So you want a BBQ pig…

Walter Jeffries at Sugar Mountain Farm is one of my mentors (although he doesn’t know me) when it comes to farming and blogging. He has a following that makes mine look like I’m a kid wearing dad’s clothes. Walter has a similar writing style and belief system to me in that he shares the belief that you show what is really happening on the farm, both the good and the bad. By doing that, your customer is educated on the reality of farming and therefore comfortable with you and your product.

Since Walter is much further down the path than I am, he often has done some of the work for me saving me the trouble. One of the things he’s recently posted is an entire page on buying roaster/BBQ pigs. When I get a call from a customer needed a pig for an event, it is a struggle both for the customer and for me to say how big of a pig you need for your BBQ. How many people? How many adults vs. children. Is pork the main protein or an addition? How does the process work? Can I have the pig the same day I call you for the first time (that one is easy, No.)

We will sell a BBQ pig infrequently so when the request comes in, we can’t just rattle off the answer to help the customer know all the details he/she should know. Thankfully, in Walter’s post he has taken the time to answer more than I could ever. If you are looking to have a BBQ, then give Walter’s page a look over, then give me a call and we’ll get you the pig you need ready to go over the coals.

So you want to buy 1/2 of a cow?

I’ve had a glut of requests lately to buy a whole cow, or maybe 1/4 to 1/2 of a cow. I answer all these requests the same way. “Yes we can sell you a whole cow. No you don’t want it that way.”

Since I need to type a novel each time to answer questions and hopefully help the customer make an informed decision, I thought it would make sense to do a write up here that I can point customers to instead. Often I’m on my phone and my thumb typing ability isn’t that great.

First thing to understand is how a farmer goes to market selling meat. There are two main ways to go direct to market in NC. One is to sell by the fraction and one is to sell by the cut.

Selling by the fraction

Selling by the fraction is a legal exemption that small farmers can use to sell very easily right off of their farm. I fully support this exemption for farmers. When we started selling directly to the public, it was how we sold meat. Selling by the fraction means I have almost zero regulations to deal with. As long as I mark my meat “not for resale” and get names on the sheet with the processor BEFORE dropping off the cow, I’m legal.

What’s happening here is, legally, you are buying the cow before it is processed and turned into meat. There is no regulation about you processing your own animal because it’s yours. Picture a family processing their own cow. Mom and dad get 1/2, son gets 1/4 and daughter gets 1/4. There is no need for the government to be involved. When you buy a fraction of a cow, you just effectively became family to the farmer. That’s why the names need to be on the sheet prior to processing the animal, because whoever’s name is on the sheet is who actually owns the cow. You aren’t buying meat, you are buying a living animal. All the farmer is doing is taking your new cow to the processor for you as a service.

In reality, the names often don’t make it to the cut sheet with the processor and as long as nobody checks, it’s fine. It’s kind of like that old saying, it’s not illegal till you get caught. However the NCDA is aware of this grey area and is starting to crack down from what I’ve heard.

What this means to the consumer is that they are buying a portion of a cow, hopefully one they’ve actually looked at but most often not. The cow will go to a custom processor and will likely not be inspected by the USDA or the state inspectors. The cow will be packaged however that processor packages bulk meat. When we sold this way, it was wrapped in butcher paper, that’s it. The consumer will then get a portion of the cow, 100 pounds, 250 pounds, 500 pounds. In that portion will be steaks, hamburger, liver, neck bones, etc. Whatever your fraction of the total cuts, that’s what you get with your favorite cuts and the not so favorite cuts. It’s kind of like a CSA box of produce, except it is 6 bucks a pound. You’ll need a large freezer space and a hungry family to go through all the cuts. You’ll also need to find some recipes for cuts you aren’t used to cooking. It’s a grand adventure and one I enjoyed helping people with when we sold this way

The pluses of fractional buying:

  • Large volume of meat, usually discounted.
  • Chance to try different cuts than you are used to.
  • Ready supply of meat in the freezer for parties, holiday gatherings, zombie outbreaks, etc.
  • Convenience. You only go to the farm once to buy and eat for months off of one trip.
  • No 2% sales tax. Because you technically “bought” the fraction of the cow while it is still alive, there is no sales tax on your meat.

