VOLUME 8 ... BEEF BREEDS

"Give them great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like devils.”

- William Shakespeare (1564-1616) King Henry V

 

Cattle are considered one of the first animals domesticated for agricultural purposes, and are the predominant source of protein in the human diet world-wide;  69% of the world supply of protein comes from meat and milk of agricultural animals, cattle being the largest source. They are a renewable resource, and utilize another renewable resource - plants - to produce food.

Up to the arrival of Europeans, the first nations hunted and ate buffalo. Eventually, cattle thrived in North America's vast grasslands and multiplied quickly to become the prime protein source of the population. To this day British breeds of beef like Angus and Hereford dominate the market, although exotic cattle like Kobe (Wagyu), Charolais, and Chianina have been making inroads.

What is a breed? The classic definition of a "breed" is as follows: Animals that, through selection and breeding, have come to resemble one another and pass those traits uniformly to their offspring. There are more than 250 breeds of cattle worldwide,  however,
the majority of genetics utilized in the U.S. and Canada for commercial beef production come from less than 20 breeds (ironically, most people can name more breeds of canines than of beef, even though it makes up such an important part of our diet).   Numerous “breed associations” have been established around the world, their main purpose being to promote their own breed and keep a detailed list of the cattle that belong to that association’s breed. For example, an offspring of a registered Angus cow and registered Angus bull can be registered with the Canadian Angus Association as “pure” Angus.

By far the majority of cattle grown for human consumption is considered “commercial cattle” and is not registered with a breed association.  Most ranchers will cross-breed to achieve certain genetic characteristics.
 

HOW DOES A RANCHER DETERMINE WHICH BREEDS TO RAISE?

Ultimately, farming is a business. There are no ranchers that will raise cattle to lose money. Hence, the selection of breeds comes down to economics. Of course, some farmers will produce large quantities of cheap beef to be sold at low prices… i.e. you’re typical supermarket meat. On the other end of the spectrum, our organic farmers grow a small number of beef and select breeds on the basis of overall quality – taste, adaptability to their natural environment, etc. – the end product is premium priced.

The following is a list of factors that ranchers consider:

  • retail product yield (i.e. percentage of the carcass weight that is trimmed, saleable red meat);

  • Natural marbling (i.e. the amount of intramuscular fat);

Note that the first two factors usually increase inversely – the more product yield, the less marbled, and vice versa.

  • Calving ease;

  • Mothering (i.e. the cow’s natural maternal traits);

  • Milking ability;

  • Early maturity & fertility;

  • Naturally Polled (i.e. no horns);

  • Adaptability to weather conditions;

  • Superior feed conversions; and

  • Carcass size.

DOES A GOOD BREED GUARANTEE GOOD BEEF?

Of course not… it can’t be that easy. The quality of beef is dependant on several factors, not unlike the terroir for wine. Breed, feed, maturity, ageing, and cut are all essential components of final quality. We would venture to say that the difference between our organic beef and conventional beef is more so affected by the feed, then by the breed. If the cow eats good, the cow tastes good. Conventional commercial beef is generally fed nothing but corn and pellets (injected with antibiotics), a diet that renders tender, cheap, and tasteless meat. Our organic farmers feed their beef a mixture of barley, corn, soy, oats and a lot of hay and grass, a diet that renders tastier and healthier meat.

AN OVERVIEW OF THE DOMINANT BEEF BREEDS

Cattle breeds are generally categorized as either "British Breeds" or "Continental European Breeds". British breeds are breeds that were developed in the British Isles and were brought to North America in the late 1700s through the late 1800s.  Angus (Black and Red), Hereford (Horned and Polled), and Shorthorn are the primary British breeds. When compared to Continental European breeds, British breeds are generally smaller in mature size, reach mature size at an earlier age, have less growth potential, excel in fertility and calving ease, attain higher quality grades, and yield carcasses with a lower percentage of saleable product.

Continental European breeds are also commonly referred to as “exotic” breeds and include Charolais, Chianina, Gelbvieh, Limousin, Maine Anjou, Salers, and Simmental. The majority of these breeds are relatively new to North America, being imported in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s primarily to improve the growth rate and leanness of existing breeds. In comparison to British breeds, Continental European breeds are generally larger in mature size, later maturing (reach mature size at an older age), produce carcasses with less fat and a higher percentage of saleable product, have lower marbling grades, and produce more calving difficulty when mated to cows of the British breeds.

