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Standard Classes Of Beef

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



As one of the first problems confronting the beef grader is to determine the sex. of the animal which produced the meat, the more important characteristics which are peculiar to each sex, and which therefore differentiate male from female cariasses, will be pointed out. Of these, the presence of cod fat in steer carcasses and its absence in female carcasses are the more important.

In all carcasses of males of the bovine family there is a tendinous ring near the posterior point of the aitch (or pelvic) bone. The female does not have this. Trimming away the male sexual organs usually exposes to view the muscle of the round which lies between the posterior end of the aitch bone and the exterior surface of the round or thigh, whereas in the female such trimming is not necessary, and this muscle is usually concealed by fat. Furthermore, this muscle is generally some-what thicker in the male than in the female, which, in the male, increases slightly the distance between the end of the aitch bone and the outer surface of the round.

Because of the greater depth of the pelvic arch in the female, the distance between the aitch bone and the tail root is greatest in the female, and because of the greater width of the pelvic arch, the distance between the posterior tips of the pelvic bones is greater in the female than in the male. Naturally this latter characteristic can be noted only in the carcass and not in the side.

In the forequarters of a male carcass, the shoulders are usually coarser and more heavily muscled, the ribs show less curvature, and the neck is shorter and thicker than in the female. When viewed from the side the fore shank of a female carcass—from the elbow to the knee—presents a smoothly-tapered appearance, whereas in a male carcass the lower or knee end of the shank shows a rather pronounced flare or knob. This is partly due to the more rugged structure of the knee joint in the male.

As a rule, all bones in the male are larger than in the female, but the latter is likely to carry a greater amount of fat, particularly on the interior of the carcass and over the loin and rump. For that reason, male carcasses generally carry a larger proportion of lean meat to total weight, despite their larger bones.

Having determined the sex of the carcass or side, the next step for the grader is to determine the class within the sex to which it belongs. Beef "from the male sex falls into three classes—steer, bull and stag; that from the female sex into two classes—heifer and cow.

Steer Beef

Steer beef is from a male that was castrated before he advanced far enough toward sexual maturity to make reproduction possible. The animal must also have progressed beyond the veal and calf stages. Beef of this class is distinguished from either cow or heifer beef by the characteristics already pointed out as belonging exclusively to males.

Steer beef is distinguished from bull beef by the presence of cod fat, which a bull carcass does not have. It differs from stag beef by possessing a greater amount of such fat. In a steer-beef carcass the inguinal ring is somewhat smaller than in a stag and much smaller than in a bull. In conformation, finish, and quality steer beef is superior to any other class. Such carcasses also show the highest dressing percentage or yield.

Heifer Beef

Heifer beef is from a female that has passed beyond the veal and calf stages, but has never had a calf, and has not reached advanced pregnancy. Such beef is distinguished from steer. stag, or bull beef by all of the general characteristics peculiar to the female sex. It differs from cow beef by possessing more compact form, less prominent hips, less curvature or spread in the ribs, and greater curvature of the aitch bone and pelvic arch. In dressing a heifer, the udder is left on the carcass, whereas it is usually removed from a cow.

Heifer beef is superior in conformation, finish, and quality to all other classes, except steer beef, and it frequently nearly equals steer beef. Sometimes individual carcasses rank as high as steer beef in one or another of the above respects, but as a class it is slightly inferior.

Heifer beef carries less fat than cow beef, particularly on the interior surface around the internal organs, and over the rump, and the external fat is more evenly distributed than in cow beef.

Heifers supply a smaller percentage of the total beef supply than either steers or cows, but a much larger percentage than either bulls or stags. In dressing percentage they average higher than bulls and cows, but generally not so high as either steers or stags. Market prices of heifer beef are higher than stag, cow, or bull beef and frequently equal those of steer beef.

Cow Beef

Cow beef is from a female which has had one or- more calves, or was advanced in pregnancy at the time of slaughter. Cow beef has all the characteristics peculiar to the female sex, which distinguish it from steer, stag, or bull beef.

It differs from heifer beef in that the udder has been removed, or shows evidence of maturity if left on. In some instances: where deception is attempted, the udder is left on young cows to make the carcasses resemble those of heifers. When this is done, however, the deception may usually be detected by the open and frequently lactating milk ducts which are generally present in cow uudders.

Carcasses and sides of cow beef are generally more angular in conformation than any other class. Hip bones are prominent and wide and there is a decided curve or dip in the outline of the back just forward of the rump, which generally becomes more marked with advancing age of the animal. The ribs show a relatively high degree of curvature and the covering of flesh on them is comparatively thin. The fat may be generous in quantity, but it is unevenly distributed, frequently appearing in "rolls" or "ties" on certain parts of the back, rump, and upper part of the round, and the internal fat is in much the same condition. The fat of cow beef usually has a decidedly yellow tinge, and is rather oily in appearance instead of being white and flaky, as it is in the higher classes of beef.

Cow beef is inferior in corformation to all other classes, but is superior to bull beef in finish and superior to both bull and stag beef in quality. In dressing percentage, cows rank at the bottom of the list of beef animals. The market price of cow beef is usually lower than that of any other class, except bull beef.

