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The Beef Industry Episode | Starting Strength Radio #34

Mark Rippetoe | December 13, 2019

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Mark Wulfe:
From The Aasgaard Company studios in beautiful Wichita Falls, Texas... From the finest mind in the modern fitness industry... The one true voice in the strength and conditioning profession... The most important podcast on the internet... Ladies and Gentlemen! Starting Strength Radio.

Mark Rippetoe:
Welcome back to Starting Strength Radio. Good Friday to you. We are going to do a little deal today that we haven't done yet. We've got two guests with us in studio today.

Mark Rippetoe:
And there has been a flurry of activity from the vegan community. And that's that's the correct pronunciation. I don't wanna hear all that other veeee-gan shit. It's veg-an. I know how it's spelled. I know what vegetable is spelled like. I know what vegetarian is spelled like. And you people are vegans. And you are typical leftists in that you will lie. You will propagandiz. You will distort facts. You will lie.

Mark Rippetoe:
And one of the things you lie about all the time is the beef industry in the United States. And what we're going to do today is talk about that at length. And I have with us in the studio today, two friends of mine. Jenny Johnson works for Timmerman Land and Cattle. And Timmerman Land and Cattle -- you don't know that name -- but Timmerman Land and Cattle is the largest beef producer in the United States. They have cattle and land all over the country and produce millions of head of cattle a year into the beef market in the United States.

Mark Rippetoe:
And with me as my dear old friend Richard Lehman. I've known Richard about forty-five years. And Richard has been in the cattle industry since he was 16. So what is that? 52 years. You've been...

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely.

Mark Rippetoe:
...in the cattle business and Richard knows where all the skeletons are buried. All right. We're going to talk to both of these people today about about the beef industry in the United States.

Mark Rippetoe:
Thank you guys for coming in.

Jenny Johnson:
You bet.

Mark Rippetoe:
I dragged them in off the street from work, so...

Richard Lehman:
Not a problem.

Mark Rippetoe:
Glad to have them. Glad to have you here.

Mark Rippetoe:
Let's talk about let's talk about the beef industry in the United States, because this has been so mischaracterized. If you talk to people from Brooklyn, from San Francisco or from Seattle -- city people -- that have never been around a tree that somebody else didn't put there. You know, they don't know what goes on out here in flyover country. They have no idea. They don't look out the window of the airplane when they fly from JFK to LAX. They don't look out the window. They just sit there and watch the movie. And they don't know about the country. They don't know anything about what we do here.

Mark Rippetoe:
And what I wanted to talk about today was how is beef produced? OK. And it's a it's an interesting question because of the fact that the vegan community, as I previously previously mentioned, will lie about this. They lie about it every day. "Factory farming" is their term that they use, all right.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, let's let's just get kind of a... What is your opinion of it? You've heard all this stuff.

Richard Lehman:
All right. More of the one of the things we need to kind of clear up is while there are some large cattle producers. 80 percent of the cattle in this country are in herds of 30 or less.

Mark Rippetoe:
80 percent.

Richard Lehman:
Approximately 80 percent are in herds of 30 or less. There are...

Mark Rippetoe:
Little people like me and you.

Richard Lehman:
Small producers and of course, I've started out on that end. I was a small producer and I run about 150 momma cows now. I've grown and I have a ranch in Texas and corresponding place in Oklahoma. Both sides of the Red River. And there's a lot of misconception about how these cattle are treated. I mean, we are absolutely stewards of our cattle. We treat them the very best.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, you have no choice, you know. And this is another... this is... people... one of the one of the giant misconceptions here is that it's cheaper to treat them bad...

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely.

Mark Rippetoe:
...than it is to treat them good.

Richard Lehman:
That's crazy, Mark.

Mark Rippetoe:
The economics dictate the treatment.

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely right. Absolutely. And what they want to see in the packing plant is an animal that's free of bruises, that's not crazy. His economics are entirely better than one that's been in any form mistreated. You know, he's... this good treatment animal is the one that will make money for everybody.

Richard Lehman:
And when you talk about the vegetarians, one of the things that that they're missing, the whole concept here is they're getting a vegetable burger, but they're not getting a healthy, wholesome, beef burger. The real thing. What they're getting is a burger that's loaded with artificial flavor, the colors...

Mark Rippetoe:
They eat basically additives.

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's the it's the difference between Coffemate and milk.

Richard Lehman:
Let's don't forget preservatives.

Jenny Johnson:
If you don't want to eat beef, why do you want your burger to taste like beef?

Richard Lehman:
There you go.

Mark Rippetoe:
Isn't that funny?

Jenny Johnson:
I don't get it.

Mark Rippetoe:
It is funny as hell. They they can't really get past that.

Mark Rippetoe:
I think the vegans are proud of the fact that they don't eat anything that looks like beef. But I'm... you know, and we get questions about this on our seminars all the time. As far as I'm concerned, veganism is an eating disorder and I'm not a psychologist, I'm a strength coach. And I deal with the best way to get strong and recover from training, and that's with animal protein.

Mark Rippetoe:
So I don't want to go into that. I don't want to talk about these people very much. What I want to do is tell everybody else that's interested: Where does beef come from? All right.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, Timmerman's organization. Tell us about that. You you've talked to him about this and he said go ahead and tell them. So... and I'll tell you right now, the vegans have said that the ranchers and the farmers won't talk about this.

Jenny Johnson:
Oh, we're openly... we want to talk about. We want to educate everybody on what we're doing every day.

Jenny Johnson:
You know, so Timmerman LLC wants to take from the very start, to the very beginning, we know exactly where our beef has come from and how they are backgrounded, how they were raised, what they're fed, from start to finish.

Jenny Johnson:
And if, you know, we raise all, a lot of our own calves, so we know the background mechanics, but the cattle that we buy or that they go out and buy to turn out and raise. They too, they're coming from backgrounded other ranches, from other parts of the things. You know, you you want to know. We truly want to know and and we care about where those cattle came from and how they were treated previously to us. And you know how they're tracked.

