Beef steaks from cloned animals coming to you?

In 2012, West Texas A&M University (my Alma matter – Go BUFFS!) meat and agricultural science researchers started a beef cloning project to increase efficiency in the beef industry, specifically, meat quality.

image002“Most of that high quality beef that you would find in those white tablecloth, high-end dining experiences (has) a tremendous amount of waste fat that must be trimmed from the carcass,” said Dr. Ty Lawrence, professor of meat science and lead researcher on the project.
“Conversely, if you have a high-yielding carcass that is trim, it is most often low in marbling. What we’re trying to do is both at the same time. We want to be able to produce taste fat without that waste fat.”

Over five years ago, Lawrence was walking through a meat packing plant, and within 10 minutes, he found two carcasses that graded Prime, Yield Grade 1. This combination of quality grade and yield ranks as the best in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) beef evaluation system and only occurs in about .03 percent of all beef carcasses.
“You’ve kind of got to be standing in the right place at the right time and have your lightning rod up to get struck and see one of those,” Lawrence said. “That’s the ‘aha’ moment; that’s what gives you the impetus to call your boss at 11 o’clock at night.”
Lawrence called Dr. Dean Hawkins, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences at WTAMU, and received the go-ahead to buy the steer and heifer carcasses and begin his research.

WTAMU researchers teamed up with ViaGen Cloning Technologies to clone a bull they named Alpha from the steer carcass. Three heifers were also cloned from the heifer carcass named Gamma 1, 2, and 3. The crossbreeding between Alpha and the Gammas resulted in 13 calves, nine bulls and four heifers. “Then, our research hypothesis: If we can create a male and a female from a clone and crossbreed those, we will simultaneously improve beef quality and yield,” Lawrence said. “We kept the two best bulls and sent seven of them [steers] to our research feedlot. The remaining two bulls and four heifers are under the good care of Dr. David Lust, associate professor of animal science at WTAMU at our Nance Ranch. They live there today.”

“The calves were raised by their mothers while grazing our native pastures, in the herd with our other commercial cattle,” Lust said. “They were weaned at a normal time and then fed at the WTAMU Research Feedlot for 185 days on a typical feedlot diet. They have been treated just like commercial cattle throughout the industry.”

The seven steers sent to the feedlot were finished out and then harvested. A USDA grading supervisor found that one of the seven achieved Prime grade, three graded High Choice, and three were Average Choice. For perspective, the meat grading industry average is Low Choice, with only about ~3% of all cattle grading Prime.

The steers averaged a 15-inch ribeye, which was a 9% increase from the average of a 13.7 inch ribeye. When adjusted for the steers’ smaller size and weight in comparison to the average animal, it became an 18% difference in size for the cloned steers. John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M system, said that, compared to industry averages, the steers produced 16% less seam fat, 45% more marbling, and 9% more ribeye poundage. Lawrence said that they gained just 2.9 pounds a day on feed, without any additional hormones. “We’re selecting for a genotypic trait, instead of a phenotypic trait like a lot of cloning projects have done,” says Landon Canterbury, manager of West Texas A&M University’s ranch.

“In and of itself, these individual traits of better marbling, better muscling and better yield are not that impressive on an individual basis,” Lawrence said. “What’s impressive about our cattle is that they all occurred simultaneously in the seven cattle. We’ve been able in seven animals, as a proof of concept, to shift the distribution to higher quality and higher yield simultaneously.”

WTAMU Assistant Professor of Animal Science Trent McEvers said this project contains the power to affect cattle producers through increasing efficiency for the beef industry.
“In my opinion, the way this is potentially going to shift the industry is that for every pound of feed that we feed an animal, if a higher proportion of that weight of feed is actually converted into muscle, then fat, that basically improves our utilization of energy,” McEvers said.

“In our college and across the university … our mission and goal is to provide a world-class education to the most valuable commodity, (and) we think, in Texas, that’s the young people,” Hawkins said. “Our second goal is to conduct cutting-edge research with applications that apply directly back to the producers that feed us every day.”

The next step for WTAMU is to compare the bull Alpha to top Artificial Insemination (AI) sires from the Angus, Simmental, and Charolais breeds. Additionally, 1,300 cows have been bred by Alpha, and the calves will be treated the same as any other calf while in the feedlot. It is important to remember that these calves are not cloned – they are the product of cloned animals.

It will be fascinating to see the results from all of these future offspring and the impact they will have on the beef and meat industries. It will be an amazing day when you can go into 10 different restaurants, and the steak you order in each one will be as tender, flavorful, and juicy as the previous one; gone will be the days of inconsistency between each steak! Below is a great video that sums up this project. It is a good day to be a WTAMU Alum.

