‘Great looking steaks’

Beef is often portrayed as environmentally unfriendly due to concerns about greenhouse gases produced by the rumen and manure, the amount of manure produced in feedlots and the amount of water, feed and fossil fuels consumed in the production, and the processing and transport of cattle. But don’t forget that cattle also make very positive contributions to the environment through their ability to convert low-quality forages into high-quality protein for humans, as well as grassland’s contributions to carbon sequestration.

A beef animal is much more environmentally friendly than, let’s say, a horse. Beef cattle will consume poor quality hay, even dusty hay, whereas horses require only the best hay or they get sick.

Of course, critics would never point out that beef cattle don’t spend their entire life in a feedlot being fattened up. Beef cows typically live on pasture fields in spring, summer and fall, on a diet of mostly grasses. They have a thick coat of hair and can live outdoors year-round comfortably, even in the coldest months of the winter. These cows calve on pasture fields in the spring or early summer, and when the calves are weaned in the fall they are moved to penned yards or barns called feedlots. The cows remain on pasture and typically calve each spring.

The feedlots are specially designed open pens or barns that provide ample space for the animals (stockers), protection from weather elements, good air flow, safe and comfortable footings and full access to high-quality feed and water. The calves who are now stockers are gradually switched from a diet of mainly forages and grasses to a high-energy diet of grains and corn or hay silage. The consistent, high quality feed brings them to market weight faster than on grass alone. This feed also gives the meat a greater quality of marbling, which is what helps give beef its consistent flavour and tenderness.

No choice steaks from a cow

For years now I have been pointing out in my articles and columns that choice steaks do not come from cows. It seems that when folks see a large stocky type of animal – whether it’s a steer, heifer or cow – it is referred to as a “cow.” Why can’t they tell the difference?

“Great looking steaks there,” says the visitor to my farm as he points to a group of big cows ready to give birth in a month or so.

“Do you butcher your own cows?” is also an annoying question. “No, never,” I reply. “Only a young steer or heifer that’s been grain-fed.”

Cull cows are ground into hamburger. A cow can only be a cow if she has had a calf. Cuts of meat such as T-bone, wing, rib, rib-eye, tenderloin, striploin and sirloin steaks are all tender cuts of meat – great for barbecuing or broiling. They come from fattened up steers or heifers: young stock.

Men and women have different ideas about what makes a steak great. Women like them tender. For women, tenderness is important, whereas men rank taste and juiciness as highly as tenderness on the quality scale, says the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Beef Information Centre.

Most people don’t know how to correctly cook the different roasts and steaks. People often complain about beef roasts being tough, which shouldn’t happen if you follow the guidelines. Round and blade steaks are medium-tender steaks. Round steaks are usually dry and can be tough. Blade steaks are in the same class, but they can be tender and juicy if you do them the right way.

Here’s an important tip: To make meat more tender to eat, carve roast beef across the grain (i.e. across the muscle fibres). Cutting across the muscle fibres shortens them. The more you shorten the long muscle fibres (the thinner the slice), the more tender the meat will seem. Carving in the same direction as the butcher’s twine should be across the grain if your butcher did the cutting right. 


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