When Arizona consumers log on to Fill Your Plate and search for retail or direct-market beef, they’ll find anywhere from 20 to 25 beef producers that can directly sell to them. Arizona families can indulge in exclusively grass-raised beef or beef that’s finished on a special corn-enriched diet in the final months of the steer’s life, usually in a "feedyard." Consumer options for quality Arizona beef are numerous and cater to customer preferences.
Last weekend, we featured Tim Petersen of Arizona Grass Raised Beef on Rosie on the House on KTAR’s Rosie on the House (podcast of the show below). We learned lots about Tim’s process and his direct-market where the entire carcass is used in the various products available, including a healthy bone broth.
Gate to Plate
But, to understand the entire lifecycle of Arizona beef and what it takes to bring you the quality beef we raise in Arizona, we need to go all the way to the pasture gate, or the pasture itself where your beef was raised. And, to obtain full appreciation for this one needs to go to Arizona Beef Council's, "Beef blog" to garner the full story.
As Tiffany Selchow with the Arizona Beef Council explains, Arizona ranch families make care of the land a priority to ensure generational and sustainable ranching. “For Arizona’s ranching families, the land is not just where they raise cattle; it’s also where they raise their families. They have a personal stake in the quality of their environment – so they are always looking for new ways to improve the air, water and land on and near their property.”
In fact, families and ranching go hand in hand. In Arizona, 95% of farms and ranches are family-owned and operated and many of those are passed from generation to generation. “The land isn’t just where ranchers raise cattle,” says Selchow, “but where they raise their families, provide open space and create wildlife habitat.”
Thanks to advances in genetics and other technology advances, today’s ranchers are significantly more environmentally sustainable than they were decades ago. A study by Washington State University found that today’s farmers and ranchers raise 13% more beef from 30% fewer cattle . When compared with beef production in 1977, each pound of beef produced today:
- Produces 16% fewer carbon emissions
- Takes 33% less land
- Requires 12% less water
In part because of various regions of the country and diversity of our consumer wants, no one-size-fits-all solutions to beef sustainability exist. “Farmers and ranchers balance the resources they have available to meet the goals of their operation: responsibly raise cattle, take care of the land, provide for their families, and produce food for others,” Selchow explains. “Rainfall amounts, temperatures, soil conditions, and vegetation are just a few of the regional geographic variables that affect how beef farmers and ranchers sustainably manage their operations.”
Selchow points to the vast landmass that give ranchers an opportunity to sustain and maximize land resources. “Arizonans rely on farming and ranching families to manage and maintain more than 26 million acres of land in Arizona. A healthy aspect of sustainable beef production involves grazing cattle on U.S. rangelands, about 85 percent of which are unsuitable for crops. Raising cattle on this land contributes to the ecosystems by converting forages humans cannot eat into a nutrient-rich food humans can eat — beef.”
Arizona ranchers explain how they take care of the land.
And, most of your favorite beef cuts are lean. According to the Arizona Beef Council's Celia Dubauska blog about lean beef, to reduce the production of fat while maintaining high-quality beef, farmers and ranchers worked to produce leaner animals. Leaner beef results primarily from a change in breeding and feeding practices. Cattle are bred to enhance desirable traits, such as leaner animals. Feeding practices have improved due to research on ration and nutrition to optimize cattle health.
A 3.5-ounce service of beef qualifies as “lean” by the USDA, if it contains:
- 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat
- 10 grams or less of total fat
- Less than 95 mg of cholesterol.
As a result, a large portion of the various beef cuts qualifies as lean, including 17 to 25 of the most popular cuts of beef, like Top Sirloin, Skirt Steak, and the tenderloin. By my count, well over 50 well-known cuts of beef would be considered lean but the criteria listed above.
Naturally nutrient-rich, beef is an optimal choice for protein because it contains all nine-essential amino-acids. Because the human body cannot make these building blocks, they must be obtained from another source: protein.
Registered Dietitian Caitlin Mondellli says, “Beef is a healthy protein source that can fit into an everyday diet. We tend to think of beef in a high-calorie context, but more than 60% of retail cuts are considered lean.” Caitlin adds cuts of beef into her diet weekly. Suggesting that consumers balance their plates with grains and vegetables, “I select leaner cuts, so I can add cheese or other fat sources to my plate. All cuts of meat can fit, you just have to create that balance.”
The Lifecycle of Beef Cattle
Beef cattle spend most of their life grazing on grass pastures. Calves are weaned away from their mothers between 6 to 8 months of age and weigh around 600 to 700 pounds. Many calves leave the farm or ranch where they were born and are sold at livestock auction markets to what the industry calls “stockers” or “backgrounders” between 6 to 12 months of age.
The stockers or backgrounds will raise the cattle on a variety of pastures. During this period the cattle are really “beefing” up, converting forage and grass into lean protein. Cattle then spend 4 to 6 months at a “feedyard” being fed a scientifically-balance diet and receiving daily care.
However, like Tim Petersen’s Arizona Grass Raised Beef, some cattle spend their entire lives on a pasture where they are “grass-finished.” This is a growing market and one consumers specifically ask for. Grass raised cattle have a longer lifespan as it takes longer to grow them to a practical “market weight” prior to being processed.
Regardless, whether “feedyard” finished or grass-finished, Arizona beef is a quality beef for your dinner plate and the cattle are spending most of their life on the open range. Go to Fill Your Plate to discover all the Arizona beef producers that will sell you beef directly. Oh, yes, if you listen to the show below, you'll want to read all about fruitcake. It's a delightful dessert this holiday season with that rib roast you've put in the oven!