This post was created from the following news sources:

The Canyon News: WT cloning research results significant progress for beef, cattle industry (Callie Shipley)

Drovers: Cloned calves carcass results unwrapped (Steve Cornett)

CattleNetwork: Cloned calves create ultimate steak (Tyne Morgan)


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Would Removing Beef from the Diet Actually Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Happy Earth Day! Today is generally a day for us to be involved in doing something constructive for our community and our planet. It is also a time to reflect on the sustainability of the Earth and our resources.

The consumption of meat, specifically beef, gets a bad reputation for being perceived as a high emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG). This article share other sources of GHG. More importantly, it challenges you to think about food waste as a consumer, and the role you play in global concerns.

Facts About Beef

Ashley Broocks, Emily Andreini, Megan Rolf, Ph.D., and Sara Place, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the US Department of Agriculture. 

Many people have suggested that removing beef from the human diet could significantly lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In reality, completely removing beef from the diet would likely not result in huge declines in GHG emissions and would have negative implications for the sustainability of the U.S. food system.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), beef cattle production was responsible for 1.9 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2013. Comparing food production (essential for human life) to transportation and electricity (non-essential for human survival, but important to our modern lifestyles) is problematic. Electricity and transportation produce much of the GHG emissions in the…

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Fire: Friend or Foe?

You may (or may not) have heard about the major wildfires that have burned thousands of grassland acres in Kansas and Oklahoma over the last week. Not only does this limit the grass available for livestock to graze, but it can displace wildlife that share the area, and it can threaten (or completely destroy) homes and structures as well as fencing and stored hay. However, fires can be beneficial too, as they remove old dead grass, weeds, and trees making room for new grass to grow. I thought I would share with you more about fires, and how they are used to manage agricultural land.

Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom recently blogged about The Fire the National Media Won’t Tell You About. Nicole talks about the size of the fire, animals impacted, and Mother Nature’s hand in it all. Since so many of the people impacted here lost pasture grass, hay in storage, fences, and more, donation and relief funds have been established to help these folks during this time.

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Burning a pasture. Photo courtesy of A Kansas Farm Mom (Nicole).
Also on Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom, you can follow Flat Aggie on a Prescribed Burn. Flat Aggie is sent on adventures, and classrooms can follow the adventures to learn more about how food is produced. In this example, you can learn what preparation goes into preparing for a burn.

The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, will occasionally have her husband – Marlboro Man, share information about their Oklahoma ranch. In the post Why We Burn Our Pastures, he talks about the benefits to burning a pasture, as well as what that means for the cattle who graze their pastures.

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Cedar trees (which are an undesired tree in pastures) being burnt. Photo courtesy of A Kansas Farm Mom (Nicole).
Over at Kids, Cows and Grass, Debbie shares Why do ranchers burn their pastures? Five beneficial reasons to put up with the smoke. Learn why burning is beneficial to wildlife as well as why there are less chemical applications after a fire.

While fires can certainly be devastating, they can also be beneficial, especially to grasslands and pastures. I hope these blog posts gave you some new insight into the process.

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New growth after the burn. Photo courtesy of A Kansas Farm Mom (Nicole).
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Death Valley Super Bloom… A photo journal

Rhyolite

Zabriskie Point

Death AValley Super Bloom

Sunset over Badwater

Artists Palette

Natural BridgeDevils Golf Course

Badwater Basin

Old Harmony Borax Works

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Golden Canyon

Charcoal Kilns

Flowers

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The faces of agriculture… National Ag Day

National Ag Day (and week) is a time to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture. In 2015 I wrote National Ag Week… 5 reasons to thank a consumer. In reading it over again today, I think it is still very relevant.

You may or may not personally know the people who grown and/or raise your food, so today I wanted to share some blog posts and introduce you to various agriculturalists.

Sustainable – More than meets the eye introduces you to three farming and ranching families who are practicing sustainability. They share with you what sustainability looks like for them and how it plays into the fact that these are multi-generational businesses.

Dr. Dee Griffin (cow vet) shares what agriculture means to him in Meet… Dr. Dee Griffin

Wondering what a sixth generation agriculturalist looks like? Trent Loos is a farmer/rancher as well as an advocate for agriculture. In Meet… Trent Loos, he shares what agriculture means to him.

