Category Archives: Cows

Everything that moos on the farm

Finally, someone talking sense about grass fed beef part 1

One of our customers (Hi Bill!) sent me this article in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal’s website. It’s all about grass fed beef and what makes it actually not just good, but far superior to grain fed beef. This article isn’t about all the health benefits, but about flavor!

Usually when I see something about grass fed beef in the mainstream press I roll my eyes and prepare to give it little attention. Most articles are either written for mainstream beef production or are woefully misinformed. However it is obvious that the author in this article has been chasing a perfect grass fed steak for some time.

In the U.S., nearly all cattle spend their first months consuming predominantly grass and mother’s milk. It’s during what’s known as finishing that grain-fed and grass-fed cattle part ways. About 97% of our beef cattle consume at least some grain to speed weight gain, allowing them to be slaughtered at 18-20 months. The remaining, grass-fed 3% graze throughout their lives and are typically slaughtered at 20-28 months, and sometimes older.

I’ve been involved with cattle since I was 7 years old. However I’ve been finishing cattle, as discussed above, since I was in my late 30s. The rest of the time we sent off the six month old calves to the market to be grain finished, or we buried the cows here from old age. Those were the two choices.

Cows walking out into the pasture
Cows walking out into the pasture

When I first started finishing cattle, I just took a decent looking cow, kept him till he looked big, and then hauled him to the processor. What’s the big deal? Any fool can do this.

The big deal was when I received back my 380 lbs of meat from my 1100 lb cow that actually only weighed 900 once he hit the scales. the meat tasted like shoe leather. Or it had a metallic taste, or tasted like onions, or any one of 20 different bad tastes you can have with grass fed cattle. Apparently whatever we were doing we were doing WRONG! The old timers, trying to be helpful to a young upstart advised me, “Son, you do all that hippie crap you want. But before you take that cow to the processor you better put him in the corral for a couple of months and put him on grain if you want any decent meat.”  I heard this time and time again. But that’s just a grain fed cow. I wanted grass fed AND grass finished!

The meat tasted goodish, if you could chew it long enough and got over the off tastes that were at the forefront of your palette. The hamburger was good and we frankly ground more of the cow than we cut. We also hosted a lot of parties where beef was on the menu. We gave away a LOT of beef just to clean the freezers and try again.

The sub-par grass-fed beef I tried in the past likely came from inexperienced farmers. “I think some of the early stabs at finishing cattle on all grass didn’t go so well,” said Dan Barber, the chef and sustainable-agriculture crusader behind Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns outside the city.

We spent five years not selling a single ounce of beef, trying to learn how to finish cattle properly. Most grass farmers would not be able to spend 5 years with no revenue. Luckily I was working full time so the farm was not my source of income. However when I went to other farms, I found young, excited farmers who thought what they were doing was correct. But their way was not our way. We had to improve.

But did it work? That’s part of the next post.

 

#45 has a new bull little calf, #82

I don’t know why everything happens on Sundays. Whenever Miguel shows up on Monday morning, the first thing he does is go check everyone on the farm. Invariably he finds a calf born, a pig out, something. Of course, Sunday is the day I run the farm so after I get done, these things happen.

Of course, the calf was healthy and happy, so there isn’t a problem.

Mom with her new calf, #82
Mom with her new calf, #82
#82 ear tagged and banded
Ear tagged and banded, ready for his 30 months on the farm

Cow #54 has a new little girl, #80

#54 has a calf #80
Our newest little girl. Mom is looking on, checking on her.

We have a new girl on the farm. Last week #54 had a pretty little girl calf.

This was a big deal because this was #54’s first calf. Miguel pointed out she was in labor that morning and I walked over to check on her.

#54 during delivery
In labor, about 20 minutes before delivery

This is what I found. She was completely non-plussed. She was apart from everyone else and just walking around like nothing was going on. The rest of the herd was curious as to what I was doing so they followed me which then crowded her. She looked ok so I walked back and told Miguel she had a few hours to go. You know, with my massive experience as a mid-wife, I could totally tell.

So about 15 minutes after I got back Miguel texts me that the calf had been born and was already nursing. Looks like I need another career. The mid-wife thing isn’t going to work out.

So when you come for a tour, ask about the new little girl we have hanging around. She is a cutie.

New Steak Cuts, We’re Open 2-6

Lucy here,  I stole the blog for an important announcement.

Spring is here for the 2nd time this year. We here at the farm are all really hoping it decides to stick around this time. Farm chores in the cold are miserable, add in wind or freezing rain and we all question our career choice. In honor of Spring I went digging in my Kari Underly book, ” The Art of Beef Cutting” for some fun new cuts. Last fall I got to meet Kari and have her teach me for a few days at the NC Choices Women in Meat Conference.  In reading her book I decided that we needed some new steak cuts. Great pieces of flavorful beef yet not quite the same price as the fancier choices like Ribeye, Filet, NY Strip.

