ATHABASCA – It’s not just any piece of meat you expect to see on your plate when you go out for a nice steak dinner, and in Alberta, where beef is serious business, getting that perfect cut is hardly a matter of chance—Marissa Yowney can tell you all about it.
The 16-year-old member of the Colinton 4-H Multi Club is the 4-H Alberta Steer Carcass Competition champion for 2021, having been awarded the honour in Olds earlier this summer, competing against 85 other youth from around the province, after previously winning the northwest Alberta competition.
Yowney lives on the family farm, south of Colinton, where they raise cattle and sheep, so she’s no stranger to the realities of farm life, but learned of the carcass competition just last year, and had no idea she would be a top contender in the province.
“It was a big surprise,” said Yowney, who has been a 4-H member for seven years, and involved in the beef club for four of those years. “I wasn't really expecting to win at all because it was our first year doing it, so we just kind of went into it, figured out what it's about, and just did it.”
The goal of the competition is to find the carcass that provides the highest quality beef for a restaurant. With points awarded for marbling (which determines the grade); cut yield; ribeye size and colour, carcass weight; fat thickness and colour; and muscling,
Yowney’s 13-month-old Black Angus steer Stewy weighed in at 1,290 pounds and was judged to be the best of the bunch, and most likely to end up on a plate in a high-end restaurant.
“We raise our steers to market, but we want them to become fatter so they have all the marbling inside, and then we take them to the butcher and they get graded by an Alberta grader,” Yowney explained, noting she also completed a number of assignments throughout the year and had to keep track of specific details to provide to the judges.
Throughout the project there were also guest speakers, via Zoom, to teach the 4-Hers some of the finer points of raising a steer to meet the criteria for the competition. Those included lessons on proper feeding and nutrient intake and how those two aspects in particular determine fat content and colour. An animal fed corn, for instance, will have a more yellowish fat, whereas an animal fed barley will have a whiter, more marketable fat colour.
“You actually get to see how they grade their meat and you get to learn how it's all done behind the scenes … We learn how fat you kind of want them — you don't want too much fat on the outside, you want it more in the meat,” she said.
With the new 4-H year starting up for the season, and with a little more experience under her belt, and the buckle she won as recognition of her achievement, Yowney plans to compete again in the coming year, not only in the steer carcass competition, but said she will raise a market lamb as well.