I often share stuff that is happening on my family’s ranch and animal care is no exception. Just over two years ago the Pineapple Express Storm hit the west coast, in California ranchers bracing for Pineapple Express storm I shared what my parents and their neighbors were doing to prepare for this massive weather event. In Care of baby lambs in freezing temperatures, I share what we do to ensure the animals are comfortable and healthy.

As we all know, newborns are delicate and fragile, whether they are human or animal. Sometimes animals need a little extra help. A day in the life of a sheep rancher is a page from my Mom’s playbook and demonstrates how that care is administered, and how that may result in animals being taken to the house. My Mom was also featured in Bummer lamb to replacement ewe

At the end of the day ranchers and farmers are just regular people too. They celebrate life’s milestones and try to take vacations 🙂 In these posts, I introduce you to my Dad in Even ranchers have birthdays! and Shout out to my Dad.

I hope that some of these posts give you some insight and connection to the people growing and/or raising your food.

National Ag Day

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10 things for my younger self on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. I have enjoyed seeing my social media platforms highlighting all of these great women, and it has lead me to do some thinking about being a woman in agriculture. Although life doesn’t come with a manual, if I could go back and share some wisdom with my 20-something self, these are the things I would say to her:

  1. Believe in yourself, always. Believe that you will eventually get to where you want/need to go. Your route may not be the most direct route to get from A to B, but you will get there. Sometimes you will be the only person who believes in you and your ideas, but hang tight, because others will soon be believers too.
  2. Grit will get you through more situations than you would like to think about. When you have nothing else left, when you are raw and vulnerable, wipe away the tears and dig deep to find that grit.
  3. Work for others like you would work for yourself. Treat each and every job you have like it is the most important job ever. You will learn something from each of these jobs (even if you learn that job is not something you ever want to do again) and you will meet some great people along the way. Never loose site of your honesty, integrity, morals, or values for these jobs.
  4. Appreciate the small things, some days that will be all you have. Enjoy birds chirping, sunrises, sunsets, rain, laughter, a slight breeze, and just enough change in your ash tray to buy a bean burrito at Taco Bell. While these may not seem like big things, they will be things you value and appreciate.
  5. Live frugally so that you can save your money to see the world. We are lucky to live in such a beautiful country, explore it! Leave the state you live in, leave America, and see what else the world has to offer. It is always great to travel, but it is nice to come home too. This will give you a greater appreciation for what you have or don’t have here. Plus would you rather see the Natural Wonders of the World in real-life or from behind your computer screen?
  6. Be an eternal optimist. You know the saying you can get more bees with honey than vinegar? Optimism will get you more opportunities than pessimism will. Plus laugh lines are more attractive than frown lines.
  7. You will have some amazing friendships. The friends you will have come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and classes than you can imagine. Some of them will be in your life for a day, some for years, and some will be the kind that would help you bury a body. Be the friend who is like family to the ones who matter.
  8. Try to never give up! Sometimes giving up seems like a much easier route than actually going forward with what you wanted to do. But always ask yourself, could you live with the decision you made to give up on something? On a few occasions the answer will be yes, and know that you tried hard, and that you had to give up before you lost sight of who you were.
  9. Take advantage of opportunities that come your way. Some interesting things will present themselves to you, things you never thought you would have a chance to do. Consider them carefully, but try not to pass them up. Sometimes the timing will not be right, but put it on the back-burner and return to those opportunities.
  10. Having a career in agriculture and helping people in agricultural fields will not be easy, but it will be rewarding. As a woman you may have to work harder, longer, and for less pay than your male counterparts. Sometimes you will have to fight (not literally) to be heard and taken seriously, pick your battles and don’t back down when the times come. You are meant to be in the agriculture industry for a reason, go prove it.

Pic collage

What advice would you give to your younger self?

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Does freezing meat make it more tender?

Does freezing meat make it more tender? The answer is… Maybe. One of the great things about research is new things are being discovered daily, or we are expanding on previous research that has been done, which provides more information to things we did not previously know.

Kansas State University has been doing research to see if freezing meat can make it more tender. Six different muscles from the hind quarter were the focus of the research by Dr. John Unruh and grad students. They found that freezing the strip loin and inside round steaks improved tenderness by as much as 10%, as compared to the tenderness before the steaks were frozen. The research used paired strip loins (available in a retail setting), which were frozen, thawed, and evaluated for tenderness using a Warner-Bratzler Shear Force test, which determines how tender or tough meat may be (video demonstration).