The minuses of fractional buying:

  • Cuts you may not want are part of the deal. The dog ends up eating some of them.
  • You have no idea how the meat will taste till your freezer is bulging and your wallet is empty. (This is a big one, we once processed a cow in the spring that tasted like spring onions, Oops.)
  • You need other families who want to buy the remaining fractions of the cow. This is the hardest part, getting everyone coordinated.
  • You need to eat all the meat while it’s still relatively fresh in the freezer. A daunting task when you are staring at a full freezer.
  • You need a dedicated freezer to store all the meat.
  • You have to get in line and put your name on a cow in the future. That may be months away.

Selling by the cut

So the other way to buy meat from a farmer is to buy by the cut. This means that you buy a steak, or buy some hamburger, just like going to the grocery store. In order to sell this way, the farmer needs to get their NC meat handlers license and be inspected by the state. It also means that you animal will go in front of a USDA inspector or a state inspector at the processor. It will have a stamp on the carcass showing it was inspected. The labels on the packaging will also have all the legally required verbiage for safety and handling. Adding in these steps increases the cost for the farmer and therefore for the consumer.

The pluses of buying by the cut

  • You can try before you buy by getting a few sample steaks from the farmer before any big purchases
  • You can buy as much or as little as you want
  • You can buy only the cuts you like
  • You can usually buy when you want meat rather than having to wait till a cow is processed
  • You can still get a discount by buying in bulk
  • All the safety provisions of government inspections are in place, similar to the meat you buy at the store

The minuses of buying by the cut

  • It costs a bit more due to the increased cost to the farmer
  • You have to pay 2% sales tax (or 6.75% if you buy from a retailer)
  • You won’t learn how to use neck bones and beef liver in the kitchen

Now, for someone who wants to purchase a bulk of beef by the cut, what we do is we simply offer a bulk discount for a large purchase. We can’t tell you the price per pound because we don’t limit you to a fraction of an animal. This means you can buy more steaks ($18 per lb) and less liver ($4 per lb) if you like which would affect your price per pound average. It also means you don’t need to buy 250 pounds of meat at one time if you so choose.

If you do want to go the route of a fraction of a whole animal, we can offer that, but you’ll have to wait till we process our next cow AND we have an available slot at the processor. Currently the backlog for slots at the processor is 90 days. You will also need to put your name and deposit down before we take the animal to the processor. Also, there is a chance you’ll have to drive to the processor to pick up your own meat however we will pick it up for you is allowed by the USDA.

The price per pound will be a flat fee of X dollars per pound, hot hanging weight (that is the price the processor charges us by). Plus you will pay your portion of the processing fee. The price per pound will be based on the current NCDA report for grass fed beef, in place at the time of your deposit. This price fluctuates so I cannot quote you a price here.

11 Good Eats episodes every new cook should watch

Alton Brown

I shared this post on 11 Good Eats episode that every new cook should watch on Facebook. Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought I should have this post on our website as a sticky post. We have so many new cooks who are also new customers, I thought this would be a good post for them to discover in the future.

Alton is who I learned from starting when I was in college and who I still go to today when I’m making sure I have a technique down pat. If you don’t know Good Eats, you’re missing out. Season 1 is available on Netflix streaming. Season 2-13 are available on DVD, at my house.

How do you find good meat?

20140729-184224-67344093.jpgI get inquiries often from people looking to buy quality meat whether it is beef, pork, or chicken. Since we are perennially sold out I end up talking to these nice folks trying to help them find a good source of meat that they can trust. Everyone is at different stages on the path to better food. Some having just found the path and some much further down but they all seem to be struggling with how to tell if they are getting good meat because they don’t know what questions to ask. They’ve heard the horror stories about factory farmed meat but trying to find an alternate they trust is something they are struggling with. Since I’m not selling them, I’m considered to be a trustworthy source of who to go to next and how to know if they are a good source. Like my reading recommendations, I thought I’d summarize what I tell them here for everyone to read.

