I'm a Drover: A legacy of beef

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Early next year the first “USDA verified tender” beef products are due to hit grocery store meat cases. That event will provide much satisfaction for Michael Dikeman, a retired Kansas State University professor who devoted much of his career to research on beef-carcass quality and tenderness.

Although beef tenderness has been a focus of many researchers over the past decade, the ground-breaking project on tenderness was launched when Dikeman and Cornell University animal scientist John Pollack were awarded a grant from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board to study carcass quality and meat tenderness on 14 different breeds of cattle. That three-year project resulted in the first expected progeny

Prior to that project, Dikeman spent the first 16 years of his career working on the Germ Plasm Evaluation and Utilization research projects at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, Neb.

“I coordinated the carcass and meat evaluation portion of that extensive project,” Dikeman says. “We characterized 38 different biological types of cattle for performance, carcass quality and meat traits on 8,500 progeny.”

Additionally, Dikeman conducted research on production/management systems for bulls, single-calf heifers and different biological types of steers; muscle protease differences in Bos indicus and Bos taurus cattle; ultrasound cooking and computer-modeled cooking of beef; animal stress effects on meat quality; vascular infusion of cattle at slaughter; effects of beta agonists on beef quality; and genetics of beef tenderness.

While Dikeman’s research provided a significant impact on production practices and the beef products consumers buy today, it represents only part of his contribution to the industry. As a teacher and mentor to many students at Kansas State, Dikeman’s influence on beef production and marketing will last for years.

Indeed, Dikeman taught 13 different courses to more than 9,000 undergraduate and dozens of graduate students before  retiring earlier this year after 42 years at Kansas State. He also filled several important roles beyond the classroom, including coach of the university’s Meat Judging Team, and advisor to Block & Bridle and Ag Student Council.  He won two K-State research scholar awards and nine college, regional and national teaching  awards, including a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Association of State Universitiesand Land-Grant Colleges award.

Dikeman’s contributions to the beef industry and his roles as researcher, advisor and teacher were recently recognized with his selection to the Meat Industry Hall of Fame, which will culminate in a ceremony and dinner in Chicago on Nov. 3. In a statement about the award, the Meat Industry Hall of Fame noted that Dikeman’s research spanned the entire farm-to-fork spectrum in beef production — from genetics to cooking and processing.

His many awards include the American Society of Animal Science Fellow Award (2013), a lifetime achievement award presented to animal scientists who have made outstanding contributions to the industry. Dikeman earned a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences and industry at K-State and a  master’s degree at Michigan State University. Hethen returned to K-State to earn a PhD in 1970.

Dikeman served as president of the American Meat Science Association (AMSA), chairman of the AMSA Reciprocal Meat Conference, and president of the Federation of American Societies of Food Animal Sciences. He authored or coauthored more than 425 refereed journal articles, abstracts, and bulletin articles, wrote two book chapters, developed videos, and co-edited the Meat Science Encyclopedia.

Dikeman and his wife Earline live near Manhattan, Kan., and raise Simmental cattle.


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