Bull Beef

Bull beef is from an uncastrated male that has advanced far enough toward sexual maturity to make reproduction possible. It is distinguished from cow and heifer beef by the general characteristics peculiar to all males. It has no cod fat and thereby differs from steer beef and from most stag beef. The inguinal ring is somewhat larger than in a stag carcass and much larger than in a steer carcass. External and internal fat is extremely scanty. On the exterior surface there is usually so little fat that over a large part of the carcass the muscle or lean meat is exposed to view. This, together with the fact that bull beef is generally very dark red in color, gives the carcass or side the decidedly bluish cast which is one of the outstanding characteristics of bull beef.

Although there is a scarcity of fat in bull beef, there is usually an abundance of lean meat, the entire frame being heavily muscled. This is particularly noticeable in the forequarters. The shoulders are generally heavy, and have the appearance of coarseness in conformation. The neck is short and thick and is crowned on the upper side by a crest or hump of heavy muscle.

Bull beef is superior to cow beef in conformation, but is inferior to all other classes in finish and quality, and in general is not suitable for block purposes. In dressing percentage, bulls outrank cows, but, as a rule, rank below all other classes. Market prices of bull beef are lower than those of any other class. Comparatively little bull beef is dispensed in the fresh-beef trade, as the bulk of it is used for sausage and dried beef.

Stag Beef

Stag beef is from a male that was castrated after it had advanced far enough toward sexual maturity to make reproduction possible. It posseses all of the characteristics peculiar to males. The inguinal ring is usually smaller than in a bull carcass, but slightly larger than in a steer carcass. There is wide variation in stag beef, such variations depending largely on the age at which the animal was castrated. If castration was done at a comparatively early age, the carcass may make a very close approach in conformation, finish, and quality to that of a steer or heifer. If, on the other hand, the animal had attained considerable age, and had possibly been used for breeding purposes for a considerable time before castration, the carcass will possess most of the distinctive characteristics of bull beef. One characteristic which is very persistent, and is almost always present to at least a noticeable degree, even where castration was done at a comparatively early age, is the thickening of the muscle on the top of the neck which forms the crest.

Because of the limited supply, stag beef is one of the minor classes. In conformation and finish, stag beef surpasses cow and bull beef, but it is inferior to steer and heifer beef. In aver-age quality it is superior to bull beef, but inferior to all other classes. In dressing percentage, however, stags are usually surpassed only by steers. Market prices of stag beef vary widely, depending largely on whether, in respect to the fundamental characteristics, it shows a strong resemblance to bull beef or to the higher classes. On the whole, prices probably average higher than those of cow or bull beef, but lower than steer or heifer beef.

It has already been shown that classes of beef involve uniform variations in the three fundamental characteristics—conformation, finish, and quality. The following table shows the relative standing of the various classes with respect to each characteristic. In individual instances exceptions are bound to occur, but it is believed that the following arrangement represents the general rule. Dressing percentage has nothing to do with deter-mining either class or grade, but is added to the table for what-ever value it may have.

Grading Fresh Beef

Grading is simply a continuation of the same analytical process used in classifying. In the first instance, the whole commodity of beef was divided into five general groups called classes. This first grouping, however, was along rather broad lines, and each class presented such a wide range of variation in virtually all fundamental characteristics that it was impossible satisfactorily to consider the class as a whole with a view to determining its value. The object in all grading is to accurately determine values.

Therefore, it is now proposed to subdivide the commodity still further. For example, to take a given class, such as steer beef, and divide it into smaller lots in such a way that the individual units which make up a given lot will have virtually the same degree of conformation, finish, and quality. In other words, each lot will be highly uniform in all essential respects. This grouping constitutes grading.

Basis of Grading

Grades of beef are based on variations in one or more of the three fundamental characteristics—conformation, finish, and quality. As a rule, variations occur in all three, but it is possible for two carcasses to be identical with respect to two characteristics and yet be placed in different grades because of variations in the third.

Of the three fundamental characteristics, quality ,is, by all means the most important. All beef is bought and sold very largely on the basis of quality. Many factors are taken into account by the beef grader before he makes his final determination as to grade, but his main object is to arrive at the degree of quality of the beef. The reason for this is that quality is the thing with which the consumer is most concerned.

The grader considers the firmness, color, and texture of the meat. He determines the age by the color and hardness of the bones, and he carefully notes the marbling or lack of marbling in the flesh. All of these things, however, are of value only as indicators of the quality of the carcass or cut. Even conformation and finish are of comparatively small consequence in them-selves. They are, however, of vast importance because of the bearing which they have on the major consideration, which is quality.

The consumer applies the ultimate test of quality when he eats the beef. Fortunately for the grader, however, there is such a close relationship, amounting in some instances to cause and effect, between quality and a number of other more obvious and easily determined factors, that it is possible for him to deter-mine very accurately what the degree of quality is. For example, finish is easily determined and a high degree of finish almost always accompanies a fair degree of excellence in quality.

Conformation is a still more obvious characteristic, and nature has so arranged matters that excellent conformation and a high degree of finish rarely exist without being accompanied by a commensurate degree of quality., Quality, therefore, is always uppermost in the mind of the grader, and carcasses and cuts of beef are placed in the various grades very largely on the basis of variations in quality.



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