General questions

  1. Know your farmer. If you are concerned about where you meat comes from, then go to the farm and see the animals living conditions for yourself. What are proper living conditions? If it looks like a Normal Rockwell painting, you can feel pretty good about things. If it looks like a junk yard, or the surface of the moon, there MAY be issues. Understand farming isn’t always picture perfect but things should look healthy by and large. The fields, the grass, the trees. Heck, are the roads maintained? If people don’t take care of their farm, they likely don’t take care of their animals.
  2. If the farmer doesn’t give tours, or won’t let you on the farm to see their operation. Find someone else.
  3. Who does the farmer’s processing. Around here it’s going to be Chadhry’s, Acre Station, Key Packing, or Quality Packers/Dean Street Processing. Any of these are fine. If it’s someone else, then have the farmer explain why they utilize someone else. Are they a humane processor? Are they USDA inspected? A fine animal can become bad cuts of meat when handled by a poor processor.
  4. How are animals transported to the processor? How are they kept cool? How long do they spend on the trailer? Death is a part of life on a farm. However the animal should be kept cool and calm. The only bad moment in that animals life should be the moment it is humanely stunned with no pain. If you want to see a really good Hollywood movie on animal handling (a rarity), you can watch Temple Grandin here for free if you have Amazon Prime.
  5. How is the meat transported back from the processor? How is it kept at the proper temperature? Coolers? Coolers with ice? Plug in coolers? Refrigerated truck? Is it still safely frozen when it get’s home?
  6. Are you inspected as a NC meat handler? To sell meat by the cut in NC you have to be inspected by the state. Is your farmer inspected? You’d be surprised who isn’t.
  7. How is the meat kept frozen and stored on the farm? What is the farmers backup plan should he lose power? How is the temperature monitored?


  1. What does grass-fed mean to the farmer? Have him explain.
  2. What does grass finished mean to the farmer? Finishing is the process of building a fat layer onto the cow, increasing marbling and flavor in the cow. Many “grass-fed” cattle are put into sequestration for the last week/month(s) of their life and fed corn to finish them. This isn’t grass-fed or finished in my opinion. The entire animal is changed by this corn diet. Does the farmer actually grass finish or simply grass raise then pour on the corn and then sell “grass raised” beef?
  3. What is the farmer’s process for finishing their cow? Does he have a process?
  4. How does the farmer know when a cow is finished? By look, by experience? Have him explain it. What does he look for on the cow? Listen for things that tell you the farmer is watching each cow individually and only processing when the cow is ready, not when the bank account is low.
  5. Does the farmer have meat all year round? It’s pretty much impossible to have high quality, grass only finished cattle except for a few months per year, usually in late spring and in the fall. Any other time the cow won’t finish as well because the available forage isn’t of high enough quality. If the farmer finishes X cows per month, all year round, something else is going on. It may simply be that their winter cows don’t have quite the quality, which is fine. But if they are supplementing with something else, you need to ask the next question.
  6. What do you supplement with. Nothing is a good answer as at least it’s easy for you to make your decision however most farmers supplement with something. Kelp, silage, corn, bran, soybeans, hay, cotton seed meal. Each supplement has its own issues. Soybeans are the most heavily sprayed food crop in the world and 99% of them are GMO. Cotton seed is not a food crop and is not treated as one. Eating the meal from cotton seed is putting things into what you are eating that aren’t even regulated. Even Organic farmers can feed some of these things so know what the cow is eating, if it’s anything besides grass.
  7. Genetics matter a lot to a farmer. However they really don’t matter that much to you as the consumer. I often get asked what breed our animals are but in reality, it’s the raising that matters more to you than the breed.