Jenny Johnson:
With the new electronic I.D. and their ears. And you... so you can track that same calf A from the time he hits the ground until the time, you know, he goes to the slaughter plant. You know his whole history. And they strive to do that with all of them, with all the cattle.

Richard Lehman:
One of the biggest things that we do, Mark, we are grass growers. We harvest - our biggest crop - is grass.

Mark Rippetoe:
Grass. You are grass farmers.

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely. And harvest it with our cows.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, it's it's interesting that people seem to think that we're raising cattle in factories. All right. The fact of the matter is, is that most of the land in the United States can't be farmed.

Richard Lehman:
That's absolutely correct.

Mark Rippetoe:
And it can't be farmed for topography, for water supply, rainfall. There's all kinds of reasons why you can't farm everything.

Jenny Johnson:
But you can graze it.

Mark Rippetoe:
But you can graze it. So you make it productive by farming the grass that's on it and turning the grass into meat. And that's basically what the cattle industry does most of the time.

Richard Lehman:
There are specific breeds that are adapted to different environments. A lot of people don't know this, but the Brahman breed are a different species.

[combined speakers]:
They are Bos indicus.

Richard Lehman:
While the British and the English breeds are Bos taurus. And they're they're more adapted to higher, drier climates. And while these Brahmans, they thrive on the heat and humidity. But they are good cross. You can you can intermix these bloodlines and find something that's very good for the central divisions of climate. You know, like North Texas.

Mark Rippetoe:
Nw, there are two basic ways to produce beef into the market from the. producer's standpoint, if I understand this correctly. You can run heifers like Richard does, breed the heifers, get a calf crop. Raise the calf crop. Sell that.

Richard Lehman:
Yes, sir.

Mark Rippetoe:
Or you can buy calves, graze them...

Richard Lehman:
Grow them out.

Mark Rippetoe:
Calves from somebody else, graze thm and sell the gain.

Richard Lehman:
Yep, absolutely. That's the other way.

Mark Rippetoe:
Those are the two basic streams that a producer deals with in terms of the in terms of the market. So what is what does Timmerman do?

Jenny Johnson:
Both. We do both. Say the place that I manage here, you know, I have X number of momma cows. So, we're raising our own. But we don't here -- at this place in Texas -- we don't keep the heifers. We don't keep any replacement heifers. So if we come and we want or need to replace some cows, we'll just go and buy new momma cows

Mark Rippetoe:
New momma cows, breed them. And then from the time the calf hits the ground until the time you're through with him, how long is that?

Jenny Johnson:
He's he's about a year. Really? What by the time he leaves me. Because he's when I wean over here, you know, it's six months, six, seven months of age. They just go -- still here in Wichita -- but to another location. Grazed out on wheat until May. And they'll leave here weighing nine hundred to a thousand pounds. From there they go and finish at the feed yard.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. And then the other stream is buying stocker calves.

Richard Lehman:
In the meantime, that calf's mother has caved again and the circle goes round again. Here we go for a new year.

Jenny Johnson:
You have to. What we're what we're taking care of is the mama cow. She is golden.

Mark Rippetoe:
She makes you money. She makes you money. Just like dairy cows. They make you money so you treat them good. What is what's the average useful lifespan of a of a momma cow?

Jenny Johnson:
Oh, depends on...

Mark Rippetoe:
How many you got that are 10?

Jenny Johnson:
Over half of them probably 10 to 15.

Mark Rippetoe:
10 to 15 years.

Richard Lehman:
And they're about use that when they're fifteen years old. You better be thinking replacements.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. And we ship them and and...

Richard Lehman:
Ship them and start a young cow, start over.

Mark Rippetoe:
Start another one. So stocker calves... If you're not gonna raise from from heifers, breeding heifers and making your own calf crop. What do you do?

Richard Lehman:
There's a ready market. There's a ready calf market everywhere. The other producers in the state, there's there's community sales. A lot of calves come through the livestock markets. And the big operators -- course, you're not able to raise enough cattle for what you want to graze out as yearlings, so you buy caves.

Richard Lehman:
And in a world of those cattle come from the southeast, Florida and Georgia, Mississippi, even even Kentucky and Tennessee. A world of cattle come from the east to the west because it's cheaper to send the calf to the feed than it is to send the feed to the calf. Because there's a lot less pounds involved.

Mark Rippetoe:
So you're... you'll buy calves that have been weaned. And then when they're ready to graze, you'll buy them at that age, put them out on pasture.

Richard Lehman:
Or on wheat. Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
Or on wheat.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, when we say wheat, what we mean is, is... wheat is sown in October and it is harvested in, around here first of June, last of May.

Richard Lehman:
Yep. Yes, sir.

Mark Rippetoe:
And from the time it comes up in November and it gets 6 inches high...

Richard Lehman:
On the forage producing stage of it, we graze these cattle...

Mark Rippetoe:
On the wheat.

Richard Lehman:
...And typically get to 2 pounds, two to three and a half pounds per day per calf gain. And that's what we're selling is the gain on these steers.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. And then you'll pull them off, what? February 15th something like that. And then go ahead and raise the wheat crop. Harvest the wheat crop. So you've used it twice.

Richard Lehman:
Hopefully, that's the ambitioun.

Mark Rippetoe:
Depending on the rain, you've used it twice.

Richard Lehman:
Depending on that and the markets.

Mark Rippetoe:
Which is terribly efficient.

Richard Lehman:
Can be. Yes. Yep. And then those calves. Those caves at eight fifty to a thousand pounds go to a feed yard. And they're fed corn which turns their fat white, puts marbling in the steaks, and makes them grade more. And then, then they typically go to the public. They go to restaurants, supermarkets. .

We are going to talk about the beef itself a little bit more later. But let's say... what percentage of of of Timmermans production is is calf crop versus stocker cattle.

Jenny Johnson:
I bete it's um 70/30. Forty.

Mark Rippetoe:
And they've got they own grass and they lease grass, right? They do both.

