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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Flat Aggie Learns About Grading Beef

A huge thank you to Deanna for showing Flat Aggie around a beef processing plant in Colorado.

Hey kids, Flat Aggie is in Eastern Colorado spending time with a USDA grader, learning about the standards for beef and what it’s like working in a beef house!  The USDA grader is the person that places Prime, Choice, Select and Certified Angus Beef on beef. When you see Certified Angus Beef labels in the store, or a USDA choice sirloin on a menu a USDA grader decided on that grade, and placed in on those cuts of meat. They help farmers get the right price for their cattle, and ensure that when you go to the store with your parents, they are buying a quality product at the right price.  USDA beef graders look at every carcass that comes through a plant. At one facility they run 5,000 cows day, at roughly 550 an hour! THAT’S A LOT OF BEEF! 

Image of carcasses that have been graded in Greeley, CO. This is where carcasses stay until they are cut into smaller cuts to fit in the meat cases at the grocery store so they fit in your freezer at home!
Before I went to the chain, the graders showed me the rule book for grading beef carcasses, and what was considered an “old animal,” and what a young animal typically looked like. Did you know that an animal carcass can tell you a lot about the animal’s life!? By looking at the bone, you can determine the age. The color of the meat can give you an idea of if the cow was stressed, or how long it has been since the animal ate!
Graders make sure meat that looks like this doesn’t end up in stores! Meat that is dark is caused by a lack of glucose (sugar) in the muscle fibers. 

Flat Aggie studied the marbling photographs to learn the difference between Prime, Choice and Select!
How do people tell if an animal qualifies for the certified Angus beef program if it doesn’t have a hide/hair on it? The graders showed me a monitor that watches the animals when they enter the processing facility, and all the black hide cattle get a blue ink dock on the hock or ankle. All black cattle that meet the requirements get a dot. If they’re not black and don’t meet all the rules, they don’t get a dot. Graders watch the monitor to make sure companies aren’t marking incorrect cattle! I got to help out with some of the checks they did!
Flat Aggie watching the Angus Association monitor and recording his checks!
Some plants use a fancy camera to grade the cattle, while graders monitor it and the carcasses to make sure its running in tip top shape. The cameras can tell you how big the ribeye is, how much fat is inside the ribeye and along the outside of the ribeye, the weight, as well as predict the amount of meat one carcass will provide! Other plants don’t use the fancy camera and rely on graders to make all the decisions. If the plant employees don’t like what the grader decided on a carcass, they can talk about it in depth later in the day.
HCW tells graders the weight. Maturity is how we identify the age of the carcass. SM50 (small 50) and SM20 (small 20) is how much fat is in the ribeye. REA (ribeye area) is the ribeye size, PYG (predicted yield grade) is the amount of fat along the backside of the ribeye. YG (yield grade) is a formula that gives a more accurate representation of how much meat a carcass will actually provide!
Flat Aggie got a chance to correlate. Graders correlate (call all “factors” on a carcass), once a week to make sure they are still in line with other graders. We decided the age of the carcass based on bone maturity, the color of the lean, the intermuscular fat, the predicted yield grade, kidney, pelvic, heart (KPH) fat, and ribeye area. Everything is subjective so answers aren’t always exactly the same between people. As long as you’re close to everyone else, you’re not wrong. Determining the yield grade meant we had to do some math to determine the overall yield grade of a carcass.
Flat Aggie and another grader’s correlation. He was a natural!

A farmer’s job is to take care of the cows while they are living, giving them the best care and life they can have on the farm. So, when the cow goes to market, the cow takes care of the farmer and many other people too! One animal provides so much for so many people. Bones, horns and hooves can be used for fertilizer, photographic film paper, sandpaper, etc. Hides are used as rugs, and to make purses, bags, as well footballs, paintbrushes and other items too. Organs are usually shipped overseas where other cultures eat kidneys and tongues more than what we do in the U.S.
Everything in a cow can be used except for the moo. Flat Aggie had a great time learning about the career of cattle grading in Colorado. Now its time for Flat Aggie to head off to new adventures!

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