  1. Simple first question. What do your pigs eat besides what they forage for. I’ve been to many farms and nearly all of them feed corn to their pigs. I’ve had farmers tell me you simply cannot raise pigs without corn. I took two 800 pound hogs to slaughter and they’d never had commercial feed in their life. They seemed to grow ok (sarcasm). A pig on a diet of corn isn’t a pig you want to pay a big premium for. It’s better than a CAFO pig, for sure. But just because it’s a heritage pig and roams around a bit in a paddock while snacking on unlimited corn doesn’t mean it automatically has a better health profile when it comes to Omega 3/6 ratios and the like.
  2. What breed of pig do you raise. Large blacks? Berkshires? Yorkshires? Ossabaws? My favorite, the “farmers cross” which is simply a random mix of various breeds. It does matter which breed you are buying when it comes to pork. Not because one is good and one is bad, but because there are lard pigs and meat pigs. Lard pigs are throwback to when lard was highly valued because we used it for everything like cooking, preserving, medicine, etc. A lard pig like an Ossabaw is a very old breed. Meat pigs are larger, longer, and leaner. They are bred to produce more usable meat on the same body, and to minimize fat. Both have excellent meat on them, the lard pigs and the meat pigs. You simply will want to know what you getting, and why the farmer chooses that type of pig. It does matter if you are buying non-heritage breed. Modern breeds have had the flavor bred out of them. It’s “the other white meat” campaign that was so popular for so long. The meat is flavorless and dry. Get a heritage breed pig to know what pork actually tastes like.
  3. Does the farmer castrate their male pigs? If so, how old are they when castrated? Anything beyond 7 days is frowned upon by the welfare people. Some places are banning piglet castration entirely. The issue with uncastrated pigs is that some boars can develop “boar taint” which imparts an off flavor in the meat. For the record we DO castrate our pigs and we get them as early as possible as it’s easier on us and the pig. Walter Jeffries, who is a remote mentor of mine and is the source of the previous link, has done lots of research on castrating and has written plenty on it. You can learn all you want on his site.


  1. How are the chickens housed? A barn, a Salatin style chicken tractor, a mobile house? How do the chickens get forage with their housing? Chickens need to take dust baths, to scratch for bugs, to eat grass. How are they getting that and how often?
  2. Free range? Meat chickens need to be confined for their own safety. However are they confined by poultry netting on fresh grass daily or cooped up in a small run with no grass and no bugs? It makes a difference.
  3. Like pigs, chickens “need corn” according to conventional wisdom. As far as I know, we are the only grower who doesn’t feed chickens corn. Chickens do need grain and our no grain meat birds we are raising now are an experiment to see if we can raise chickens without grain. However you should know how much of a chickens diet is grain vs how much is forage.
  4. Is your grower growing Cornish cross birds? This is the breed that represents 99% of the chicken you buy in the store. Cornish cross have often been called Frankenchickens. They grow unbelievable fast and they can quickly grow so large that their legs break under their weight. Many producers in this market choose freedom rangers because they grow only slightly slower but are able to still be a fully functional chicken. You can have what you want, but knowing what breed can tell you something about your farmer.
  5. It’s common to process chickens on farm in NC. However, that means you should look at the processing area and be comfortable with the cleanliness and attention to detail. When does the farmer process and how often? How many birds per day? Some farmers will trade some birds for help on processing day. You’ll never be more comfortable with the processing than when you’ve been part of it yourself. Is that an option?
  6. In order to process on farm, the farmer has to be inspected by a NC regulator twice per year. Is your farmer inspected? If not, it’s illegal for him to sell chickens to you. Many farmers don’t know this and think they are exempt. They aren’t.


Why yes I do have some reading recommendations

I give a tour about once per week to some family who is interested in learning more about their food and where it comes from. Lately I’ve been getting the question of what to recommend for people to read as they continue on their journey to good food. Rather than trying to answer everyone individually, I thought I’d make some recommendations via the blog. That helps those of you who haven’t or can’t make it to the farm for a tour and those who do who will now have a handy list.

In no particular order.

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. This book is a great read on eating local. Barbara is an excellent writer and this experiment on eating local they performed with their family is a great story on food miles and reconnecting with the seasons. I actually reread this book in 2016 and it’s still as good and pertinent as ever. It’s actually interesting to read it now as she talks about the local food movement because back when she wrote it, there really wasn’t a local food movement. We’ve come so far since her book.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Or anything by Michael Pollan. Michael isn’t a farmer, but he does a great job of articulating the story about why real food matters.

Farmacology. This book was one I read after watching the authors Google talk which is free on Youtube and I highly recommend.

Make the bread, buy the butter. A lot of people on this path get overwhelmed by all the life changes that accompany changing your diet. I don’t agree with every recommendation in this book, but overall it’s a great read and set of recommendations on where to focus your time to get the best bang for the buck with your time in the kitchen.

