Moving Cattle From Pasture to Plate – Cow/Calf Operation

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As I mentioned yesterday, while most consumers have a basic idea of how their food gets from the farm to their table, it’s really a much more in depth and complex process then they realize.

In terms of your beef, it begins at a cow/calf operation where cattle is bred to either begin other herds or to head to a feedyard to be “finished”.

Due to the geographic locations of where we landed via air and the operations we visited, we actually saw the beef cycle “backwards”. In other words, I saw and learned about the feedyard first, and then saw the cow/calf operation. But I’m going to present the cycle the way it actually happens.

A Family Business & Tradition
97% of all beef cattle farms and ranches are family-owned, and 54% of U.S. ones have been in the same family for three generations or more. And that’s just what it’s like at the Minert-Simonson cow/calf operation that I visited in the Sandhills of Dunning, Nebraska.

In a quick explanation a cow/calf operation are where cows are bred and give birth to a calf each year. The Minert-Simonson ranch is actually a seedstock ranch of 500 head, so the business of their ranch is to sell cattle to other ranchers to start or add to their herds. When the cattle for whatever reason is no longer needed to breed, those animals then head to the feedyard. Other cow/calf operations are run where the cattle are born and weaned and live on the pasture before heading to the feedyard.

The Minert-Simonson ranch breeds their cattle to calve in February, so the process is actually started in May. They artificially inseminate their heifers and cows which allows them to to select certain breeding and make genetic decisions that both help to improve cattle stress (the less stress cattle is under the better their health will be) and quality. Which for you means..well…better beef 🙂

The bull’s sperm is “kept” in a container that looks something like a milk jug, but inside is liquid nitrogen. The sperm is stored in a tube that somewhat resembles a ‘pixie stix’.

I originally had an explanation here that while made sense to me (LOL) – was not correct in the terminology of what really takes place.  Thanks to a comment by Rex Peterson, I’ve changed the text here to properly explain how the AI is done.

The rancher places his arm in the rectum. He can feel through it’s walls and the walls of the birth canal to feel the tube he has inserted in the vagina. He is very careful not to damage any of the membranes.

If you’re up to it (!) you can view a video below that shows J.W. Simonson doing an AI on one of his cows. I was up pretty close videoing so I got “sprayed” on a bit (eww!).

I just had to include a picture of this “graffiti” on the wall in the “chute”.

J.W. certainly does “rock” 🙂

In my next post I’ll discuss the use of vaccinations and antibiotics in cattle. I know I had some misconceptions on how they are used and if they effect the meat we purchase and eat. Seeing it upfront and having Dr. Gatz Riddell from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (Cattle Veterinarians) on hand to answer our questions, really squashed any worries I had.

I was taken on a tour sponsored by the Beef Checkoff with a group of influencers and experts to get a first hand look at where consumer’s beef comes from.  All expenses were paid, however all opinions in the posts are my own and were not swayed by that.

10 thoughts on “Moving Cattle From Pasture to Plate – Cow/Calf Operation

  1. Some things are just better left to our imaginations. I'm sure the cow would have had more fun if she had gotten to do things the natural way. haha

  2. I grew up on a pig farm, so I got sprayed with stuff a lot, but I don't think it was ever with THAT!

  3. It is much easier to think about how soy beans, peanuts, or other vegetable proteins are produced than to consider the steps involved in producing meat.

  4. I was shocked to read that so much of our beef comes from family owned companies! My husband works for a family owned company and loves his job. Makes me happy to hear that!

  5. Small correction. Mr. Minert has his arm in the rectum. He can feel through it's walls and the walls of the birth canal to feel the tube he has inserted in the vagina. He was very careful not to damage any of the membranes.

    Most cattle are bred naturally. However, most of the bulls in breeding the cattle were conceived from artificial insemination. Only a few bulls have lots of information available to help a breeder have confidence that it will provide the genes for the results he would like in the next calf crop.

  6. @Rex Peterson –

    Thank you so much for the correction – this city girl skewed the information a bit, my apologies – we were imparted a vast amount of knowledge in the two days we visited the operation, and it was inevitable, I would not explain myself totally correct!

    I am going to amend the post to reflect the proper terminology, so that I do not confuse anyone!

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