Beef Choice

PITY THE POOR COWMAN. all his life he has been told to raise bigger and better cattle. More meat on the hoof meant more dollars in his pocket—which is why Texas ranchers have turned away from smaller British breeds like Angus and Hereford in favor of heftier continental breeds like Simmental and Charolais. Now, however, feedlot operators and meat packers have decided that smaller is better when it comes to producing the marbled beef that can qualify for a grade of USDA choice. The reason is price. British breeds develop choice beef when they weigh about 1,100 pounds; larger breeds must continue to feed on expensive grain until they reach 1,300 to 1,350 pounds. In 1995 feedlots paid ranchers up to $2.81 a pound more for 500-pound certified Angus feeder cattle than for similar-sized continental breeds. Meanwhile, packers have their own reasons for preferring smaller cattle. At one time they supplied local grocery stores with sides of beef, which butchers carved into cuts and then steaks. No longer. Now the packer supplies the cuts in boxes that hold around seventy pounds of meat. Each box contains identical cuts (say, all loins or ribeyes). The most efficient way to fill the boxes with choice beef is to use cuts from cattle that weigh about

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