Dr. Unruh said the strip loin (from the sirloin) and inside round (from the round) steaks were more tender because they did not loose as much moisture during freezing as the other steaks did. As you can see, this research opens the door for further research… What about those steaks/muscles helps them retain moisture? Is it associated with a locomotion or movement muscle on the animal that is impacting moisture holding? Does animal diet/stress/age/etc. impact water holding capacity in those muscles?

You may be asking yourself, so what or who cares? Well have you ever heard anyone recommend a steak because it was tough or hard to chew? Me neither. We like steak to be tender. We can preserve meat by freezing it and now this research indicates that freezing may be advantageous to meat tenderness versus detrimental. It will be fun to see what further research in this field finds.

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A handy chart of various beef cuts and where they come on the carcass. Source: Certified Angus Beef.

For more information on meat cuts, I also like Beef Cuts: Primal and Subprimal Weights and Yields.

** Note: I am not promoting one entity over another, just using the materials as reference.

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Essential oils: Can they reduce antibiotic use in livestock?

If your social media pages are anything like mine they are filled with claims that something you eat, drink, or wrap yourself in has miracle and restorative properties. While these products may help you loose weight, look younger, and feel better, is there really really any truth to them?

I recently saw a headline that said researchers have found that essential oils could help reduce antibiotics in poultry. My immediate thought… is this woo or is this true?

MeatingPlace.com reported that Cargill researchers have found that essential oils can be a viable alternative to antibiotics to promote gut health in a poultry feeding program. It was found that certain essential oil compounds, particularly those derived from thyme, cinnamon, and oregano had the most comprehensive effect on overall gut health. Benefits included antimicrobial activity, modulation of immune response, antioxidant activity, improvement of nutrient digestibility, and stimulation of mucus production, the company said.

Cargill indicated the essential oils were particularly efficient in conditions where intestinal infections such as Salmonellosis and Coccidiosis were present, and were most effective when combined with organic acids. In addition, combined results from 12 trials showed that birds given Cargill’s Promote Biacid Nucleus additive, which contains a mixture of seven essential oil compounds, in combination with an antibiotic-free diet, improved body weight gain by 2% and feed conversion by 1.5%, the company said.

Cargill said it has been researching the use of non-medicated feed additives for several years as an alternative to antibiotic growth promoters. Since 2009, it has conducted a total of 77 trials on additives including essential oils, probiotics, yeast derivatives, and medium chain fatty acids. “Only essential oils have both a broad spectrum of activity against pathogens and a direct impact on digestive function,” said Stephanie Ladirat, global technology lead for gut health additives in Cargill’s animal nutrition business.

It is interesting that this research has been going on for seven years, no doubt we will see/hear more about essential oils and natural medicine for animal agriculture in the future. Being the skeptic I am, I have decided to research these essential oils a little further to see what else I can find about their supposed claims to being an alternative to antibiotics. Stay tuned as I will do a follow up post after doing some research.

Aviary Systems (2)_UNL photo-final
Can essential oils be a viable alternative for antibiotics in poultry?

** Note: I am not endorsing essential oils or their use, I am just merely investigating uses in animal agriculture.

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Robot Butchers? Technology coming to your table

Recently, an article came across my desk from one of my meat industry news updates about JBS meat packing looking into using robots to process swine and lamb carcasses initially, with beef to eventually follow. In college I spent a lot of time in packing plants collecting beef carcass data, meat, and other tissues needed for samples. While I think it can be done, I think there may be some challenges (i.e. animal welfare, food safety, lack of human element) that will have to be overcome before we are ready to turn over meat processing to robots.

Below is a summation of articles from Harvest Media News and NPR on meat cutting robots. What are your thoughts about this high tech and revolutionary idea? 

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Beef carcasses. Source: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants throughout the country employ about a quarter of a million persons.  Some of those workers that prepare the beef, pork, and chicken that ends up on dinner tables could eventually be replaced by robots. The world’s largest meatpacking company (JBS, the Brazil-based protein powerhouse) is looking at ways to automate the art of butchery.

Late last fall, JBS bought a controlling share of Scott Technology, a New Zealand-based robotics firm. While many manufacturers have gone to automated machines to process and package everything from food to furniture, the beef industry has held onto its workers. It takes thousands of workers to run a modern beef plant. In fact, U.S. meatpacking plants are expected to add jobs in the next decade, as the appetite for pork, chicken, and beef grows in the developing world.

Disassembly is the name of the game on the fabrication floor at the JBS beef processing plant in Greeley, Colorado. Workers hold a knife in one hand, and their sharpening steel is close to their side. Line workers are dressed in chainmail, a protective mesh lining under white jackets (frocks/smocks) and aprons. Deft cuts cleave bone and meat, turning a whole cow into neat and trim cuts like tenderloins, steaks, and roasts.