The five “major” breeds in Canada are: Angus, Charolais, Hereford, Limousin, and Simmental. Below is a description of each of these breeds as well as a few other important breeds in today’s industry. For reference, the beef you buy at The Healthy Butcher is mainly composed of Angus (black and Red), Charolais, Hereford, and Chianina. Some of our farmers are strong Angus fans, and raise 100% Angus (see the photo below taken at one of our farms). Other farmers are strong believers in cross-breeding Angus with one of the exotic European breeds, like Charolais and Chianina. Organic farming overall is an art, and without the use of antibiotics and other tools used in the conventional market, our farmers are true leaders in their field in matching the breeds with the type of pasture on which their grazing.

Angus
Angus arose in north-east Scotland in the counties of Aberdeen and Angus. They are solid black cattle, although white may appear on the udder. They are resistant to harsh weather, undemanding, adaptable, good natured, mature extremely early and have a high carcass yield with nicely marbled meat. They are used widely in crossbreeding to improve carcass quality and milking ability. Angus females calve easily and have good calf rearing ability. They are also used as a genetic dehorner as the polled gene is passed on as a dominant characteristic.

Angus has become a very popular breed during the last ten years or so in large part because of the success of the Certified Angus Beef® brand; a brand owned by a company called Certified Angus Beef LLC that tracks the beef they sell and ensures their beef is from an Angus-influenced animal and has a minimum amount of marbling.  Do not confuse the Certified Angus Beef® brand with the label “Certified Organic”, which means a product has been certified to be organic by a third party (for more info see: http://www.thehealthybutcher.com/organics.html)

 

Red Angus
The first Angus herdbook, published in Scotland in 1862 entered both reds and blacks without distinction. Early in the development of the Angus breed, Hugh Watson of Keilor, Scotland, arbitrarily decided that black was the proper colour for the breed - he could just as easily have chosen red. The main difference between Red Angus and black Angus is colour. However, Red Angus ranchers have achieved some excellent and consistent genetic traits in what is now a separate successful breed from black Angus.

 

 

Canadienne
Canadienne cattle arrived in Quebec between 1608 and 1660. This was the first cattle breed to be developed in North America, primarily from animals imported from Normandy and Brittany. This stock was blended on this continent and selected for hardiness and productivity in the New World. The Canadienne breed dominated until the beginning of the 19th century. Later, the breed was threatened by the introduction of larger sized British stock, before being taken in hand in 1883 by a small group of concerned breeders who formed the Canadienne Cattle Breeders Association. The Canadienne breed is still mainly found in the province of Quebec.
The Canadienne is recognized for her hardiness and adaptability to inhospitable soils and climates. Born pale, the coat becomes black, brown, tawny or reddish-brown with a paler muzzle, side, and udder or scrotum. Cows weigh 1000 -1100 pounds, are long-lived and have a docile temperament. The meat tends to be lean, and the light bone results in a high dressing percentage. Their milk is also in demand for cheese production.

 

Charolais
Farmers often refer to Charolais bulls as “Schwartzenegger bulls,” some bulls weighing over 3,000 pounds and standing 1.8 metres (6 feet) tall at the shoulder. It has been said that no other breed has impacted the North American beef industry as significantly as the introduction of Charolais. The Charolais came into widespread use in the North American cattle industry at a time when producers were seeking larger framed, heavier cattle than the traditional British breeds. They demonstrate superior growth ability and have performed well under a variety of environment conditions.
Charolais originated in the Burgundy region of France in the town of Charollais (confusingly the town and region are spelled with two l’s, while the cattle get only one.) Many French beef lovers insist that the best-tasting Charolais beef is found exclusively in Charollais. To maintain the integrity of the breed, the Charolais Herdbook, the register of purebred cattle established in the 19th century, was symbolically closed in 1920 and since then only descendants of the known purebred animals of that year have been admitted.

Interestingly, the Institut Charolais is currently striving to win a coveted Appellation d’Origine Controlée for Charolais cattle born and raised in the Charollais region. AOC status, generally associated with premium wines, has also been awarded to a few foods, but so far not to any breed of cattle.

