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 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.
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:
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 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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
visit our farms - these pictures were taken Fall 2005 on a visit
Butcher co-owners Tara Longo and Mario Fiorucci, along with
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
To learn more about beef breed's, visit any of these Canadian breed
Canadian Angus Association
Blonde d'Aquitaine -
Canadian Blonde d'Aquitaine Association
Canadian Charolais Association
Canadian Galloway Association
Canadian Gelbvieh Association
Canadian Hereford Association
Canadian Highland Cattle Society
Canadian Limousin Association
Canadian Lowline Cattle Association
Canadian Maine-Anjou Association
American International Marchigiana
Murray Grey -
Canadian Murray Grey Association
North American Piedmontese Association
Canadian Pinzgauer Association
Canadian Red Angus Promotion Society
Salers Association of Canada
Canadian Shorthorn Association
Canadian Simmental Association
South Devon -
Canadian South Devon Association
Speckle Park -
Canadian Speckle Park Association
Canadian Tarentaise Association
North American Tuli Association
Canadian Wagyu Association
Welsh Black -
Canadian Welsh Black Cattle Society
Other breeds found around the world:
American White Park
Australian Friesian Sahiwal
Australian Milking Zebu
Blacksided Trondheim and Norland
Costeño con Cuernos
East Anatolian Red
German Red Pied
Red Pied Friesian
Red Polled Østland
Russian Black Pied
Swedish Red Polled
Turkish Grey Steppe
Ural Black Pied
Vestland Red Polled
The majority of information for this newsletter was sourced from the
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
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
Butcher's Cooking Guide