Posts Tagged ‘grass-fed beef’

As you can see from this video, feeding 146 head of cattle in the winter uses a lot of labor, equipment and fuel. Even more fuel is used shipping the certified organic hay down from our supplier, Jeremy Smalley of  Transfiguration Farm in Brandon, Vermont. Where we farm, cattle eat about five times their own body weight in hay every winter. So, it would be significantly cheaper for us to truck our cattle up to Vermont and back than it costs to truck the hay one way. We have talked to Jeremy about this. If we brought the herd to the hay for the winter instead of the other way around, his farm would no longer have to buy manure to fertilize his fields. That would be a more sustainable system for him and a lower carbon footprint all around. On the other hand, his place is now a pristine paradise with no fences, no cowpies, and no muddy hoofprints—and tourists spend good money to vacation there. It is unclear what bottom-line impact the cows would have on that business.

While I had the calculator out, I did this math: If you take the total amount of money we spend on the hay plus the shipping, we could afford to ship our herd about 1,250 miles and back each winter. That just about gets us to spending our winters in Orlando, Florida. All we need is a free 150 acre piece of land to graze. Now that sounds like a plan!

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Expanding the Herd

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We have wanted for a long time to expand our herd so that it is big enough to produce all our own calves. The main problem has been a lack of land to support an expanded herd, but since we gained access to more land this summer, we have recently been looking for the right breeding stock. We found it last week at the farm of Eric and Hannah Noël in Highgate, Vermont. We are very excited to be bringing home 35 beautiful Galloway breeding cows and two bulls. This is a great foundation for our genetics, and a great first step on the way to becoming self-sufficient.

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Mob Grazing

Cattle grazing as a mob. Yesterday’s paddock (foreground) is evenly grazed and trampled.

I don’t want to tempt Fate, but I have to say the conditions for grazing on our farm have never been better. When we started, the land had been tilled for years, which is, by design, a catastrophe for the soil. Now in our third summer of grazing we see evidence that the soil health is coming back: there is earthworm activity where there was none before, and the pastures are thick and lush.

With thicker vegetation, we can now stock more cattle per square foot on the land. We seem to have reached that critical herd size where the cattle start to behave as a “mob.” They stay bunched together as they mow down the forage evenly, trample what remains evenly, and deposit manure evenly throughout the field. As always, we move the cattle to a new paddock each day and we let the land rest for a long time before hitting it again.

On top of it all, we have benefited from a perfect balance of sun and rain throughout the spring. We are hoping it keeps up, and we are making beef while the sun shines.

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We are still pretty ecstatic about having the corral up and running. For example, when Dr. Matthew Cobb, our veterinarian, stopped by this week to do a physical exam on this newcomer to the farm, Steve and I stood around grinning (and snapping photos). Whenever we buy cattle elsewhere, the animals all get a thorough exam and a clean bill of health before they are allowed to mix with our herd. The corral makes this sort of job a lot easier.

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Here is a shot of Patrick showing off the mineral feeder we use to supplement the cattle’s diet of grass and hay. Cattle choose different vitamins and minerals according to what they need in different seasons and circumstances. Right now they are hitting all the minerals pretty hard (as they do every spring), with the exception of calcium, silicon and phosphorus.

Right now, the cattle are healthier than I have ever seen them at the end of winter. Although this is mostly due to the mild weather and the really high quality organic hay we got from Transfiguration Farm, Vermont. As far as weight gain is concerned, the cattle have a big head start over last year. Assuming the weather cooperates this summer, it should be a great year for beef.

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Ground Beef Additives

There have been many news stories recently about the practice of treating beef trimmings with ammonium hydroxide and adding them into ground beef. And many prospective customers have been asking us for reassurance that our ground beef does not contain it. The answer is: NO! Our ground beef does NOT contain and never has contained any pink slime or any other additive.

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Last fall, I split a side of beef with a friend, and I ended up with the brisket (actually, half a brisket—there is only one brisket on the whole animal). I have never been too successful with this cut. I usually use a crock pot, and it usually comes out dry. So I recently snooped around the Internet for new ideas. I found that America’s Test Kitchen has a recipe that is not behind their normal pay-wall, so I tried it. OMG, it was the best brisket I’ve ever had! My hat is off to America’s Test Kitchen. You’ve got to love this show.

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