Jenny Johnson:
Both. And we'll just talk we'll just use here in Texas for instance. You know, we lease this, you know, we lease grass over here. And then like, own the wheat on the other side. You know but they own ranches all over the United States that run the same amount, if not more mama cows than I've got.

Jenny Johnson:
This is the only place that typically turns out the wheat cattle, only because the rest of places are up north and they don't grow the winter wheat up there like we do down here.

Jenny Johnson:
But, you know, they buy a lot of stocker calves from the north, buy a lot of the northern calves. Those good calves from those big producers up there off those big ranches and bring them down here where it's warmer.

Mark Rippetoe:
Easier on them.

Jenny Johnson:
They do really, really well. Come in from cold to warmer country.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. Less stress on them down here through the winter.

Jenny Johnson:
They gain really well and they get they get really big. They do really well. And your sickness is about nothing.

Richard Lehman:
The opposite is true. The southern calves go into a northern climate, suffer. They're not acclimatized. That's one of the hurdles you have to jump with the southern and southeastern caves to get them acclimatized.

Mark Rippetoe:
So if if in Texas we're buying them from the southeast, that's kind of a lateral move. Wheras Florida cattle, Florida panhandle cattle, going into Montana is probably not what you'd call a good idea.

Richard Lehman:
No, it's actually really tough.

Jenny Johnson:
Because, you know, cattle, they do... they get altitude sickness just just like people do.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh yeah. Yeah, I know all about that. Altitude's hard on you.

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely is.

Mark Rippetoe:
Hard on an old guy for sure.

Mark Rippetoe:
When when you get 12 month old, eight fifty to a thousand pound cattle and you send it to the to the feed yard are these proportionally, are these mostly steers or is it a mixture of heifers and steers?

Richard Lehman:
I'd say it's 50/50. that's about what your calf crop is 50/50. An equal amount of heifers probably go to the feed yard as the steer claves. The steer caves were a little more, a little more economical because they feed a little bit better, they gain a little bit faster. And they're not they're not as prone to as much fat. There's not as much waste in the steers as there is for a heifer carcass. And the end product is worth a little bit more than a heifer.

Mark Rippetoe:
So if there is a factory aspect to this industry, it's the feedlot business.

Richard Lehman:
Yes, sir.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. So what's a feedlot look like?

Richard Lehman:
Oh, it's a big area of cattle pens with feed bumps. And they've got a hospital pen just like everybody else. If they've got something sick, they're going to do their very best to keep him alive and treat him humanely and get him over whatever ails him.

Mark Rippetoe:
So we can sell him.

Richard Lehman:
So we can sell him. He's ultimately going to go on the food chain. It's to everybody's advantage to take care of these things. So they're not just kicked out there and and forgotten about. Dump feed out to him and don't look at them. They're managed daily.

Jenny Johnson:
Those pens, those feed yards. Those those men and women work working those feed yards, spend numerous amount of hours, riding through and looking through and studying those cattle.

Richard Lehman:
They look at every head, every day.

Mark Rippetoe:
Everybody is looked at every day.

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
To watch, to see if somebody's getting sick. Because if something's getting sick, it's going to get everything else sick. We've got to we've got to cull that thing and then treat it.

Jenny Johnson:
Pull it out.

Richard Lehman:
And he will not enter the food chain if he's a sick animal he will not.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now Jenny told me something that that I found interesting the other day. Timmerman is running -- and this is associated with the with the feedlot question, because everybody always thinks that that cattle are given hormones and antibiotics all the time. This is absolutely not true, absolutely not.

Jenny Johnson:
Absolutely not.

Mark Rippetoe:
No, absolutely not true. You're telling me that Timmerman is trying... he participates a huge part of their cattle participate in the hormone free program.

Jenny Johnson:
Hormone free beef. Yes.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. So let's talk about hormones and antibiotics here in a little while. Let's let's. But I want to I want to discuss that at length because there's so much misconception about this. But feedlots all right are out in the country. They're big giant groups off pens. And the cattle are fed, basically, all they can eat every day for usually 90 days. Right. So they're standing around with their buddies eating donuts basically all day. And what are they typically fed? Is it corn? Or is it a ration?

Jenny Johnson:
It's a ration that varies about how big your cattle are in the feed yard. So if you have a pen of five weights their ration is not the same as your nine weights. And those feed yards, they have it down to a science of what these guys get, you know, per head per day and how much.

Mark Rippetoe:
And they know how much each one of the each one of the animals is eating per day in terms of calories and protein, fat, carbohydrate, all that nutrition science stuff.

Richard Lehman:
Most of the yards have a nutritionist on staff to feed these calves the most economical way they can to get the most amount of gain on him in the shortest amount of time. And it's all about economics.

Richard Lehman:
If you talk about steroids, a lot of the yards today, they have all natural cattle. Its...

Mark Rippetoe:
Because they're worth more money.

Richard Lehman:
It's what they're demanding.

Mark Rippetoe:
Because of the public perception.

Richard Lehman:
It is what the public is demanding. They are going to meet that demand. And if that's what they require, they've got a certain amount of cattle to meet that demand.

Richard Lehman:
There are other cattle, they do use steroids. Years ago, it was stilbesterol. DES. They stopped the that. They stopped the use of that. But they they never were able to show anything negative about stilbesterol. It was a good growth hormone.

Mark Rippetoe:
And now Ralgro. Both of these compounds are nonsteroidal, they're actually non-steroidal estrogen -ike compounds. They're not actually steroids.

Richard Lehman:
There you go.

Mark Rippetoe:
And so the perception is, is all cattle are fed hormones. Right.

Richard Lehman:
It's not true.

Richard Lehman:
And the perception is that all cattle in the feedlot are fed antibiotics.

Jenny Johnson:
No, we don't.

Mark Rippetoe:
Why would you spend the money on it when it it not needed? When the animal is not sick?

Richard Lehman:
There you go.

Mark Rippetoe:
I mean, antibiotics are not free. You know they're not free. We don't, you know. Do you guys just spend money just because it's fashionable? That's not what happens.

Richard Lehman:
They're also closely regulated now, Mark. The all antibiotics come with a veterinary prescription today. A large amount of them and by 2020...

