May is widely known as “Beef Month.” Whoever decided that beef should be celebrated in the month of May knew exactly what they were doing. While beef is certainly a dish that is welcome at the dinner table any time of year, there really is something special about breaking out the grill in springtime. I know my grill at home sees more use as the temperatures warm than it does in the winter. The start of grilling season after the winter hiatus is always something that I look forward to each spring.
Nutritionists in the health industry often discuss different superfoods that provide extra nutrients for your body. Many times, these foods include fruits and vegetables, nuts and fish. And while these foods are necessary in our lives, I know that when I serve my family Nebraska beef, it is also a “superhero” among the superfoods on their plate. In just 3 oz. of beef, you receive nearly 50% of your daily value of protein and 10 essential nutrients, with only 170 calories. But this protein-packed “superpower” isn’t the only thing I want to touch on in this article. I want to focus on one additional power that has given Nebraska not only the title of the Cornhusker State, but the Beef State as well.
Beef’s second superpower is the rumen. The first and largest of four stomachs, cows use their rumen to break down and digest grasses and plants. This process turns the otherwise nutrition-less grass into lean, juicy steak. The rumen acts like a giant fermentation vat. It is here that the hay and grass consumed by cattle meets a host of microorganisms that break down the hard-to-digest fibers. In turn, these rumen microbes release nutrients from the grass, or even become nutrients themselves. Just like that, the cow is provided the energy and protein she needs to grow.
Nebraska is comprised of 49.5 million acres of land, with 46% of that land classified as pasture or rangeland. This is ground that, due to topography, precipitation, soil type, etc. is deemed unreasonable to farm. And while we as humans couldn’t use this land to grow, harvest, and eat the food the land produces, cattle can. Grass is the primary food source grown in these unfarmable areas. From a human food perspective, these grasslands don’t provide us with much. Our stomachs can’t break down the tough cellulosic fibers that plants consist of, so any grass we would be able to eat would pass right through without providing much benefit. Luckily, this is not the case for cows.
The power of the rumen allows grazed land, which otherwise would have had minimal value, to feed more people than would have otherwise been possible. In addition to Nebraska’s pasture and rangeland, we produce more than one billion bushels of corn per year, 40% of which is fed to livestock in our state. Pair this with our abundant water resources and it’s easy to see why Nebraska is ranked #1 in commercial red meat production in the U.S. This unique relationship between human, animal, and land is what makes Nebraska the undisputed Beef State, and May a month to celebrate for all Nebraskans.
-Ben Beckman is a beef systems Extension Educator serving the counties of Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison and Pierce. He is based out of the Cedar County Extension office in Hartington. You can reach him by phone: (402) 254-6821 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org