Luckily I have a great boss that is quite supportive in my monthly game of confuse the processor. This truly is a game as sometimes I win and sometimes I lose.  And you guys have been wonderful in trying out new cuts, especially the Boston Butt steaks a.k.a Pork Ribeyes.  Grilling season will be underway next week & I’m ready to get the coals going aren’t you?

Our new cuts

  • Chuck Eye Steak $12.99 lb 
  • Ranch Steak-  $9.00
  •  
  • Tri-Tip Steak
  • Bottom Round Steak $9.00 lb

Drop by today  and pick up some new steaks for next weeks warmer temperatures. For this week I recommend sticking with the stew beef, roasts & bones for broth.

New to our beef check out this great post from Dan on how to cook Grass Fed Beef.

#49 has a new calf, #79

#79, born to #49
Sleeping after getting checked over and ear tagged

While we were gone, Miguel emailed me to let me know that we had a new calf. Normally I’d have put something this cute up immediately after coming home, but I’ve spent my time instead trying to figure out why this picture wouldn’t upload in WordPress. After spending way too much reading the interwebs and finding out everyone else was having the same problem, someone suggested that the color palate of his picture was set to CMYK and he changed it to RGB and it worked. Hmm, this is suggestion 307 in my search but it’s much easier than some of the coding options suggested, at least for me. If I blow up the picture, no problem. If I blow up the website, PROBLEM!

So I hunter in Acorn (my photo editing program) till I found the color thingy. Turned out it was already RGB. Sigh. But it’s some kind of weird RGB with lots of extra numbers in the name. No idea what that is. After poking around a bit, there is a generic RGB option. Click RGB, click save, click export, click upload, BAM!! It worked!! It only took me three days to upload one picture. Argh!

But it is a cute picture.

Oh, and she’s a little girl.

Hedy has her baby Henry #78

Yesterday morning Erin said Hedy looked like she was ready to pop. It just so happened that the vet was coming anyway, for something that will be another post. We walked out and looked at Hedy, who was huge but still eating bananas that’s we’d brought and otherwise seemed content.

The vet sorta shrugged her shoulders and said, “Hopefully she’ll deliver in the next few days.”

I was kinda thinking she’d deliver shortly.

About 3 hours later, we had this.

Jersey bull calf
Henry the newborn calf

Hedy had no issues whatsoever and delivered a pretty, perfect little bull calf. Sadly we were hoping for a girl but regardless he’s cute and perfect so we are happy.

This means we’ll be back in milk on schedule. It also means if you want to see the little cutie, he’s in the pasture right by the store so when you come for your goodies today, take a stroll out on this 62 degree day and meet Henry. 

2017-2018 cattle finishing plan part 2

In part 1, I detailed the cattle plan for the next two years. You’ll note a few things about this plan.

One, we still have cows that are well and truly finished to take us through the winter, except for February. These weights are from back in October so they’ve actually added a bit of weight since then. Remember, a well finished grass fed cow weights about 1100 pounds. We have cows finishing the middle of next year that already weigh 1000 pounds. We are in good shape.

Two, we were planning during early 2016 on growing our operation to where we would finish two cows  per month in 2017. That plan has been shelved. We were looking to add more land in 2016 and land prices have gone sky high. We are not going to add land anytime soon.

Also, we have learned that finishing in 30 months vs 18-24 gives us a much better product. We are getting the marbling and fat of a grain fed cow in a cow that has only eaten grass, hay, and produce. It’s pretty amazing. We are going to tweak the times in our plan as we go but for now I’m planning on a 30 month age when we process our cows. This is quite a bit different from what anyone I know does where the name of the game is to get cows finished as quickly as possible. We are going the opposite direction, slowing things down and focusing on quality instead of volume. It’s quite a bit slower and means we have less cows available each month, but we think it’s for the best.

In support of this decision, we have greatly reduced our marketing efforts and are concentrating on our core group of customers and word of mouth. One cow per month is plenty for our current volume and we look to maintain and grow our business organically vs. through outside marketing. We still greatly appreciate your referrals, even more so now because that is how we acquire new customers. But I have a pretty quick answer to people calling here trying to sell me on their marketing campaign.

Despite not growing at the original planned rate, 2017 looks to be a good year. Even though we plan to only process one cow per month, the cows weigh quite a bit more. In 2015 we averaged about 500 pounds hot hanging weight per cow, meaning at 1 cow per month we had about 6000 pounds of beef for the year.  In 2017, I hope to average about 850 pounds per cow or over 10,000 pounds of beef. Not exactly double but about 70% more than 2015.

Even though it will take us 6 months longer to finish the cow, we hope that moving more meat in the same trip will gain us some efficiencies in other ways. We are also expanding our store this winter, and also increasing our freezer space. If we can house more beef on site, I can cut out the one trip per month, and instead take two cows every other month, halving my trips to Siler City each year.

Some of these are firm plans. Some we are still just looking at. But the plan is to get more efficient in our time for 2017, allowing for more time spent on the farm, and less time driving. All while bringing you the absolute highest quality product you can get anywhere.