Mark Rippetoe:
But for an animal.

[combined speakers]:
Yes, sir.

Mark Rippetoe:
For an individual animal, not for the whole damn herd. Because that's the perception. Is this...they're just shoveling these drugs out and giving every animal in the feed yard all these drugs.

Richard Lehman:
It's not true.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's not but that doesn't stop them from saying it though.

Richard Lehman:
No, of course not.

Mark Rippetoe:
Because it's it's a useful lie.

Richard Lehman:
Thebig problem with our public today is closest they are to agriculture was their great grandfather. And they've grown away from that. They've grown away from the family farm. It doesn't exist for a lot of people anymore.

Mark Rippetoe:
No. The majority of the public has no idea what you guys do.

Richard Lehman:
What they have is a lot of misconceptions...

Mark Rippetoe:
That have been fostered by the media. Sure. Absolutely. Because it's useful to to make everybody hate everybody else. You know, passion is is is what's fashionable.

Mark Rippetoe:
So feedlots will take a 12 month beef and turn him into a fifteen month beef. 90 days of feed. And then he when he's done. Is there a way they... or is it just a 90 day prescription? How is that decided? Do they look at the carcass? They look at the animal and decide how he's gonna kill?

Jenny Johnson:
A lot of it is weight.

Mark Rippetoe:
Just want him to a certain weight.

Richard Lehman:
Yeah, they'll run those calves down the alley and weigh them things at a certain point because they pretty much know. They've been doing this for a while and they know what those calves, what percentage meat he's going to cut out and just about what percentage bone and fat. They know when they get to a certain weight that it's time to butcher that calf.

Mark Rippetoe:
And, you know, it's it's interesting to me. That the terminal beef market is the grocery store. Right? A sirloin steak needs to take up a certain amount of shelf space on the little styrofoam tray. If it's this big, like would come off of a of a three year old.

Richard Lehman:
A three year old Charolais cross...

Mark Rippetoe:
He's not going to fit. He's not going to fit on the shelff. We want the sirloins to be about this big. And that's and that's when we kill because it fits the terminal beef market.

Jenny Johnson:
Eye appeal.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yes, eye appeal. But it's shelf space. The stores...

Richard Lehman:
It's that too.

Mark Rippetoe:
All of these things factor in to the to the to the kill weight of these cattle.

Richard Lehman:
Even the packers are very conscious about size. If they get too big, they can hang them up. They drag on the floor of their processing plant. Won't fit that.

Mark Rippetoe:
No, I've seen that.

Richard Lehman:
And they don't want them. So you've created an animal that's worth less to the trade than the optimum.

Mark Rippetoe:
He might sell real well into the custom beef market.

Richard Lehman:
He could. But not in the commercial.

Mark Rippetoe:
Not in the commercial market where everything needs to be about the same size. Because we want the steaks to be about the same size.

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Now there there are niche markets. What are the Japanese calves or the rage right now. These Wagyus. There's a boy in Austin that's feeding them things 400 days. But it costs you...

Mark Rippetoe:
Imagine what the hell that costs.

Richard Lehman:
Cost you a hundred dollars to eat a steak off one of his calves. But he has em...

Mark Rippetoe:
People will pay for it.

Richard Lehman:
And they're doing it.

Mark Rippetoe:
People will pay for it. That's absolutely true.

Richard Lehman:
I understand that they're delicious. But I'll tell you what, you can get an awfully nice steak down here at McBride's or the Pelican. Absolutely. For less than...

Mark Rippetoe:
For about a fifth of that, right?

Richard Lehman:
Yes, sir.

Mark Rippetoe:
I guess we need to talk about the slaughter industry. We started started on that a few minutes ago and got sidetracked. I mean, it's obvious if we're gonna make beef, we've got to kill the cow to do it right. How is this accomplished?

Richard Lehman:
It's done humanely, Mark. They use what they call a captive bolt pistol. And it's got a charge behind a dart. It hits him in the lower part of his skull. And he never... He never feels it.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right between the eyes. Penetrates the skull about that far. About an inch and a half, two inches.

Richard Lehman:
He never feels it.

Mark Rippetoe:
Suddenly...

Richard Lehman:
He'll drop in place.

Mark Rippetoe:
...in frontal cortex and he falls down.

Richard Lehman:
They'll they'll bleed that calf out.

Mark Rippetoe:
Then they cut his throat.

Richard Lehman:
Cut his throat.

Mark Rippetoe:
Haul him up on the hooks, skin him and gut him. And once they get that done, they split him right down the middle and he becomes two sides.

Richard Lehman:
They take great care not to let any of his intestines, any of the internal fluids, great pains so none of that ever touches his beef, because that's where you get E. coli and some of the strep.

Mark Rippetoe:
Other types of contamination.

Richard Lehman:
Contamination, absolutely.

Mark Rippetoe:
But the the the popular version of this is that the cows are all tortured and mishandled. Right up until they're walked down a chute and they are yelling and screaming. And there's people hitting them with hot shots and they're tortured with electricity and they shoot them with .22s and all this other shit.

Jenny Johnson:
If you go to a packing plant, if you a haul a load of calves in there. Say the truck driver takes... you don't, you can't have a hot shot. You can't take... you can't take one out of your pick up.

Mark Wulfe:
That's correct.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's not even allowed on the property.

Richard Lehman:
That is absolutely true.

Jenny Johnson:
So that's no, that's so not true.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, yeah. But it's useful because it's useful to lie about. So because we're supposed to we're supposed to just blindly accept the story that the meat that you're eating tonight was tortured before you were gonna eat it so that you won't eat it. Right. And that's... nothing could be further from the truth. These animals are handled humanely because it doesn't make monetary sense to stress the animals before you kill them.

Richard Lehman:
You need to stop and think. It's really a daunting task to feed a growing population with a finite amount of land. It is a daunting task. There are more people every day.

Mark Rippetoe:
And we're way better at it than we were 50 years ago.