Folks, this ain’t normal. Or anything by Joel Salatin. Most people know about Joel, but for those that don’t, he’s the godfather of the local farm movement. If you aren’t ready to dive into his book, then you can watch video’s of him here or here. Once you watch these two, YouTube will direct you to the next 100.

Stockman Grass Farmer. If you want to dive into the minutiae of holistic grass ranching, this is the periodical for you. Don’t go down this rabbit trail unless you really want to get into the details.

Allan Savory’s TED talk. Animals and grazing aren’t the problem. They are the solution.

The 64 dollar tomato. A reminder why I garden the way I do, rather than the way the author does.

Anything with Greg Judy. He has a number of videos on YouTube about grazing practices and how to be profitable ranching and grazing.

The Cook and the Gardener. Reconnect your cooking with the seasons with the great read of a cookbook. Yes, you can read cookbooks. It’s not weird. No really.

Backyard Livestock is a primer on keeping animals on your homestead or farm.

And because every book can’t be serious, a book by Christopher Moore. This one is one of my favorites.

Gardening without weeds the easy way

When we have people visit for a tour they are often young parents with new kids. They are just getting into the lifestyle of knowing where your food comes from and they are searching almost every aspect of their diet out and trying to improve it. That means they are finding farmer’s markets, finding farmers like us directly, and finding ways to produce their own food. Some of them are starting their first gardens or are retrying a garden again after having failed in the past.

Whenever someone is new to gardening, we always stop by our garden here on the farm and I try to save them years of labor and frustration by explaining our simple but effective gardening techniques. It’s a challenge to explain to someone what and how it is that we garden and I’ve always struggled to give them something to go back and reference when they leave. My only thing I could point to was Lee Reich’s book, Weedless Gardening which was the book that got me started down our current path and has worked very well for us. The problem is I can tell my recommendation wasn’t going to get read by most people because they are going to drift off into Lasagna Gardening or some other such source of info. When someone isn’t sure how to plant beans, it’s hard to keep them from ordering other books on gardening and getting information overload and frankly that’s what we have with gardening, information overload. Plant 2″ deep, 6″ apart in hills. Prune in this month only. Side dress with bone meal. Plant in acidic soil. Don’t plant in acidic soil. If you start reading all the things each type of plant needs, you need a chemistry degree and 5 different gardens for all the diverse requirements.

Now I’ve discovered (it was made in 2011, I’m slow to find these things out) a movie has been made about the type of gardening we do. It’s called Back to Eden and the best part is the movie is free to watch at the link. Just scroll to the bottom and watch away. They do ask for donations if you are so inclined, something you can decide after you watch it.

The only real difference between what they are doing in the movie and what I do is that I don’t utilize wood chips very often,  I prefer grass clippings and mulched leaves because we have lots of grass and lots of leaves but no chipper.

(Update for 2018, we now utilize wood chips exclusively. Only because we get them so much easier now. Grass clippings work just fine)

Also planting by hand is more pleasant to me in grass than in wood chips as it’s a softer material. The downside is it breaks down faster than wood chips so we have to mulch more often but since we mow the grass anyway, we have to put the clippings somewhere so the reality is, I’ve never had enough mulch for my garden. Rather than go haul in wood chips, I prefer to use the already bagged grass as my mulch and it works just fine. As in the movie, I simply keep 4-6 inches of mulch over my soil and plant into the beds where and when I want. I’ve never had too much mulch but whenever I get below 4 solid inches of compacted mulch (it’s fluffy when you first apply it) I start getting weeds. By adding plenty of grass clippings I am adding weed seeds by the pound but have very few weeds.

I don’t have a compost pile. I did years ago because all the books and experts said you should but I quickly grew tired of the work associated with hauling everything to the pile, turning it regularly, then hauling everything back. Now, anything I compost I compost directly on the garden bed and simply cover it with more grass next time we mow. No special compost turners, no heavy labor flipping a compost pile and beautiful black loamy soil for our garden as the final product. I don’t worry about the brown to green ratio. Any excess nitrogen is off gassed as the grass goes from green to brown sitting on top. I’ve even emptied the chicken coops directly onto the garden beds as an experiment. Chicken poop is known to burn plants due to its high nitrogen content. Even with high concentrations of chicken litter (1/2 of the total mulch or better), we had no adverse effects in our garden and it composted away in short order without turning, moving, etc.

