Thursday, January 31, 2013

1864 Cattle Selection Guide

Image shown below illustrates the points of cattle and they are more fully described in the article presented below. Please keep in mind that this was written in 1864.

Some of the points may carry a little different description today but most are still a part of the good judgement practiced today in any Cattle Selection Guide for the Beef Cattle Industry.

Cattle Points and description of Points of Cattle

Whatever theoretical objections may be raised against over-fed cattle, and great as may be the attempts to disparage the mountains of fat, as highly-fed cattle are sometimes designated, there is no doubt of the practical fact, that the best butcher cannot sell any thing but the best fatted beef; and of whatever age, size, or shape a half-fatted ox may be, he is never selected by judges as fit for human food.

Hence, a well-fatted animal always commands a better price per pound than one imperfectly fed, and the parts selected as the primest beef are precisely the parts which contain the largest deposits of fat.

The rump, the crop, and the sirloin, the very favorite cuts, which always command from twenty to twenty-five per cent. more than any other part of the ox, are just those parts on which the largest quantities of fat are found; so that, instead of the taste and fashion of the age being against the excessive fattening of animals, the fact is, practically, exactly the reverse.

Where there is the most fat, there is the best lean; where there is the greatest amount of muscle, without its share of fat, that part is accounted inferior, and is used for a different purpose; in fact, so far from fat's being a disease, it is a condition of muscle, necessary to its utility as food, a source of luxury to the rich, and of comfort to the poor, furnishing a nourishing and healthy diet for their families.

Fattening is a secretive power which grazing animals possess, enabling them to lay by a store of the superfluous food which they take for seasons of cold or scarcity.

It collects round the angular bones of the animal, and gives the appearance of rotundity; hence the tendency to deposit fat is indicated, as has been stated, by a roundness of form, as opposed to the fatness of a milk-secreting animal.

But its greatest use is, that it is a store of heat-producing aliment, laid up for seasons of scarcity and want.

The food of animals, for the most part, may be said to consist of a saccharine, an oleaginous, and an albuminous principle.

To the first belong all the starchy, saccharine, and gummy parts of the plants, which undergo changes in the digestive organs similar to fermentation before they can be assimilated in the system; by them also animal heat is sustained.

In indolent animals, the oily parts of plants are deposited and laid up as fat; and, when vigor and strength fail, this is taken up and also used in breathing to supply the place of the consumed saccharine matter.

The albuminous, or gelatinous principle of plants is mainly useful in forming muscle; while the ashes of plants, the unconsumable parts, are for the supply, mainly, of bone, hair, and horn, but also of muscle and of blood, and to supply the waste which continually goes on.

Now, there are several qualities which are essentially characteristic of a disposition to fatten.

There have not, as yet, been any book-rules laid down, as in the case of M. Guénon's indications of milking-cows; but there are, nevertheless, marks so definite and well understood, that they are comprehended and acted upon by every grazier, although they are by no means easy to describe.

It is by skillful acumen that the grazier acquires his knowledge, and not by theoretical rules; observation, judgment, and experience, powerful perceptive faculties, and a keen and minute comparison and discrimination, are essential to his success.

The first indication upon which he relies, is the touch. It is the absolute criterion of quality, which is supposed to be the keystone of perfection in all animals, whether for the pail or the butcher.

The skin is so intimately connected with the internal organs, in all animals, that it is questionable whether even our schools of medicine might not make more use of it in a diagnosis of disease.

Of physiological tendencies in cattle, however, it is of the last and most vital importance. It must neither be thick, nor hard, nor adhere firmly to the muscles. If it is so, the animal is a hard grazer, a difficult and obstinate feeder, no skillful man will purchase it, such a creature must go to a novice, and even to him at a price so low as to tempt him to become a purchaser.

On the other hand, the skin must not be thin, like paper, nor flaccid, nor loose in the hand, nor flabby.