Richard Lehman:
We're not making any more land? And our public needs to realize what a wonderful job we are doing. And know I don't I don't think they do. But most of them don't care because they don't think about it.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, I don't and I don't really want to get off into the weeds about the quality of of animal protein versus plant protein, because in a lot a lot of people more qualified than our ourselves have addressed that... address, that topic. We don't know enough about it to talk about it. But we we do understand, of course, that animal protein's a higher quality protein in terms of amino acid profile than plant process. And that's why we eat meat.

Mark Rippetoe:
One of the... the first organized human activity a hundred and fifty thousand years ago was hunting. So there's a reason for this. We're omnivores and we like meat.

Richard Lehman:
We know we were hunters and gatherers at the beginning.

Mark Rippetoe:
At the inception, from the inception, we've eaten meat. You guys don't want to eat meat, then don't eat meat. Leaves more for me. But it's important to understand that when you are being told things like we're torturing these animals before we before we slaughter.

Mark Rippetoe:
They're humanely slaughtered, they're treated humanely right up until the point where we kill them because to do anything else. Is not only undesirable just from a moral standpoint, but it's stupid. It's stupid. We don't... the highest grade carcass is what is what you want out of the animal. And a mistreated animal does not produce a high grade carcass.

Mark Rippetoe:
What are they... Let's say you've got a cow that you've got hanging up. You've got two sides off this cow. And there's a great big giant bruise or a broken leg or whatever on this on this side. I'm assuming the sides are evaluated separately. Diseased cattle can't even go down the chute.

Richard Lehman:
That's correct.

Mark Rippetoe:
But let's say he gets injured in the chute. What do they do?

Richard Lehman:
That meet will go to alternate sources. It won't go to the supermarket.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. And as a result, it's worth less money.

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely worth less money.

Mark Rippetoe:
As a result of it being worth less money, it's in everybody's best interest to not let an injury like that happen. And I don't know any other way to add a normal, clear explanation for why we don't mistreat these animals. They're not worth as much money if they're mistreated. And we're in this for the money. Right.

Richard Lehman:
If we're only in it for the early work...

Mark Rippetoe:
There's other ways to make money.

Richard Lehman:
I'll tell you right now we love what we do.It was part of my life growing up.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's a lifestyle that we prefer.

Richard Lehman:
And we love what we do.

Mark Rippetoe:
Is why I live outside of town and always have.

Richard Lehman:
We love our animals. So I'm telling you, we take the best care of them things that we possibly can because they're taking care of us.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. Right.

Mark Rippetoe:
This is this is hard for people to wrap their heads around, I guess because of all the propaganda they've been fed about what the meat industry does to its livestock at every point in the production stream.

Mark Rippetoe:
So. I think that pretty much covers the production part of this thing, at least in the detail we want to do it here. Let's talk about the beef itself.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's a fascinating thing that there is so much variability in the meat that comes from different animals of different breeds in in the in the beef market. What... does Timmerman, for example, look for a sort of a cattle bred a certain way? Do they have different programs for for cattle that are bred different ways? Have they got a British program and a and a Brahman program or...

Jenny Johnson:
No, not necessarily. We we try to keep what we call in the English beef, the English breeds, which are the Herefords and Angus and short horns and and that type stuff. The ones that are, you know, gain, you know, the most.

Jenny Johnson:
And you know, if we have some Longhorn, we have a lot of Longhorn breed cows. Longhorn cross cows.

Jenny Johnson:
But when they all go to the feed yard, those calves that are leaner calves - longhorn beef is a leaner beef -- will be in a different... they'll sort those who gradings different. And they'll they'll be in their own little program, I guess.

Richard Lehman:
They'll feed them differently.

Jenny Johnson:
They'll feed them differently as opposed to those over here.

Richard Lehman:
They'll produce differently.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. And by produce we mean the ratio of bone to meat, fat.

Richard Lehman:
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Mark Rippetoe:
Great of the carcass.

Richard Lehman:
And the amount, the number of these calves that'll grade choice at a certain day of age, you know, and that's what you're looking for is choice beef.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. And some some breeds of cattle just won't grade choice.

Richard Lehman:
There are cattle feeders that like to feed only Holsteins. And one of the reasons is the Holsteins, their genetics are almost identical. They'll... all those calves will almost all feed the same. They'll grade the same. They'll eat the same amount of feed. These guys know what Holsteins are going to do in the feed yard when they start them.

Richard Lehman:
And it's not true with black calves. A set of black calves can be Angus base or they could be half Simmentals. And the number of prima and choice calves will differ according to the...

Mark Rippetoe:
According to the breed, sure.

Mark Rippetoe:
Most of the higher grades of beef and beef grades from the top down. Prime - and that that constitutes 4 to 5 percent of the beef killed in United States grades prime. It doesn't happen very much. And next down from that is choice. These are terms that you should be familiar with from the grocery store. Choice beef is right below prime. And the beef industry divides that into thirds - lower third, middle third, upper third, upper two thirds, the more marbling. And this has to do with marbling. The fat, with interstitial fat in the meat itself, not the cap of fat on the outside of the carcass.

Richard Lehman:
It's the fat in the muscle.

Mark Rippetoe:
The intramuscular fat is the way these things are graded. And below choice is select and below select is...utility? Is that what they? And then the bottom is cutter/canner. So cutter/canner is where an injured steer would go. Yes. You know, if he's all beat up and he's bruised and stuff. Cutter/canner goes to dog food and processed products that are just primarily interested in the protein. You know, I think probably most hamburger comes from select carcasses.

Richard Lehman:
Flavor and tenderness is in your prime and choice cuts. That's what that's what they're after in the the lead markets. In the steakhouses.

Mark Rippetoe:
The steakhouse market -- you find a lot of prime beef in some steakhouses. But most of the time you're going to be served choice beef.

Richard Lehman:
Choice steak. Yep. Yeah. That's the lion's share of steakhouse beef is choice. High choice.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. And most choice beef is going to come from British bred cattle and the British breeds again or the Angus, Herefords, short horns, some oddball stuff like Devons. These are all little bitty short cows they're...