As another experiment with this mulching method, I took two planters that my father had built and did a test on them. My father took the “well-drained soil” idea to new heights when he built these brick planters. The are filled with masonry sand, completely. There is no soil in the planters at all. I believe his plan was to only add soil from the pot he planted from and to water and fertilize where he wanted life. The dry, lifeless sand wouldn’t support life everywhere else and his planters would be weed free. He did grow plants in these planters because he could grown anything anywhere when he wanted to however they still produced weeds so it wasn’t a total success. These planters had been relatively fallow for some years when I decided to try a simple experiment. I took a small weedy section of a planter and added a top layer of grass clippings. I kept the grass there for about a month and left it completely alone. When I pulled back the grass, about half of which was gone through decomposition, the sand in the top inch or so was gone as well. Instead I had a layer of black, soft soil teeming with life. Bugs, worms, etc. I proceeded to mulch the rest of the beds and now if someone wants to see when we are discussing gardening, I show them 6 inches of black loamy soil under my mulch layer. I’ve never tilled, never fertilized, never done anything but add grass and leaves on top and I went from coarse masonry sand to perfect garden soil in less than a year.

If you garden, or want to garden, I recommend you watch Back to Eden and give the recommendations a try in your garden. I know these techniques worked for me.

The questionable link between fat and heart disease

I looks like there is a trending article in the  Wall Street Journal making its way around the inter-web that does a nice job of telling the history of our war on fat and gives some compelling evidence of why it is a failed war on many fronts. The most major failing is that we as Americans are fatter than ever. Certainly fatter than when this war on fat started.

Chilaquiles. Pork sausage, fatty beef, and yes some corn chips. Now that's diet food!
Chilaquiles. Pork sausage, fatty beef, and yes some corn chips. Now that’s diet food!

The article is fairly long and makes a lot of references to studies, both good and bad. It also pokes some pretty big holes in the original studies that supposedly showed that fat is bad for you. The author of this article is pimping her new book, which surprise surprise, is based on the same topic. Now there’s nothing wrong with promoting your book, and based on the one review so far on Amazon (850 reviews as of mid 2017, 4.5 stars average), it needs some attention to get people to buy it. It was only just released (as of May 2014) so I’m not knocking the book, just pointing out the obvious.

I read the critic’s reviews and it looks like a who’s who of the anti-carb movement, all people who have their own books. Again, not really an issue but I like to see a broader cross-section of people before I can believe the hype. However, what I have read sounds pretty good. The author is an investigative journalist and has apparently spent 9 years on this project which puts her earlier in the movement than a recent book publishing would suggest. She has gone beyond hyperbole and has, again apparently, done her research to back her findings. She lists her copious sources which isn’t common. Finally, the findings of her book match my life experiences that I’ve written about before.

As an update to the post I wrote before, I’ve decided to dip my toe back into flying. Not in any big way, but just easing back in. Step one was to go and get an airman’s medical. It’s one thing to go to the doctor and have him tell you something you don’t like hearing. It’s quite another to go to a FAA doctor, who is reporting everything he sees to Big Brother. We’ve just come off a winter where my family consumed over 800 pounds of pork. That’s over 5 months. Folks that’s about 5 pounds a day of pork! Now some of that we served to friends, some was bones and gristle and whatnot that went to the dogs. But bacon/sausage for breakfast, and pork roast/pork chops/etc for dinner, and leftovers in between? We have practiced what we preach this winter.

Now I’m sitting down with the nurse and she’s checking all my vitals. I haven’t had an exam since I turned 40 and this is when things begin to fall off of you. I’m picturing all the fat I’ve scarfed in a short amount of time. Was all this stuff wrong? Will I have blood pressure through the roof? I’m certainly stressed enough at this point. The result? Better blood pressure and pulse rate than I had when I was in my 20s. Oh, and I’m about 5 pounds lighter than I was when I wrote that previous post too.