Engineering Better Meat (Feb, 1949)

Yum! Nothing makes food sound more appealing than auto industry terminology. I can’t wait to get my hands on some of that new-model 1950 beef. My mouth is watering just thinknig about it’s square streamlining and shorter wheel base!

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Engineering Better Meat

Nature needs help as a hungry world calls for food. “Blueprints” drawn up by animal engineers promise to give us more meals from each animal

PLANS for the 1950-model beef critter already are on the drawing boards of the nation’s animal engineers—and never did you see such a streamlined creation!

Built with square lines, low to the ground and with shorter “wheelbase,” this advanced model will carry more T-bones and tenderloins for its weight than any animal yet to appear on American ranges.

The animal engineers have other new designs on the drafting board for release soon — specifications for ultra-efficient pigs, sheep, chickens and turkeys. Here are some of the new models:

An air-conditioned cow for hot climates.

Beautified sheep, without ugly neck wrinkles and dental defects.

Streamlined hogs with more pork chops, fewer spareribs.

Hens that lay firmer, better, poaching eggs— and more plentifully.

“Early bird” turkeys that beat the season to be ready for the roaster before Thanksgiving.

Home-grown sheep clothed in valuable Karakul coats.

And if 1950’s steaks are juicier and more tender, you can thank such inventive geniuses as those who invented a mechanical chewing device to set new standards for meat quality. Don’t laugh—a scientist has to be exact—and two government research men, testing meat in a project aimed at improving beef quality, needed an accurate way of rating the tenderness of steaks and roasts.

Their first effort was a set of jaws with teeth to imitate actual chewing. This didn’t work too well, so they evolved a mechanical “biter” which cuts out a circular core sample much as a cook cores an apple. This tidbit of meat is put into a triangular hole in a large steel blade. A motor, pulling against a strong spring, draws the blade through the sample, just as a carpenter pulls a saw through a piece of wood in a miter box. As the meat is sheared in two, its tenderness is read on a scale.

Tender steaks are only one of the things the animal engineers are demanding of the improved beef critter. They also expect top performance—sturdy animals that are healthy, fast-growing and don’t eat their heads off. By sea and air, animals from many parts of the world are being brought to U. S. laboratories so their good qualities can be drafted for American agriculture. For instance, there’s the air-conditioned cow. Two years ago a ship docked at an eastern port, bringing two young bulls and two heifers on the last lap of a 12,000-mile sea-and-air journey from India. Government scientists, combing the earth’s dairy population, had selected these animals for their ability to withstand hot weather.

Cows have no sweat glands—they keep cool by breathing hard and evaporating moisture from their lungs. In humid summers of the southern states, ordinary cows such as Guernseys and Jerseys pant listlessly and milk production falls off as much as 40 percent. But the Indian cows have loose skins with more cooling surface and their thick, hairy hides are good insulators. Their weakness is stingy milk production— only about 2000 pounds of milk yearly compared with a U. S. average of 4500 pounds.

Now the animal designers are well along toward combining the good qualities of the two types to get an air-conditioned cow that faces southern summers without a murmur, yet yields milk plentifully. It can mean new prosperity to southern farmers.

Another “model” is being air-conditioned by crossing the Aberdeen Angus cow with the Afrikander, which is similar to the humpbacked zebu and whose tropical ancestry promises to assure hot-weather efficiency.

Face lifting for sheep is a typical job by which the animal designers want to correct nature’s mistakes, paving the way for production-line efficiency. Not that they are worried particularly about Mrs. Sheep’s glamour—they want to do away with skin wrinkles that make shearing difficult and lower the value of the fleece. Too much wool about the eyes nearly blinds some sheep, so they can’t even follow the leader—thus a relatively barefaced sheep is worth more. Occasionally, too, sheep have overshot jaws so that the front teeth don’t meet, making chewing so difficult that the animal actually is underfed. These defects are avoided by not using such animals in breeding flocks. Research men at the Western Sheep Breeding Laboratory in Idaho already have cut down skin wrinkling of Ram-bouillet sheep and many lambs raised there are born free of the troublesome skin folds.

The animal engineer uses three main tools: (1) “selection,” or picking out superior animals to be the parents of the next generation; (2) “inbreeding,” or mating members of the same animal family together, so as to reveal hereditary weaknesses and to concentrate strong points; and (3) “crossbreeding,” or combining the desirable qualities of different breeds.

