This is the heater in the milking parlor. Now before you think we have lounge chairs and hot toddys in our plush parlor, this heater was in response to the frozen pipes of a few weeks ago. At 15 degrees this morning, the heater has managed to keep the pipes thawed, barely. It’s still mighty cold for milking but we do have water for wash down so mission accomplished.
Once again I’ve snuck away from the farm. This time it wasn’t for work, or to pick up a cow. It was to go to Las Vegas with some of my good friends and vacate a bit. We rode in limos, drove fast cars, attended SHOT, and ate some pretty good food. The five part mini-series on grass fed beef I just posted was caused by two things.
1. While in Las Vegas for 3 days, I had the distinct pleasure of trying to be 20 again and stay up late, coupled with the fact that I’m nowhere close to 20 and am a farm boy and get up at 0’dark early. The end result is I slept about 9 hours in 3 days, leaving me lots of time to work on posts for you fine folks while everyone else snored.
2. Las Vegas is known for their restaurants and food. They aren’t the “foodie” culture of Charleston or New York, but they do try to one up each other out there and serve something better than the next guy. I made sure to sample lots of beef and pork and came across the $66 grass fed ribeye that was the basis for the previous five posts. So my field research resulted in a pretty good result at only $13.20 per post.
So now I’m back and it’s time to get more farm related stuff published here. I have lots of details from the class I took last week, plus a new stock trailer that needs some pictures and needs some animals to ride. We also have our hog killing class coming up in a month which will get lots of press. And before we know it, it’ll be spring and we’ll be back to pictures of grazing and trample (CB, I know you cannot wait).
Another reason I haven’t been in a hurry to sell any cows is because I just haven’t been satisfied with my meat quality.
Firstly, I am my own worst critic. I have people that love our meat and would buy it today if I had some for sale. Despite this I continue to hold back and work on our methods until I am satisfied.
Second, I go to various local meat sellers on occasion and buy their beef. We don’t have our own beef in the freezer so it makes Darling Wifey happy to have a steak occasionally plus its market research for me. What I have found is that while I may not be happy with my beef, I am much happier than I am with some of the beef being sold. I’ve stood in line to buy beef that I ended up giving to my dog. I am not knocking other peoples product but there is such a demand for grass fed beef that people are lined up for beef that I don’t think passes muster. I thought maybe this was a local phenomenon but recently I had the occasion to have a grass fed ribeye steak in a very nice restaurant. The steak cost $66 for a 16oz. The flavor was good however the steak itself was tough to the point I couldn’t cut it with the knife provided and I pulled out my pocket knife, which was very sharp, in order to finish my steak. The restaurant was very proud that their steak came from this California grass fed beef operation which I am sure is very successful and well run. I had a revelation while eating that $66 steak. I can produce steaks this good. If this is a well finished grass fed steak good enough to be exported to another state and sold in a high end restaurant then I am being too hard on myself and my cows.
I am going to continue to try to do better but grass fed is different than grain fed and that’s not only ok, it’s what we want. Real flavor, real meat. We have our first cow that should be ready this spring, with more coming. A large part of that cow will be going in my freezer to feed my family. If it passes the test, we will have more for sale not too long after that. It will be good to be back in the sales business and bringing in some income to the farm. It will also be great to finally be able to say yes when customers want to buy from me. I hate saying no to a customer.
Yesterday when I explained how I had no cows for sale for years you had to ask yourself, “Surely there is a better way to do this. Everybody doesn’t go four years before they produce income, do they?” No, of course not. What someone in my situation would normally do is buy stocker cattle and finish them out in one season. Some farmers, that’s all they do. They buy stockers in the spring and sell them in the fall. Joel Salatin does this and sells a ton of beef all over Virginia.
However, I have an issue with this method of selling on my farm, and my issue is I feel it can be deceiving to the customer. Let’s say you are coming to me to buy grass fed beef. You come out to the farm and I show you our lush pastures, our happy cows, our organic management, etc. You see such a difference in what we do compared to factory farms and you feel justified in paying a premium for our holistically raised beef over supermarket beef. You feel good about your purchase because you are comfortable with what is going in your body and your families bodies and you are also supporting a healthy and sustainable operation. Everybody is happy.
However, what if you found out some months later that my cow I sold to you had only been on my farm less than a year. It wasn’t born there but had come from a cattle auction where I went and purchased cows already 75% grown. I have no idea where these cows came from nor do I know how they were fed, treated, vaccinated, weaned from its mother, etc.
Even though that cow spent nearly a year on my farm, that’s not even half of its life. Did all that could have been done wrong magically disappear the day the cow arrived on my farm? No. Will my management make whatever was done better? Sure, but how much better? There is research that shows cows are different from each other based on how the mother ate while the calf was in the womb. These cows are different all of their lives and even the next generation is different because of what the grandmother cow ate. What happens early in a cows life affects it for life, as it does for our children.
When you buy a cow from me, it was born on my farm and lived the type of life you are seeing and buying all the way through. That’s what I feel I am representing when I sell to a customer and buying and raising stockers breaks that trust you have in me, in my opinion. Joel Salatin knows his breeders and is very public that he buys stockers. I don’t think anything bad about what he is doing and don’t want to infer I do. I just don’t feel comfortable with that type of operation on my farm, with my customers.
Tomorrow the last part of this series.
I said in the last post it was good news long term that we had all female cows but bad news short term. Well short term is relative. It takes about 2 years to grow an American style finished cow. In other countries it takes longer or shorter depending on their palate but here we target the 18-24 month range. With a year of only females, then 2 years to finish, plus the 9.5 months of gestation for the cows to be born, you can see that it takes years to develop a beef program. All the while the expenses mount and people question your sanity for being in this business when you produce no revenue. This is why we grow pigs since they are ready for market in 6 months. Speaking of, we do have pork available if anyone wants some. Just let me know.
Tomorrow part 4.
This continues our cow mini-series.
With a pasture full of momma cows and a randy bull I was all set to produce some beef cows. However The Lord always finds it amusing when you make plans that involve his miracles (conception). Fortunately I think he gives you what you need despite you plans and pleas. Once I was ready to produce steers, I literally had nothing but female cows. Of course I want to keep female cows for future breeding so I went a year with 0 cows for beef, and the following year with few. Good news long term, bad news short term.
Tomorrow part 3