Richard Lehman:
I can't remember the number, but there's over 300 breeds of cattle. It's big.

Mark Rippetoe:
There's a bunch of cattle. And then the select market, probably the continental breeds are responsible for most of that. And continental breeds what they call the continental breeds are France and Germany. So the Charolais, Simmental...

Richard Lehman:
Maine-Anjou.

Mark Rippetoe:
These are all continental cattle. Simmental, Limousin. These big French cattle. They're taller, quite a bit taller. They might weigh a third again as much as Angus the same age. And if you're looking for the ability to turn grass into beef, cattle bred Continental are probably better at that.

Richard Lehman:
They're excellent.

Mark Rippetoe:
Better at that than the British breeds.

Jenny Johnson:
They're your money makers.

Mark Rippetoe:
That's that makes money. That's where you take grass or pasture that you can't farm and turn it into beef.

Richard Lehman:
You can't forget there's a place for the Bos indicus cattle. Those cattle, they're heat resistant. You can put them in rough, rough country and they're browsers. They'll graze up somewhat, when an Angus cow will only graze down. The browsers have their place, you know.

Mark Rippetoe:
Just so you'll know what we're talking about. Grazing animals eat grass, browsing animals eat leaves. For example, deer are browsers and elk are grazers.

Richard Lehman:
The brahman cattle, they will do both. But you'll seldom see an Angus cow browsing and you will see those old Brahman cows browsing quite a bit.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. So South Texas is gonna be pretty thoroughly dependent on...

Richard Lehman:
Rough country.

Jenny Johnson:
It's hot.

Mark Rippetoe:
Heat resistant.

Richard Lehman:
Yep. And you'll see a lot of those cattle right there. That's that's their homeland in America, is the South, the deep South.

Mark Rippetoe:
So what breed did they develop on the King ranch out of Bos indicus?

Richard Lehman:
The Santa Gertrudis. The Brahman and short horn developed. That's what they originated from.

Mark Rippetoe:
Shorthorn being a British breed. So they when they cross a continental cow with a with British cow, they're trying to get characteristics of of both. Right.

Richard Lehman:
Typically, you get the hybrid and he'll have characteristics of both and they have what they call a hybrid vigour. And those old cattle will thrive under harsh conditions. And that's what you're after when you cross these two breeds.

Mark Rippetoe:
So what do you guys do out there around me? What kind of cows, what kind of cows, what kind of momma cows you got? What do you breed them with? What's the what's that breeding program look like? In terms of the breeds?

Jenny Johnson:
We have a mixture of your cross-bred cattle. We have the Longhorn crosses and Santa Gertrudis cattle. And it's just kind of a little bit of everything.

Mark Rippetoe:
We got a lot of spots on them.

Jenny Johnson:
Lotta spots, but they're all crossed back to the Charolais bulls to have a Charolais calf. A crossbred Charolais calf.

Mark Rippetoe:
Charolais calf. I had a rancher in Montana tell me one time that he called a... He called spotted cattle, called them Texas cattle. They look like Texas cattle to him. Lotta color.

Richard Lehman:
I will use Longhorn bulls on British breed heifers. Those you get a little light birthweight.

Mark Rippetoe:
Light birthweight? So a younger heifer can stand it.

Richard Lehman:
You don't have to live with that heifer and watch and assist her in her birth. You know that little calf will hit the ground running. And that's been the savior of the Longhorns, really, is that low birth weight.

Mark Rippetoe:
I guess it is primarily the... that's the primary reason to use them now. Because you don't want a great big old, longhorned hookey creature trying to kill everybody.

Richard Lehman:
That's been the hobbyist in every breed is big, but the hobbyist longhorn breeders are out there and and they have their place. I've gotten bulls from them that were excellent low birth weight bulls. But yeah, a lot of them raise them just for horn growth. They're beautiful.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yeah. Yeah. We've all seen those on the hoods of cadillacs.

Richard Lehman:
A lot of people want to settle those things on their hood.

Mark Rippetoe:
The economics of the cattle market are interesting. There are there are little divisions within the market based on on what things?

Richard Lehman:
Well what what I've done is that I run.... I'm friends with a with a guy that that raises bulls for the PBR. Bucking bulls and I run his bucking bull calves on wheat pasture.

Mark Rippetoe:
And how are they bred?

Richard Lehman:
Well, an interesting question. A lot of those things originally that spotted calves with the red inside their ears or black inside their ears were White Park cattle.

Mark Rippetoe:
White Park? I have never heard of that.

Richard Lehman:
They're a breed of their own and...

Jenny Johnson:
They're white and just their ears and their nose and their feet have spots.

Richard Lehman:
Beautiful, beautiful spots.

Jenny Johnson:
Oh, they're beautiful

Richard Lehman:
But they crossed them things on Bos indicus bulls and puts some muslce on that White Park and them things jump high and kick hard.

Mark Rippetoe:
Big, athletic creatures.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. God almighty people to understand how how strong these animals are. Remember when Karen, my sister Karen had one of one of your bulls at her house one time down there and this was a big white creature. And I don't remember how he was bred. I think he had a short I had a little bit of ear on him or something, but he was a big... and she used him to breed her cattle down there.

Mark Rippetoe:
And we had him gathered up in a pen. And Richard was coming down to get him that day to get him off the place. And. I don't know what... something pissed him off real bad, all right. And he's standing in an in the in pen and he starts looking around like that. And and we're standing there by the by the fence. And he starts looking around for a place to land. And I said, let's get out of the way.

Mark Rippetoe:
And that goddamn thing flat footed, jumped over that five and a half foot fence. Not running. I mean, he just turned around and just high jumped over this thing.

Richard Lehman:
Eighteen hundred pounds of muscle.

Mark Rippetoe:
Eighteen hundred pounds of muscle in the air without a running start. Now if you just have see that done to believe it, but the damn things are amazing animals.

Richard Lehman:
Yeah, they are.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now what about the Corriente market? Corrientes are a Mexican breed that make nice shaped little horns. They use them in rodeos.

Richard Lehman:
I have a few Corriente cows.

