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From calf to kitchen: The journey of a beef cow

The demand for beef and the increased automation of packing plants has accelerated the life of a typical beef cow. Today, a cow typically is slaughtered at about 14 months of age, but some cattle are slaughtered at 20 months or older.

A calf is born on a ranch in eastern Kansas; calf will usually spend the first six months of its life in a pasture, eating grass

Six months later, the calf is weaned and moved to a pen; the now 600-pound (272-kg) calf will spend the next couple of months learning to eat from a trough and tasting corn; this step is called backgrounding

Growth hormones, antibiotics and a diet of corn or other grains quickly fatten cattle for market Today, it takes as little as 12 or 14 months to grow a beef cow to slaughter weight At a year old, the cow is moved from the backgrounding pen to a feedlot; cow is loaded onto a cattle hauler

Issue: Growth hormones

Huge cattle feedlots, scattered mostly in the middle of the country, produce city-sized waste issues; cow manure is collected in lagoons and spread on agricultural fields

Issue: Manure

5 corn, alfalfa and silage, a


fermented, moist feed made from field crops; they are often treated with hormones and antibiotics at this stage

Cows are transitioned to a daily diet of mostly

4 thousands of others
in enclosed pens

At the feedlot, the cow joins

7 6

Cow has grown to 1,200-1,400 pounds (545-635 kg) and is ready for slaughter; cattle are taken to a packing plant, where they are herded into holding pens designed to keep Shackler them calm

Cattle are herded through a serpentine chute toward the knocking box; worker using a pneumatic gun shoots a steel bolt into the skull, rendering the animal unconscious

Next, a shackler attaches a chain around the cows back leg and hoists it up to a conveyor rail

Cow moves down the rail to a sticker who cuts the neck, draining cows blood

10

Cow, now dead, makes contact with an electrical line used to improve tenderness

Parts of the cow are used in a variety of products, such as animal feed, soap, clothing, cosmetics. pharmaceuticals

Issue: More than just meat

Conveyor rail Knocker Sticker Electrical stimulation

Experts agree that E. coli generally originates at larger slaughter plants, where pathogen-laden manure can be a big problem

Issue: Fecal contamination

14 machine helps

Hide pulling

skin the animal; carcass moves down the line

13 begins; feet and head


are removed; worker cuts the hide along the belly

De-hiding process

12 a worker removes

During a critical step, the animals bung*, attempting to avoid spreading contamination

11 washer rinses
the carcass of dirt, manure

High pressure

*Before removal, the bung (rectum) is plugged at its open end and tied off on in the inside

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USDA inspector examines the carcass, looking for signs of pathogens and BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or Mad Cow disease); if contamination is found, the carcass is cleaned or removed

16

Large saw is used to split the carcass through the center of the backbone; tail and spinal cord are removed

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Just 15 minutes after cows are stunned, the split carcasses are washed and left to dry

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Meanwhile, beef ground beef trim from other Hamburger is ground at carcasses is packing plants and other prepared for processors; in order to reach ground beef just the right fat content, production meat from different cattle, and sometimes from foreign countries, is mixed together

Issue: Diverse

USDA advises consumers to cook all steaks to an internal temperature of at least 145 F (63 C)

Issue: Cooking caution

21 steaks or burgers,
the beef is ready for your barbeque

Whether its ribs,

20 broken into primal cuts,

Finally, the carcasses are including steaks and roasts; fresh beef is vacuum-packed, or boxed for sale to wholesalers, retailers, hotels and restaurants in the U.S. and around the world

19 cooler room, where they are

Carcasses are sent to a larger typically aged for two days; carcasses from cattle 20 months old or younger are marked for export to Japan; older cattle are more prone to BSE problems, which is a concern in Japan

2012 MCT Source: Industry and union officials Graphic: Dave Eames, Mike McGraw, The Kansas City Star