All In All, Livestock Is An Efficient Resource

Mary Beth Bennett
WVU Extension Agent
Berkeley County


It seems as though everyone these days is concerned about wise use of our natural resources. Competitive needs for recreation, power, agriculture and urban populations have sparked battles over usage rights for land, water and air. What role do cattle and other farm animals play in all of this?

We can talk about grazing land, water consumption to yield a pound of meat, the greenhouse effect, and the destruction of the rainforest to supply Americans with hamburgers. But the fact remains that cattle are a very efficient resource.

Ninety-eight percent of every animal is used, with less than half of that actually eaten as beef. The rest contributes to a wide variety of pharmaceutical, food, household and industrial products. Because we have learned to use all of the animal, virtually nothing is left to waste.

Extracts from internal organs, such as the pancreas, liver and small intestine, are used in the treatment of anemia and hypoglycemia. Fat and gelatin provide us with basic goods like soap, clothing, shampoo, cosmetics and desserts. Industrial uses of fat and gelatin include rubber tires, photographic film, stage light filters, and the transfer of ink to copy paper in printing. External features, such as hide, hooves, and hair, are found in objects ranging from sports equipment to leather furniture to glue and paint brushes.

Animal products are a natural ingredient in many products, although synthetic or imitation substances sometimes are used instead. However, scientists are finding that in many cases the natural products work better than the synthetics and may actually help conserve resources.

For example, according to the Pennsylvania Beef Council, glue made from cow hide is preferred for binding books because animal glue can withstand high temperatures. It also can dissolve in water, making recycling possible. Synthetic glue, on the other hand, melts in intense heat and is insoluble.

Speaking for football

And who isn't at this time of year? Here are some questions to pose to youngsters during the next halftime lull: Why is the football called a pigskin? It isn't really a pigskin. Is it? What animal skin in most commonly used in football?

The football was originally made from pigskin, and that term carries on. Today, however, most footballs are made of cattle hides or synthetic materials.

The reason is that traditional U.S. slaughterhouse practices called for leaving the skin of the hog on the carcass. The carcass was scalded under controlled conditions to remove the hair and epidermis. Hence, most pigskins available from the domestic market were the scalded strips taken from the lard area of the back. These skins were used primarily for gelatin rather than leather.

In the 1980s, a machine was developed that was capable of removing the skin from the pig side in the area between the shoulder and ham cuts. This system provided the tanner with a useful piece of scalded skin and has led to the successful development of sueded pigskin leather shoe uppers. The pork industry is slowly undergoing a change to skinning hogs so that whole pigskins are becoming available.