Mark Rippetoe:
For bulldogging and roping. Steer roping.

Richard Lehman:
A lot of people use Corriente for low birth weight calves.

Mark Rippetoe:
Used for that also.

Richard Lehman:
Yeah, yeah. But those those are sport cattle. They call them... referred to as sport cattle and they're not abused. Rodeo is not abusive to cattle. I mean that's a misnomer of huge proportions.

Richard Lehman:
The sport rodeo was as old as America is itself. It came with the conquistadors who first introduced cattle to the American continent. So it's a whole different world, but there they are a highly taken care of the bucking bulls.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh, Oh, my god. Yes.

Jenny Johnson:
They're treated better than most people.

Richard Lehman:
They are treated better than than anything there is.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yeah. If you go to a rodeo and you see the the bucking bulls in the pen out there, they're relaxing between goes.

Richard Lehman:
They learn their job and...

Mark Rippetoe:
...And then they just lay down and...

Richard Lehman:
...And most of them are good at it...

Mark Rippetoe:
....wiggle their ears around and stuff.

Richard Lehman:
Most of them were good at it. So. Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yeah. And just so people in New York City understand this, a flank strap is what makes the bull buck and the flank strap is a belt that goes between the cows, T.T., and his balls.

Richard Lehman:
It's actually around his waist.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's around what on a cow is... on bull is his waist. And it doesn't have nails in it. It doesn't have electricity over it. It doesn't have tacks sewed into it. It is a strap. It's a leather belt. And you put it on him and it's got a buckle on top of it. And when they load him into the chute, they put the they put the belt on him, put the bucket strap on him. And right before they open the door to the chute, they pull it tight.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, this pisses him off.

Richard Lehman:
At most, it's an irritant.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's an irritant. But more than anything, an experienced bucking bull learns....

Richard Lehman:
It's his cue.

Mark Rippetoe:
He's learned that when the strap goes on he bucks.

Richard Lehman:
He does his job.

Mark Rippetoe:
He tries to get to cowboy off his back. It doesn't hurt him.

Jenny Johnson:
And 90 percent of them are going to do it without it because that's what they're bred to do and they love it.

Richard Lehman:
Right, they'll buck without that.

Mark Rippetoe:
They learn that when the door opens, they buck. This is just his cue to try to get the cowboy off his back. No, I would imagine that every once in a great while, a particularly athletic bull will run into the fence. Or run the cowboy into the fence. But I assure you, people in New York City that the cowboys get hurt way more than the bull. Way, way more than the bulls do.

Mark Rippetoe:
I don't want... I've seen some stuff. I've seen bulls that do things that you cannot believe that they're able to do. Jumping up in the air, eight feet off the ground with a guy on his back. It's just... And turn a circle before he lands back down on the floor.These things are amazing. They're amazing animals and something that's at entertaining is taken real good care of.

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely.

Mark Rippetoe:
What other niche markets are there?

Richard Lehman:
Oh, I guess like some of the longhorns hobbyist. But there are people that specialize in growing heifers, replacement heifers, for other producers. And then there are producers that specialize in bulls, high grading good bulls for somebody to put in their beef herd.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. Bulls that have proven that...

Richard Lehman:
Proven their genetics.

Richard Lehman:
Their get will grade high, up toward prime.

Richard Lehman:
Yes, and those are typically niche markets. And it's a growing thing. It's it's a way to survive in in the volatility of the open market.

Mark Rippetoe:
What's percentage of the prime beef market goes to... is already bought, goes to restaurants under contract. You just don't hardly see prime beef in the store.

Richard Lehman:
Mark, I don't know. That's a good question. But...

Mark Rippetoe:
I bet is that they are a great vast majority of it's probably already committed to before its sold. So if something comes through the plant and they cut it at 6...

Mark Rippetoe:
They grade the beef by cutting the carcass between the sixth and seventh rib and looking at the ribeye and looking at the marble. And I would imagine - I don't know that you can confirm this - if a carcass comes through the plant and it it happens to grade prime, then it's pulled out and it's stuck in another room.

Jenny Johnson:
But there it's hung up at the packers.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yeah, that's what I mean, at the a packers.

Jenny Johnson:
The packers have already given us as the producers, our money. You know, it wasn't last week.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yeah, I know you're not paid on the grade. You're not paid on the grade. If they can find a bunch of your prime beef in this bunch of steers, then the packers make the money on it because then it sells...

Richard Lehman:
They've got buyers.

Mark Rippetoe:
You got paid a dollar fifteen for the thing and...

Jenny Johnson:
You're paying eight something a pound at the grocery store.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well you're paying eight pound at the grocery store for choice. You're paying $5 for hamburger.

Jenny Johnson:
It's not the producers that's raking it in the money that you're buying it at the grocery store for. Not at all.

Mark Rippetoe:
There's there's there's profit built into this thing at every step of it.

Richard Lehman:
At every level.

Mark Rippetoe:
At every level. Obviously there has to be or we wouldn't do it right.

Richard Lehman:
But the feeders have got buyers out there that are looking for specific type cattle that are statistically known to grade better than other cattle. And we try to serve... I look at that all the time. I try to match what them guys are looking for. Try to breed what they're looking for.

Mark Rippetoe:
They want black skin. They want Angus-looking cows.

Richard Lehman:
Mark, if pink ones made the most money, I would have pink bulls.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. Does... you know I have... I've always heard that there's not really much difference between the way a red Angus will grade and a black Angus will grade. But from what I understand the Black Angus get, command a higher price even than the red that will grade the same way because the perception among the packers is that black cattle grade higher. And they don't want to have to think about it.

Richard Lehman:
Statistically they, the black cattle will feed more efficiently and grade higher than cattle of any other color. Statistically. So they will typically give a little bit more money for black cattle. So a lot of people pay attention to that. We breed for black cattle. You know, I have black bulls. And I have a few Charolais cows, a few white cows. But I can put black bulls own them and make those those Charolais cows have black calves. So I can gain some of the good traits from those Charolais, but I can make her calf have black hide.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, and if I was going to feed some two or three steers up, the smart thing for me to do would be find three black steers.