 

Chianina
The Chianina (pronounced kee-a-nee-na) breed may well be one of the oldest breeds of cattle in existence. They were praised by the Georgic poets, Columella and Vergil, and were the models for Roman sculptures. The name comes from the Chiana Valley in the province of Tuscany in Central Italy.
 

Chianina are big cattle and were originally valued for draught. Chianina have short hair that varies from white to steel gray in color. Bulls are often a darker gray around their front ends. Both sexes have black pigmented skin. The short horns curve forward and are usually black in the younger animals but become lighter, beginning at the base, as the animals mature. The most noticeable characteristic of the breed is the extensive and well-defined muscling. The shoulders, back and rear quarters are especially well formed. The legs are longer than most breeds and the bodies are not proportionally as long as some breeds that have shorter legs. The faces are rather long and straight.

The breed is often referred to as a "terminal" breed by cattlemen. This implies that the primary use of the breed is as the sire to animals which will all be marketed. The herds they are used in are frequently crossbred and the Chianina bulls provide an outstanding growth rate in the offspring of these crossbred females.
 
Hereford
Herefords are an old breed named after Herefordshire in western England. The first Hereford herd book was published in 1846. Herefords genes revolutionized beef production in North America, through the traits of early maturity and fattening ability. Today there are an estimated 120,000 purebred Hereford females in production in Canada, and well over 50 percent of the beef cow population in Canada carries Hereford breeding.

Hereford are medium framed cattle with distinctive red body color with the head and front of the neck, the brisket, and underside in white. They have well developed fore-quarters, a deep brisket, broad head and stocky legs. Most animals have short thick horns that typically curve down at the sides of the head, but there is a polled strain. Herefords are generally docile and fast growing cattle with good beef quality.

 

Holstein
We include this breed of cow not because it’s a source of beef – definitely not a source of our beef – but we know many people would wonder why we don’t have a picture of the black and white cows they see commonly on farms visible from highways.

Holsteins originated in the Netherlands and are known for their outstanding milk production, and generally used only for that purpose.
 
Limousin
The history of Limousin cattle may very well be as old as the European continent itself. Cattle found in cave drawings estimated to be 20,000 years old in the Lascaux Cave near Montignac, France, have a striking resemblance to today's Limousin. These golden-red cattle are native to the south central part of France in the regions of Limousin and Marche. The terrain of the homeland has been described as rugged and rolling with rocky soil and a harsh climate. Consequently, the growing of field crops was very difficult at best and emphasis was placed on animal agriculture. Limousin cattle, as a result of their environment, evolved into a breed of unusual sturdiness, health and adaptability. This lack of natural resources also enabled the region to remain relatively isolated and the farmers free to develop their cattle with little outside genetic interference.
Today, Frenchmen still refer to Limousin cattle as the "butcher's animal".   Limousin tend not to put on fat, yet the meat is tender and fine fibred - well suited for all-purpose cross breeding. They can be temperamental.  Canadian ranchers take great pride in being Limousin seed stock producers, which they market around the world.

 

Simmental
Simmental can be traced to Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, and were known as early as the Middle Ages as large, spotted cattle. From here, the Simmentals spread into western and northern Switzerland. Simmental are one of the more docile and easy to manage breeds, cross well with British and continental breeds, are fast weight gainers with good grading, and the cows are recognized as excellent mothers.
 
Wagyu & Kobe
The word Wagyu refers to all Japanese beef cattle ('Wa' means Japanese and 'gyu' means cattle). This is the breed that produces Kobe beef, named for the city where the cattle were first bred 170 years ago (more details below). Wagyu were derived from native Asian cattle which were crossed with British and European breeds in the late 1800s - Brown Swiss, Shorthorn, Devon, Simmental, Ayrshire, Korean, Holstein and Angus all impacted today's Wagyu. However, the breed was closed to outside bloodlines in 1910, and regional isolation has produced a number of different lines with varying conformations:
Tajima – These were used to pull carts and ploughs so they developed larger forequarters and lighter hindquarters. They are generally smaller-framed with slower growth rates but produce excellent meat quality.
Tottori – These were pack animals in the grain industry so they are larger animals with straight, strong backlines and generally good growth rates but variable meat quality.
Shimane – These are large-framed cattle with average growth rates and meat quality.
Kochi – These red lines were strongly influenced by Korean lines.
Kumamoto – These red lines have a Simmental influence and were mostly bred in a region where there was an abundance of grassland.