“There’s right now 850 people out in this building alone,” says plant manager Bill Danley as he weaves through the maze of conveyor belts, stainless steel slides, and bone bins. The plant is a far cry from your grandfather’s butcher shop, where a single person would need to know how to turn an entire animal into cuts of meat. Large beef companies like JBS, Cargill, and Tyson have turned each minute step of the process into a job. Danley lists some of the titles: chuck boner, tender puller, back splitter, knuckle dropper, and tail ripper. “There’s a lot of jobs out here that prep for the other person,” Danley says.

Each year JBS pays out more than $100 million in paychecks to its 3,000 employees. It’s a huge chunk of the company’s operating costs. That could begin to change with JBS’ new venture into the world of robotics. “This is a very innovative and exciting company that we invested in,” JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett says of the company’s investment in Scott Technology. “And we’re excited to see what they’ll come up with.”

JBS is looking at how robots could fit into its lamb and pork plants first, Bruett says. Sheep and pigs tend to be more uniform than beef cattle. “Now when it comes to beef packing, beef processing, the fabrication of the animal, it’s very difficult to automate beef processing,” Bruett says. The various breeds of cattle brought into the plant also complicate the future of robots in meatpacking. Some days the plant breaks down the long, lanky bodies of Holsteins. Other days they’re working on sturdy, thickset Angus and Hereford. Robots would need the ability to adjust to the spectrum of cattle breeds.

The meatpacking robots of today use vision technology to slice and dice, but the key to butchery is touch, not sight. JBS’s beef division president, Bill Rupp, says right now, robots just can’t feel how deep a bone is, or expertly remove a filet mignon. “When you get into that detailed, skilled cutting, robots aren’t there yet. Someday, I’m sure they will be,” Rupp says. “It can’t do the fine cutting that you see on the fab floor, that’s one of the big challenges right now.” Robotic technology doesn’t have the fine motor skills that come easily to humans and there isn’t room for error. Some of the cuts being boxed up bring upward of $14 per pound, Rupp explains, so the key is being able to leave it on the meat and not on the bone. “I mean that’s how our business works.”

The technology isn’t quite ready for a massive roll out, but could the economics of widespread robotic use in the beef industry ever work? Not any time soon, says Don Stull, an anthropologist who spent 30 years studying the cultures of meatpacking towns at the University of Kansas. “Workers are really cheaper than machines,” Stull says. “Machines have to be maintained. They have to be taken good care of. And that’s not really true of workers. As long as there is a steady supply, workers are relatively inexpensive.” There’s a stream of immigrants and refugees, most from Somalia, Rwanda, El Salvador, and Guatemala, ready to put on the chainmail and pick up the knife, Stull says. In large, modern plants, companies pay less because the skill needed to work on the fabrication floor is so low. Some jobs take less than a week to fully master. Turnover in the industry is high, Stull points out, because of the physical demands. Slicing meat all day can lead to repetitive injuries. JBS employs an athletic trainer to keep employees limber and fit. Stull says it’s still common for workers to transfer jobs at the same plant to make better money or to just avoid falling apart. “After you do the same thing thousands of times a day, six days a week … your body wears down,” Stull says.

While the industry says it has dramatically improved on worker safety over the years, meatpacking jobs consistently rank among the most hazardous in the country. Workers stand along conveyor belts on raised platforms, adjustable based on each person’s height. Those platforms were a big step in improving ergonomic conditions for workers, Danley says. Increased automation could ease some of those injuries.

Meat processing makes up a huge portion of Great Plains communities’ rural economies, what happens inside meat processing plants affects not only the companies involved, but the very culture of rural America.

Until technology catches up in both skill and costs, meatpacking companies will continue hiring workers to turn cattle, chickens, and hogs into cuts of meat.

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Source: Stephanie Paige Ogburn/KUNC

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Grain Silo Art

I am a sucker for interesting and unusual art, and this morning I saw grain silo art (on the internet that is). In Brim, Victoria, Australia an artist, Guido van Helten, just completed a massive undertaking by painting four portraits of farmers on decommissioned wheat silos, making a rather large and impressive mural.

Brim Silo
Brim’s silos have been dubbed Australia’s Mt. Rushmore

For more information and photos of this project check out their Facebook page, and articles here and here.

Curious about silos and their function? Jenny at FarmWife Transparency has a great post on Cathedrals of the Prairie.

silos
Silos. Source Jenny Burgess.

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