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Points Of Fat Cattle

Category: History and Breeds

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. Guenon'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.

Next: Driving And Slaughtering

Previous: The Raising Of Calves

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