Richard Lehman:
Absolutely.

Mark Rippetoe:
Because they're gonna stand a higher likelihood of grading higher.

Richard Lehman:
Right. Absolutely right. Having a better carcass and a little bit better beef. A little bit more what you're looking for.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, what is the grass fed market done to this? Done to the economics of the cattle business? Because that's a big popular thing.

Richard Lehman:
They'll pay a premium, a little bit of premium just for grass fed beef. And they need to because that grass-fed calf will take longer to reach a certain weight. So if it takes longer for him to get there, he costs the producer more money to get him there.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, all right. So if you send an eight hundred and fifty pound steer to the feed yard, what's he going to weigh when the kill him? Eleven?

Jenny Johnson:
Typically about 1400.

Richard Lehman:
Yeah, about.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh way more than that - fourteen hundred.

Jenny Johnson:
1400 pounds.

Mark Rippetoe:
Fourteen hundred pounds. So if you're going to kill a grass-fed steer, what does he need to weigh? They want him to weight up close to that? That means he's way older then, on grass to make the same weight of beef.

Richard Lehman:
Correct.

Mark Rippetoe:
And he's been around longer, so he's going to cost the producer more money to generate because you don't have a chance to turn a profit on him.

Jenny Johnson:
He's not going to grade the same as a calf that's been raised [finished] on corn.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's impossible.

Jenny Johnson:
His marbling will be different.

Mark Rippetoe:
His marbling he won't have any marbling, or not nearly as much. And his fat's a different color isn't it? His fat's more yellow.

Richard Lehman:
That meat will have a little more texture to it than a cornfed.

Mark Rippetoe:
I have had grass fed beef before and I didn't like the flavor. It tastes more like venison to me. It's it's it's got a stronger flavor. Something I could get used to, but I prefer grain fed beef and I think most people do.

Mark Rippetoe:
Grass-fed is real popular right now. Now grass-fed hamburger, that would be fine. But they're going to have to add fat to the grass-fed hamburger and where the fat comes from might be real critical to the integrity of the product. All right. Is it grass-fed if they had to add 20 percent fat to it. Who donated the fat? Well, it wasn't the grass-fed.

Richard Lehman:
No, it was a fat calf.

Mark Rippetoe:
It was a fat calf that had been been finished on grain.

Mark Rippetoe:
So, yeah, grass-fed is an interesting development. I think that's probably about 10 years ago everybody started trying to be real careful about eating grass fed. And I understand that the meat that the fatty acid profile is probably healthier in grass-fed animals than it is in grain fed animals. But I don't eat steak often enough to where - I mean, if I was eating three steaks a day, I might have to be concerned about that. But but since I don't, when I eat a steak, I want a grain fed steak. I want marbling, I want the flavor that that kind of fat produces. I prefer that and I think most people do.

Richard Lehman:
Beef is the most wholesome, satisfying meal that you can have in America today. Safest.

Mark Rippetoe:
As far as I'm concerned. If you don't have access to elk meat. I prefer elk meat. Elk meat, it's delicious. Oh, God. Have you ever had moose?

Richard Lehman:
Not moose. Elk yes, but not moose. sales?

Mark Rippetoe:
Elk's good. Elk hamburger, oh, it's good, but most people don't have access to it. So for what's commonly available to you in the grocery store, beef is the best deal.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now we're just talking about the beef industry here. The pork industry is a different matter entirely. I'm glad I'm not in the pork business.

Mark Rippetoe:
One of the reasons pork is so cheap is because that process is very, very efficient.

Richard Lehman:
That's true.

Jenny Johnson:
That's exactly right. Because, you know, gestation period in a pig is so short.

Mark Rippetoe:
Those sows will have three litters a year, won't they?

Jenny Johnson:
It's three months, three weeks and three days.

Mark Rippetoe:
They'lll breed them three times a year. And then and every every litter is ten or twelve pigs.

Jenny Johnson:
And in three months they can get reproduce.

Mark Rippetoe:
They're ready to go.

Richard Lehman:
Cow gestation is nine months.

Mark Rippetoe:
I thought it was eleven months.

Richard Lehman:
That's horse.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh, yeah. All right. Horses are eleven months. Cows and nine, about like us.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yeah. It's hard to defend the pork industry, but we're not talking about pork. We're talking about cattle. And cattle, the cattle industry has been as maligned as any other thing. You know, these people will come up with videos shot in China and pretend as though this is representative of the U.S. beef industry, and it's it's not. It's absolutely not.

Mark Rippetoe:
What I wanted to take.... What I want everybody to take away from our podcast today is that the beef industry in the United States is not what you have been told. All right. Our factory...

Jenny Johnson:
It's the safest beef in the world.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's the safest been in the world, and to the extent we have a factory, it's my mesquite pasture in Wichita County. That's the beef factory. That's the "factory farm." All right.

Mark Rippetoe:
And cattle producers do an excellent job of turning land that cannot be farmed into delicious beef that you need to eat more of. Ok. So just keep this in mind and don't be lied to about this, because it's it's it's not good to be lied to. OK.

Mark Rippetoe:
Jenny Johnson, thank you for coming in and helping us with this. Richard, my friend. Thank you. As always, good to see you. And we'll see you next time on Starting Strength Radio.

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Jenny Johnson and Richard Lehman join Mark Rippetoe for a discussion on the beef industry and all the myths, misconceptions, and lies about beef and how it's produced.

  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 03:33 How is beef produced in the US?
  • 08:39 Grass farming land to make it productive
  • 10:13 Cow-calf vs Stocker
  • 13:14 Gaining on wheat grass
  • 17:55 Feed yards
  • 21:12 Hormones & Antibiotics
  • 23:45 Sizing up
  • 26:33 Slaughter
  • 32:52 The beef itself, breeds
  • 42:50 Niches - Bucking, Prime, Hobby
  • 53:47 Grass-finished beef
  • 58:44 The bottom line

Episode Resources

Cattle breeds

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