For the past five years we have been selling our pork by the piece. We prefer to sell one piece; a live hog delivered to a local butcher shop where the end user pays processing, but that is not always possible.
Nebraska does not have a state meat inspection program, so if we sell retail pork we must go to one of the few U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected plants or sell a whole pig to someone and deliver it to the butcher shop of their choice. We have been working regularly with four shops in the last few years and suddenly it seems like the trendy thing to do. Rail spots are getting harder to come by and must be booked several months in advance. That’s a good problem for locker owners if they can keep up the labor to match their demand.
While I hear tons of folks talking about how “this is the way we should feed America,” America would starve if that was our only option. It is a great system but the infrastructure is not in place to handle the volume needed to feed everyone. With that said, it is a great opportunity for all who can be a part of it but it brings on a very different perspective in regard to breeding and raising livestock when each animal you raise must be acceptable to the taste for your customer instead of simply looking the part on the hoof.
For our cattle operation, we are contracted with Lone Creek Cattle Company in the certified Piedmontese system. The program has been a great fit for us and it is one step closer to the consumer than the way we used to sell calves on the video. For the pigs, we sell a fair number every month directly to the consumer. This has caused us to step up some of our selection criteria for things we can’t just eyeball like genomics for tenderness, pH and water holding capacity. It doesn’t hurt to have a wife who is very picky about her pork chops and wants them to be nearly fork tender straight off the grill. We want everyone who eats our product to come back for more because they truly enjoyed eating it.
I found a very interesting piece written for American Meat Science Association and authored by Lois A. McGill from the meat science program at Oregon State University. It concerns the acceptance of meat quality by the consumer. I believe we have been somewhat falsely led down a marbling path as the sole determining factor of meat quality, and while I think marbling is part of the equation there is certainly so much more to a good eating experience.
These viewpoints are first going to be influenced by their own sensory evaluation experiences. The sensory evaluation of food basically consists of two main parts, the physiological processes and their psychological interpretations. Simply stated, a stimulus is received by a receptor cell which sends messages via the nerves to the brain for interpretations which lead to those consumer actions and reactions. The physiological processes involve all five of our senses. A consumer views a cut of meat and visual messages are received on such factors as the size, the shape, the color, the amount of fat, the amount of lean, the amount of bone, the surface bloom and the size and direction of the muscle fibers.
Clearly there is no scientific test for the visual appraisal although there are some benchmarks. It is the one constant that will never change as meat consumers have been conditioned to expect packaging and presentation at the highest level. As livestock exhibitors, we talk about how the animal is presented in a manner that is optimal to showcase its attributes in the showring. Retail meat outlets have also mastered the visual presentation of meat as it involves the color of light, the packaging and the presentation which all play a huge role in consumer acceptability.
Who doesn’t evaluate your food with your eyes before you ever place it in your mouth? Once it’s in your mouth, everything changes; it then comes down to taste and tenderness. With personal experience building every day, I am here to tell you that tenderness, which can be verified by science, is the king in the eating satisfaction court. I don’t believe meat can be devoid of intramuscular fat or marbling if you want a desirable taste, but if tenderness is not perceived with the first chew then the flavor really won’t matter that much. You’ve heard the comment made, “Well, it has good flavor” meaning “if it wasn’t so tough, it would be fantastic!”
At the end of the day, I am not telling you anything that meat scientists haven’t been telling us for nearly 30 years with the shear force tests that were conducted at the Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska. What I am saying is that we now have a reset button that can be pushed for a large number of livestock producers and an even larger number of consumers.
In closing it is the wisdom of the vice president during the FFA open ceremony that comes to mind:
“The rising sun is the token of a new era in agriculture. If we will follow the leadership of our president, we shall be led out of the darkness of selfishness and into the glorious sunlight of brotherhood and cooperation.”
Let’s all do our part to help make the new era of agriculture prosperous and healthy for everyone involved.
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at email@example.com.