A few years ago I put together a demonstration showing the levels of estrogen in different foods including cabbage, peas, potatoes and beef.  The demonstration was meant to be a conversation starter about hormones in our food.  What I didn’t realize was the shock it would be for people to realize that estrogen is found in all living things that we eat.   One of my farming friends asked me “Who put the hormones in cabbage?”.

mms hormones

This photo was taken by Kassi Williams at an event I first used the M&M/Estrogen demonstration. You can read her blog post about it here.


steer getting implanted

My husband is using his left hand to hold the ear of the steer while inserting a needle and little hormone pellets under the skin with his right hand on the implant gun.

My response “God did.”.  Plants and animals need estrogen to grow.  When we eat things like cabbage, peas, potatoes, eggs, beef, pork and poultry we will eat the estrogen that is naturally found in those products.  A website that explains different levels of estrogen naturally produced in foods and in humans shows an incredible amount of estrogen produced by our own bodies!

Many foods cannot be labeled “hormone free” because we cannot remove the microscopic amount of hormones they naturally contain.  Using M&M’s to represent  nanogram ( one billionth of a gram) levels in various foods became a very effective way for me to talk about hormones.
     We use a hormone implant on all of the cattle in our feedlot.  We work with our veterinarians and the Beef Quality Assurance standards to make sure we administer our implants responsibly.  The implant looks like a small pellet that will lay under the skin in the ear.  The hormones are available to the steer over a period of several months to send signals that help him use less feed to produce more pounds of meat.  The animal has a growing period for his frame and a finishing period for the muscle to increase.  The hormone implant works in both phases to allow the animal to thrive as well as he can.

cattle in pen 15 7s

I’m not sure how lucky these two steers are to each have a “7” for a marking on their foreheads. I do know that we do not rely on chance or luck when we use research to improve our care of cattle.


The steer receiving that implant is allowing us to produce a more sustainable meat protein.  In 1977 it took five steers to produce the same amount of meat as four steers in 2007.  According to Dr. Jude Capper “Growth enhancing technologies (i.e. growth hormones) reduce the environmental impact of beef by 10.7%!”  That’s 4.2 tons of feed, one acre of land, and 22,722 gallons of water per animal that are saved.



Beef Sustainability Chart


My husband and I care deeply about providing a nutritious product you can feel safe about eating.  We know through research and studies that the meat from an implanted steer is as nutritious as eating meat from a non-implanted steer.  Don’t base your food purchasing decisions on fear—look for the facts.  CommonGround is one organization bridging the communication gap between farmers and consumers.

Joan CG HyveeFort Aug13

As a volunteer for CommonGround I have had opportunities to spend time in grocery stores to answer questions people have about the way we grow crops and care for cattle.

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches don’t fear the estrogen in your corned beef and cabbage.  In our house we will be celebrating that little bit of green in us with a beef and cabbage Runza casserole.  As you enjoy some Irish traditions or some of your own, don’t forget to share what you’ve learned about hormones, beef and cabbage.

runza casserole

A serving of Runza casserole!


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