This is the opposite extreme, and is indicative of delicateness, bad, flabby flesh, and, possibly, of inaptitude to retain the fat. It must be elastic and velvety, soft and pliable, presenting to the touch a gentle resistance, but so delicate as to give pleasure to the sensitive hand a skin, in short, which seems at first to give an indentation from the pressure of the fingers, but which again rises to its place by a gentle elasticity.

The hair is of nearly as much importance as the skin.

A hard skin will have straight and stiff hair; it will not have a curl, but be thinly and lankly distributed equally over the surface.

A proper grazing animal will have a mossy coat, not absolutely curled, but having a disposition to a graceful curl, a semifold, which presents a waving inequality; but as different from a close and straightly-laid coat, as it is from one standing off the animal at right angles, a strong symptom of disease.

It will also, in a thriving animal, be licked here and there with its tongue, a proof that the skin is duly performing its functions.

There must be, also, the full and goggle eye, bright and pressed outward by the fatty bed below; because, as this is a part where Nature always provides fat, an animal capable of developing it to any considerable extent, will have its indications here, at least, when it exists in excess.

So much for feeding qualities in the animal, and their conformations indicative of this kindly disposition.

Next come such formations of the animal itself as are favorable to the growth of fat, other things being equal.

There must be size where large weights are expected.

Christmas beef, for instance, is expected to be large as well as fat. The symbol of festivity should be capacious, as well as prime in quality. But it is so much a matter of choice and circumstance with the grazier, that profit alone will be his guide.

The axiom will be, however, as a general rule, that the better the grazing soil the larger the animal may be; the poorer the soil, the smaller the animal. Small animals are, unquestionably, much more easily fed, and they are well known by experienced men to be best adapted to second-rate feeding pastures.

But, beyond this, there must be breadth of carcass. This is indicative of fattening, perhaps, beyond all other qualifications.

If rumps are favorite joints and produce the best price, it is best to have the animal which will grow the longest, the broadest, and the best rump; the same of crop, and the same of sirloin; and not only so, but breadth is essential to the consumption of that quantity of food which is necessary to the development of a large amount of fat in the animal.

Thus, a deep, wide chest, favorable for the respiratory and circulating functions, enables it to consume a large amount of food, to take up the sugary matter, and to deposit the fatty matter, as then useless for respiration, but afterwards to be prized.

A full level crop will be of the same physiological utility; while a broad and open framework at the hips will afford scope for the action of the liver and kidneys.

There are other points, also, of much importance; the head must be small and fine; its special use is indicative of the quick fattening of the animal so constructed, and it is also indicative of the bones being small and the legs short.

For constitutional powers, the beast should have his ribs extended well towards the thigh-bones or hips, so as to leave as little unprotected space as possible.

There must be no angular, or abrupt points; all must be round, and broad, and parallel. Any depression in the lean animal will give a deficient deposit of flesh and fat at that point, when sold to the butcher, and thus deteriorate its value; and hence the animal must be round and full.

But either fancy, or accident, or skill, it is unnecessary to decide which has associated symmetry with quality and conformation, as a point of great importance in animals calculated for fattening; and there is no doubt that, to a certain extent, this is so.

The beast must be a system of mathematical lines.

To the advocate of symmetry, the setting-on of a tail will be a condemning fault; indeed the ridge of the back, like a straight line, with the outline of the belly exactly parallel, viewed from the side, and a depth and squareness when viewed from behind, which remind us of a geometrical cube, rather than a vital economy, may be said to be the indications of excellence in a fat ox.

The points of excellence in such an animal are outlined under the subsequent head, as developed in the cutting up after slaughter.

Now, these qualities are inherent in some breeds; there may be cases and instances in all the superior breeds, and in most there may be failures.

Editor's Note:

The above information from an 1864 Cattle Selection Guide has not been edited in any way. For me, this 1864 Guide allows us to take a look into the past and see both some of what they knew back then and just how far we have come.

Tom Correa