Wagyu are renowned for their intense marbling and praised for having a higher percentage of oleaginous, unsaturated fat than other breeds of cattle. The "Wagyu beef" designation can legally be applied to the meat from any cattle of the Wagyu breed; it's a genetic thing, not a place appellation or a reference to how the cattle were raised and fed.

What is “Kobe” beef? Technically speaking, there's no such thing as Kobe beef (as far as a specific breed is concerned), it is merely the shipping point for beef from elsewhere in Japan. What is called "Kobe beef" comes from the ancient province of Tajima, now named Hyogo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital. Real beef connoisseurs, however, still refer to it as Tajima beef. This beef comes from an ancient stock of cattle called "kuroge Wagyu" (black haired Japanese cattle).

To earn the designation/appellation of "Kobe Beef", the Wagyu beef must come from Kobe, Japan, and meet rigid production standards. Land and grain are expensive in Japan, so what is happening today is that the beef production houses in Kobe have been contracting out to other producers (mainly in Australia and California) to custom raise their cattle for them; the carcasses are then sent to Japan and are butchered in Kobe, making them legally “Kobe Beef” even though the cattle were actually born, bred and fed somewhere else. Two transoceanic trips is one of the reasons for the high price of Kobe.

Is it true that Kobe beef in Japan are fed on beer and massaged to make them tender? Yes, and there is reasoning behind these methods.  Beer is fed to the cattle during summer months when the interaction of fat cover, temperature and humidity depresses feed intake. Beer seems to stimulate their appetite. It's merely part of the overall management program designed to keep the cattle on feed in the heat of the summer. The massaging is done to relieve stress and muscle stiffness. It's believed in Japan that the eating quality of the meat is affected positively by keeping the cattle calm and content. 

We can’t argue with the fact that Kobe achieves a ridiculous amount of marbling. How marbled is Kobe beef? Well, let’s just say that Kobe beef would grade off the charts in Canada. The meat looks like it has been left out in the snow. At prices of $100 to $300 per pound, it better be damned unique.
 

We regular visit our farms - these pictures were taken Fall 2005 on a visit

by Healthy Butcher co-owners Tara Longo and Mario Fiorucci, along with

Head Butcher Sebastian Cortez to Fieldgate Organics based in Zurich, Ontario.

(Notice the space these cows have to graze)

Tara Longo during a visit (Fall 2005) to one of our farms - part of the Fieldgate Organics co-operative.  In the distance is a herd that includes black Angus, Red Angus, and Hereford.

This picture was taken during the same trip, but at another ranch part of the Fieldgate Organics co-operative.  This herd is purely black Angus.

To learn more about beef breed's, visit any of these Canadian breed associations:

Angus - Canadian Angus Association

Blonde d'Aquitaine - Canadian Blonde d'Aquitaine Association

Charolais - Canadian Charolais Association

Galloway - Canadian Galloway Association

Gelbvieh - Canadian Gelbvieh Association

Hereford - Canadian Hereford Association

Highland - Canadian Highland Cattle Society

Limousin - Canadian Limousin Association

Lowline - Canadian Lowline Cattle Association

Maine-Anjou - Canadian Maine-Anjou Association

Marchigiana - American International Marchigiana

Murray Grey - Canadian Murray Grey Association

Piedmontese - North American Piedmontese Association

Pinzgauer - Canadian Pinzgauer Association

Red Angus - Canadian Red Angus Promotion Society

Salers - Salers Association of Canada

Shorthorn - Canadian Shorthorn Association

Simmental - Canadian Simmental Association

South Devon - Canadian South Devon Association

Speckle Park - Canadian Speckle Park Association

Tarentaise - Canadian Tarentaise Association

Tuli - North American Tuli Association

Wagyu - Canadian Wagyu Association

Welsh Black - Canadian Welsh Black Cattle Society


Other breeds found around the world:

Africander
Albères
Alentejana
Allmogekor
American
American White Park
Amerifax
Amrit Mahal
Anatolian Black
Andalusian Black
Andalusian Grey
Angeln
Ankole
Ankole-Watusi
Argentine Criollo
Asturian Mountain
Asturian Valley
Aubrac
Aulie-Ata
Australian Braford
Australian Friesian Sahiwal
Australian Lowline
Australian Milking Zebu
Ayrshire
Bachaur
Baladi
Baltana Romaneasca
Barka
Barzona
Bazadais
Béarnais
Beefalo
Beefmaker
Beefmaster
Belarus Red
Belgian Blue
Belgian Red
Belmont Adaptaur
Belmont Red
Belted Galloway
Bengali
Berrendas
Bhagnari
Blacksided Trondheim and Norland
Blanca Cacereña
Blanco Orejinegro
Bonsmara
Boran
Bordelais
Braford
Brahman
Brahmousin
Brangus
Braunvieh
British White
Brown Swiss
Busa
Cachena
Canadienne
Canary Island

Canchim
Carinthian Blond
Caucasian
Channi
Charbray
Chianina
Chinampo
Chinese Black-and-White
Cholistani
Corriente
Costeño con Cuernos

Dajal
Damascus
Damietta
Dangi
Danish Jersey
Danish Red
Deoni
Devon
Dexter
Dhanni
Dølafe
Droughtmaster
Dulong
Dutch Belted
Dutch Friesian
East Anatolian Red
Enderby Island
English Longhorn
Estonian Red
Evolène
Fighting Bull
Fjall
Finnish
Florida Cracker/Pineywoods
Galician Blond
Gaolao
Gascon
Gelbray
German Angus
German Red Pied
Gir
Glan
Gloucester
Greek Shorthorn
Greek Steppe
Groningen Whiteheaded
Guernsey
Guzerat
Hallikar
Hariana
Hartón
Hays Converter
Herens
Hinterwald
Holando-Argentino
Holstein
Horro
Hungarian Grey
Icelandic

Illawarra
Indo-Brazilian
Irish Moiled
Israeli Holstein
Israeli Red
Istoben
Jamaica Black
Jamaica Hope
Jamaica Red
Jaulan

Jersey
Kangayam
Kankrej
Karan Fries
Karan Swiss
Kazakh
Kenwariya
Kerry
Kherigarh
Khillari
Kholmogory
Kilis
Krishna Valley
Kurdi
Kuri
Latvian Brown
Limpurger
Lincoln Red
Lithuanian Red
Lohani
Lourdais
Luing

Madagascar Zebu
Malvi
Mandalong
Maremmana
Masai
Mashona
Maure
Mazandarani
Meuse-Rhine-Yssel
Mewati
Milking Devon
Milking Shorthorn
Mirandesa
Modicana
Mongolian
Montbéliard
Morucha
Murboden
Nagori
Nanyang
N'dama
Nelore
Nguni
Nimari
Normande
Norwegian Red
Ongole
Orma Boran

Oropa
Ovambo
Parthenais
Philippine Native
Polish Red
Polled Hereford
Ponwar
Qinchuan
Rätien Gray
Rath
Rathi
Red Brangus
Red Pied Friesian
Red Poll
Red Polled Østland

Red Sindhi
Red Steppe
Reggiana
Retinta
Rojhan
Romagnola
Romosinuano
Russian Black Pied
RX3
Sahiwal
Salorn
Sanhe
Santa Cruz
Santa Gertrudis
San Martinero
Sarabi
Senepol
Sharabi
Shetland
Siboney
Simbrah
Siri
Slovenian Cika
Sussex
Swedish Friesian
Swedish Red-and-White
Swedish Red Polled
Telemark
Texas Longhorn
Texon
Tharparkar
Tswana
Turkish Grey Steppe
Ukrainian Beef
Ukrainian Grey
Ukrainian Whitehead
Umblachery
Ural Black Pied
Vestland Fjord
Vestland Red Polled
Vosges
White Cáceres
White Park
Xinjiang Brown
Yanbian

 The majority of information for this newsletter was sourced from the Department of Animal Science of Oklahoma State University (http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/index.html) and Cattle Today (http://cattletoday.com/). We give full credit to these two sites for the depth of their research into beef breeds.
 

To access past issues of live to eat? Click here.

 

To learn more about cuts of beef, read "Breaking Down the Beef ... A Primer on the Cuts of Beef"

 

For further reading on cooking techniques, refer to The Healthy Butcher's Cooking Guide

 
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