pound animal. About one-half of that will be made into burger with the balance being trimmed into steaks, roasts, brisket, stew meat and short ribs. While we all wish there could be more steaks and briskets, it is not physically possible. That also explains why burgers are cheaper to purchase than steaks.
This same principle holds true for other animal species. If someone could breed an all bacon pig, they would be famous.
It is mandatory for all retail meat to be inspected by a certified, trained inspector to ensure the quality of the product. Meat is graded into four levels: Prime, Choice, Select and Standard. Prime beef has more fat marbling, which makes it the most tender, flavorful and higher in fat content. Most of the graded beef sold in supermarkets is USDA Choice or USDA Select. The protein, vitamin and mineral content of beef are similar regardless of the grade. Standard grade meat is mostly used for utility or pet foods.
While we think beef when we see cattle, their by-products touch our everyday lives in other ways. Tallow is used in some body creams, cosmetics, soaps, toothpaste, antifreeze and hydraulic brake fluids. Bovine insulin is nearly identical to humans’ so the pancreas is often used in insulin for diabetics. Cartilage helps make osteoarthritis medicine, and the lungs provide blood thinners. Collagen from the hide is used to make gelatin that is used in marshmallows, gum, caramels and jams. Leather is used for many things from clothing to basketballs. The bristles in some paint brushes are made from cow hair. Markets have been developed to utilize over 98% of each beef animal.
Locally we are fortunate ranchers continue to produce top-quality beef. If you want to learn how to purchase their products, contact Community Agriculture Alliance at caamarket.org where they will help connect you.
Marsha Daughenbaugh is a local rancher and a member of the Community Agriculture Alliance and Routt County CattleWomen.
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