Show-Me Beef University reveals all sides of the cow
With two steaks in front of him identified only by orange and purple toothpicks, the Fulton man chewed carefully and tried to decide which one he liked better.
After some deliberation and hemming and hawing about the blind taste test, he agreed with what meat scientists know: that choice grade (purple) makes a more desirable meal than lower-quality grades like select (orange).
Bartley joined 16 other participants--producers, University of Missouri Extension specialists and others in the Missouri beef industry--making up this spring's class at Show-Me Beef University.
The three-day program helped them better understand the process that takes cattle from the farm to the butcher and onto plates. Along the way they learned about what goes into raising beef that's a cut above the rest.
"As meat scientists, we look at things at the finished-product end, but we realize important traits can be manipulated through genetics, through better feeding techniques and even when the calf is born to reach the best value in the market," said Carol Lorenzen, MU associate professor of meat science.
The program ranged from harvesting a live animal to hands-on experience in meat cutting and watching cooking demonstrations. Researchers discussed topics such as optimal beef nutrition and factors that go into meat palatability.
Bryon Wiegand, MU associate professor of meat science, knows life from both sides of the cow. He raises his own cattle and teaches, and that helped him work with Lorenzen to integrate multiple facets of beef production and processing for the training.
"This allows me to interact and think like producers from a business-decision standpoint," he said. "Understanding the beef business from gate to plate is beneficial for all of us involved in this outreach activity."
Leaning over a beef hindquarter in the MU meat laboratory, Bartley said that seeing beef from a different side can change a producer's perspective.
"In the past I would go out to the pasture or the sale barn and everyone talks about how a calf looks, but I see it can be more about what's inside that hide, what it's made up of," he said. "It's more than how the animal is filled out, and other things really affect the quality of that meat."
Show-Me Beef University is held twice a year at MU and is a joint venture of MU Extension and the Missouri Beef Industry Council. The council uses some of its beef checkoff money to support the program.
"Many farmers don't see what happens to the animals they are producing once they reach 500-600 pounds," MBIC executive director John Kleiboeker said. "This is a way for us to help them understand more about a component of their business, and it provides us an opportunity to do some producer education about other things we're spending checkoff dollars on to build beef demand in Missouri."
The hope is that these ideas will stick and create more aware producers so consumers can get more consistent, superior-tasting products at the meat counter.
"Aside from teaching producers the gamut from the live animal to what they see in the grocery store, we want those attending to meet everyone involved with beef cattle extension at MU so they can put a name with a face," Lorenzen said. "This hopefully gives them contacts for the future when they have other questions."
Bartley said he'll take all he learned into consideration and will likely spread the word about Show-Me Beef University.
"I have a few people I'll be anxious to tell about this, because the next time this is held I think they'll get some benefit from it."
To learn about future classes of the Show-Me Beef University, contact your local MU Extension office or the Missouri Beef Industry Council.