The American Cattle Herd has shrunk but not in exactly the same way that they shrunk Ol’ Mickey, the mini Zebu bull. Drought management decisions by our Cattlemen has the herd down, in absolute numbers, to 90.8 million cattle and calves as of the start of the year. That is the lowest number of animals since 1952. In fact, if it comes to it, 3.57 of us will have to triple/quadruple up on one animal to satisfy our beef cravings for the better part of this year.
But don’t panic just yet and start calling your 3.57 closest friends to go in with you on a whole steer. Though the actual head count is down, the average weight of our bovines is up meaning our 2012 herd will produce more beef than a comparable 1952 herd. We also import beef and have more vegetarians/pescatarians these days than in those days. If you like your beef, you may want to thank one of the aforementioned “Tarians” for backing away from the picnic and leaving more for you.
That being said, consumption is holding pretty steady but prices are not. Prices for Beef are up 17% from last year and look to go up from here, for at least a while. The number of Beef Cattle Kept for Replacement (breeding) was only up 1.4% to 5.2 million head. We all have some accommodations to make.
One way to stretch your budget is to learn more about Beef (the link goes to Smart Kitchen’s paid Topic on beef in Beginning Proteins) and select lower priced, slightly less tender cuts, not just the familiar and pricey favorites. Smart Kitchen’s Beef Tenderness Chart (free Smart Kitchen content) is a good place to start saving money by moving down from the most tender cuts to the second or third most tender cuts, even into intermediately tender cuts. Another way is to get the most out of the cuts you do buy by cooking them perfectly with the right techniques so that they are tender and flavorful. While this price increase may be bad news for the carnivores, it is survivable by shopping smarter and cooking wiser when you do choose to include beef on the menu. Who knows, their LDL/HDL ratios may even improve?
On the other hand, the little devil butcher on my left shoulder is shouting into my ear that “The correct course of action may be to rush out and get your bits of the herd today, before they are all sold out.” I am fighting him mightily, but if I lose, I’ll save you a place in the line at the meat counter. Oh and don’t worry about Mickey, he’s a breeder and not about to be made into a slider.