**Disclaimer*** This posting was written on July 23rd but had to wait to post so I could get through the Ottawa County Fair this past week.
As I mentioned in my very first posting, I am the Meat Judging Coach here in Ottawa County, Michigan. More that once I have received weird looks and the questions.... "What is that? Do you eat it?" Nope we aren't judging cooked meat, but meat on the rail and on the cutting tables. Matt loves to tell people about my time on the Michigan State Meat Judging Team... I just go with it.
I'm going to toot my own horn a little bit here. Yesterday was the 2016 Michigan Meat Judging Contest and I had the honor and privilege to take 5 girls from Ottawa County to compete. The winner of this contest has the right to go to the national competition to represent the state at the American Royal in Kansas City. Last year, my team of 3 wonderful girls won at the state level and took 9th on the national stage. This year was no different! We came away with the high individual and 3rd-5th and 7th! With placings like those I was not surprised when we took home the state title for the second year in a row. Definitely an exciting time around here! So KC look out because you will have a van full of Michigan girls coming your way once again in October!
So what is it? What's it take?
At the MI Contest, the 4Hers have to evaluate 6 classes of meat (1 beef carcass, 1 pork carcass, 1 beef wholesale cut, 1 pork wholesale cut, 1 beef retail cut, and 1 pork retail cut, and 1 lamb carcass). They are classes of 4 cuts/carcasses. Along with placing the classes, they also have to quality grade and yield grade beef carcasses as well as identify 20 retail cuts of pork, beef, and lamb where each cut is to be ID'd by species, wholesale its from, actual name, and cookery method. AND there's this thing called oral reasons.... which make kids everywhere cringe. Needless to say, there's a lot to cover! Each species is judged on different criteria and have different terminology to use as well. But most importantly, like any team.... its putting in the time and energy to make it worth while!
Quality? Yield? Why are these important to the Dexter Breeder?!
Whenever you hit the stores (yes, I know its hard to actually BUY meat!) you see the labels... USDA Certified Prime, Choice, Select... but do you really know what those are? If you are sending your cattle to small butcher shops, they probably aren't actually graded by an USDA Grader however your butcher should also be able to tell you what they think your beef graded at. Those Quality grades have to do with the amount of marbling in the ribeye. Color of the lean as well as age of the animal are also taken into account. USDA Prime+ is the highest grade to achieve... therefore the most expensive at the store or at the restaurant. More marbling=more flavor and tenderness! My meats judging kids laughed out loud when they first heard a new commercial for Applebee's new fire grilled steaks.... boasting about how great the USDA Select steaks would be! Not in your life... Basically devoid of all marbling. Tough and lacking in flavor...
Now yield grades are a whole different ball game! Yield grades range from 1.0-5.9... the 1.0 being very very lean and the 5.9 being SUPER fat. Yield grade calculations take into account the ribeye size, hot carcass weight, as well as the amount of kidney, pelvic, and heart fat. The goal would be to have a low yield grade and a high quality grade.
As a breeder, you have to ride that fine line. Do I feed longer to try and lay on more fat in hopes of adding more marbling or do I send them when they are adequately finished? We opt for the latter. Carcass qualities like marbling are also a a genetic thing... More than likely feeding that extra time would just lay on the outer fat rather than more marbling. So to us, its a waste of feed, time and energy. SO why wait? We have never had a steer quality grade poorly. Always in those USDA Choice categories and never a disappointment to us or our customers.
Back to Meat Judging.. These kids are not only learning how to evaluate a carcass or a cut of meat, but they are learning life skills; public speaking, decision making, and defense of one's opinion. Its tough but they will remember these times as some of the best to date.