When the model animal begins to measure up to specifications, it is ready for “mass production.” The new model is put on loan for breeding purposes. Universities and state farms cooperate in introducing it.

Step into the Department of Agriculture’s 12,000-acre experimental farm at Beltsville, Md., and you can preview some of these remarkable creations, soon to be readied for the production line. Animal experts will point out husky young steers in the laboratory’s Shorthorn herd that have grown 14 percent fatter than average and have reached market weight six weeks sooner. The latest-model milch goat produces milk for a period 145 percent longer than did her ancestors. The streamlined Holstein cow, which in 1918 was yielding 678 pounds of butterfat a year, has been improved so that today’s model averages 814 pounds, a 20-percent improvement.

The animal designers will show you how they made hens lay nearly 50 more eggs each year. They’ll explain their plans for building up the flocks of the Karakul sheep in this country to make possible the production of Persian lambskin.

This year enough of such blueprinted knowledge will move out of the laboratory to the nation’s farms to save thousands of dollars’ worth of grain. For instance, a hog ready for market means an investment of 1/2 ton of feed—and with corn prices at a high level, every pound counts. The highly efficient, 1949-model pig is lower to the ground, heavier in the loin and eats far less for its weight than older models. Here are the latest specifications:

Legs short, body not too long, bones small; weight medium, preferably about 200 to 225 pounds; an even layer of fat along the back, 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 inches thick; and at least half the weight to be made up of ham, loin, bacon, butt and picnic shoulder.

Right now, only about one in fifty U. S. hogs reaches these ideal proportions—but the scientists are beginning to get uniformity among the experimental-farm animals now undergoing the streamlining process. These ultra-efficient porkers give fewer spareribs and pigs’ knuckles, but more bacon and ham for the amount of feed consumed. Recently, “performance tests” showed the new-model pigs at the age of six months weigh 100 pounds more per litter than their common cousins, yet ate no more feed.

By juggling the laws of heredity, the animal engineers can speed up nature’s slow processes a little, but many of the new designs are the result of experiments started long ago. For instance, while Germany was just beginning to cave in under Allied attacks, U. S. experts foresaw that Europe faced postwar famine unless her farm-animal population could be quickly rebuilt.

One of the quickest sources of meat is poultry. In the breeding pens at the government’s Beltsville research center, experimenters were working to design a small, efficient turkey that would grow fast on an economical diet and would lay more eggs, with few that failed to hatch. They had already culled out inefficient, stingy layers in a new breed of turkeys. Just before V-J Day, they put a trial shipment of eggs from the “Beltsville Small White” flock on a plane bound for Europe.

Good heredity proved out, for 87.5 percent of the eggs hatched. The new design laid the foundation for a “high speed” turkey to help restock Europe’s farms.

A small turkey recently designed by animal engineers is slanted for the U. S. market. Juggling the seasons, they have persuaded Madame Turkey to lay more eggs and to start laying them sooner. This is a long step toward better turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners, more fresh turkey meat throughout the year.

The animal engineers now are copying the revolutionary process that transformed yesterday’s tall, top-heavy automobile into a long, low car with built-in running boards and smoothly streamlined body. Tall, long-legged steers mean more soupbones, when Americans want more T-bones. Farmers can profit by turning out a beef critter with shorter legs and a heavier build. Standardized animals mean fewer scrawny, cull cattle that are expensive boarders for the farmer, yet bring third-rate prices and yield tough, stringy steaks.

“No use feeding scrub animals!” the modern farmer says, for at today’s feed prices, it doesn’t pay to feed runts. By gradually breeding out the inefficient animals and replacing them with tomorrow’s standard, up-to-date models, the nation’s biggest industry is boosting its output to create more food for all. That’s why tomorrow’s farmer would no more want to turn out a runty, rawboned pig or a scrawny, thin-wooled sheep than a Detroit motor manufacturer would let an automobile leave his production line minus radiator grille or steering wheel.

1 comment
  1. Larry says: February 23, 20085:40 pm

    “I can’t wait to get my hands on some of that new-model 1950 beef.”
    you already have infact most likely all of the meat you have eaten in your life has a direct link to these experiments.

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