It’s been a WHILE since I’ve gotten to sit down and do one of these. What can I say, working, farming, chasing kids (and dogs, and ponies) keeps a girl jumping!!
This past weekend we were able to attend the wedding of a wonderful couple I work with.
There were NO boots at the wedding. Only heels and some very dapper dress shoes.
Inevitably people ask Hubs what he does for a living. I mean, they already know what I do since I work with half of the wedding guests. But the look of surprise that comes to most people’s faces is pretty classic when Hubs tells them he’s a farmer.
“Really?! You farm?! Like cows? Wait, do they make milk?”
No. You’re not being punked. Ashton is not here and we really are farmers.
Sometimes I think they’re surprised we’re young, well-dressed, and don’t have straw hanging out our mouths. Alas, this isn’t my first rodeo working in corporate America with great people who are constantly surprised we farm.
It’s also an opportunity for us.
See, we get to interact with a bunch of people who are (and were) genuinely interested to learn about what we do and why we do what we do! I mean, the average American is three generations removed from the farm at this point (i.e. great grandparents would have been the last family members that farmed in any way). Our hope is that by sharing our story, we will make each person we talk to feel better about their food choices.
I mean, you SHOULD feed good about your food! We live in the U.S. and have arguably the most affordable, highest quality, and widest variety of food choices in the world!! That’s something we should always appreciate and NEVER take for granted.
So what should you know about your beef? After all… we’re beef farmers and who better to ask than us.
Here’s what we try to share when we’ve got the opportunity:
We raise Angus beef calves on our farm. They’re born in the Spring, and they leave (aka we sell them) in the late Fall when they weigh about 700-800 pounds. While they’re with us we will vaccinate them at the direction of our veterinarian, and we’ll treat them if they get sick or injured. For instance, we’ve had several calves with pinkeye recently!
If they need an antibiotic, we’ll do so under strict guidelines and that calf will not leave this property until the medicine is completely out of their system. How would we know that? Each medicine has a “withdrawal” time clearly written on the packaging, explaining how long that medicine will be in their body. Did you know there are inspectors who are making sure us farmers are following the rules? There are.
We check cows EVERY DAY. Sometimes more than once. And my husband knows many of the cows just by their look… which is actually quite impressive because they’re all the same color with no colorful markings to distinguish a difference. My hubs knows his cows:) They do actually wear some super flashy jewelry, also known as ear tags, so we can keep up with who’s who for health records etc. It’s got a number that will indicate who their mom is if it’s a calf, who their dad might be, and our momma cows will have a number that indicates the year they were born.
We do our best to take care of our momma cows, because if we don’t… they won’t be able to do their job raising babies.
“If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” is basically the farm motto!!!
We get our mommas into the hospital (aka the barn) if they’re not feeling well or get hurt, which sometimes happens, and we doctor on them much like you would your beloved dog. Our mommas are how we make a living, so damn-straight they’re important to us.
As the calves get bigger, the mommas will be rebred. A mature bull can handle 40ish cows (crazy right), and as much as the men in our lives joke about polygamous marriages… trust me, when our bulls are done doing the horizontal mambo, they’re TIRED. So then they get to rest. Alone.
Come Fall, our babies will likely go out West to one of the “dreaded” feed lots you may have heard of.
Let me explain.
We live on the East coast with AMPLE grass most years. We can raise one momma cow and her baby on just TWO ACRES of land. But we don’t grow corn very well. So the diverse geography of our nation allows us to raise great calves here on the East coast, then ship them west (where the corn is) to finish them to an appropriate weight/size.
You’ve likely heard the term “corn fed”.
Well most of our “fat” cattle (ones that are ready for harvest) are “finished” on a number of grains (just like us, carbs make them gain fat) and this high quality, nutritionist-planned (like an actual animal nutritionist) diet is part of what makes that ribeye taste so spectacular, or filet… take your pick:)
What’s grass fed beef, you might ask? Isn’t it better?
News flash: Virtually every beef cow eats grass for the majority of their life. There are some exceptions, but for ease of discussion you should assume all beef cows eat grass unless otherwise noted, always. Seriously. If the animal is exclusively grass fed (not finished on grain), the beef will likely be leaner, but it won’t have the same degree of marbling that makes steak so delicious. Think “select” vs “prime” when you’re shopping at the grocery store. You can absolutely make up your own mind – but I’ll stick to my grain-finished prime ribeye. Just sayin’.
So let’s call your new steak, “Ribeye”. When Ribeye leaves our farm, he’s going with a bunch of his half siblings (BabyDaddyBull was busy!!) out West. He’ll be there to hang out in very large pens (a lot bigger than you’re probably imagining) with a bunch of his buddies. The pen size is regulated to make sure each steer has room to jump and play, but since Ribeye is a herd animal and enjoys eating more than pretty much everything… he’ll likely stand next to his buddies. That makes him happy.
If you’ve seen pictures of calves packed in tight pens, it’s probably because they’re being moved to another pen, they’re being brought in to see the veterinarians, or maybe they just like standing super close. (I like my space bubble, cattle do not.) If they’re cramped it’s by choosing, or necessity, but definitely NOT because that’s their normal pen size.
Some people (shocker) would have you believe tight spaces are the norm, and that Ribeye spent his whole life on concrete. Simply NOT TRUE.
Eventually Ribeye will be big enough to become your ribeye (and it’s going to be a delicious one.)
Ever heard of Temple Grandin?
If you haven’t, you should absolutely look her up. She’s a world renowned animal behaviorist. She’s also a woman who started working in agriculture long before it was “normal”. And did I mention she’s autistic? To say she’s an inspiration puts it VERY mildly. (FYI, Claire Danes won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of her… It’s a wonderful movie.)
But I digress…
Dr. Grandin has been an advocate for animal welfare and improving conditions in slaughter houses for longer than I’ve been alive. Her research has essentially changed how we handle almost every livestock animal in the U.S. (and elsewhere), with her most important work dealing with animals that are about to become our dinner.
Did you know you can TASTE a stressed animal? Seems a bit far fetched, but the reality is stress actually affects the meat. So Dr. Grandin (and now others) have worked to make sure Ole Ribeye has a very quiet, stress-free transition to your dinner plate.
First, it’s the right thing to do. Animals should be treated with respect because they nourish our bodies, keep us warm, and give us hundreds of other products – so we can take care of them while they’re with us. Second, it makes financial sense. High quality meat brings in more money. Plain and simple.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way… What about organic? And natural?
Well for starters… ALL beef is NATURAL. unless it’s one of those faux meats that’s not actually meat. Look, I get that if you have Alpha Gal (tick-borne disease that makes you allergic to mammal meat) you would kill for an Impossible Burger. But otherwise, the over-processed ingredient list alone is enough to turn me off. Clearly that’s my opinion, and you’re entitled to yours!
So how do you make sense of all the options?
To put it in the easiest terms possible: “USDA Certified Organic” means the farmer adheres to certain standards when it comes to the food and medicine that Ribeye consumes (among other things). If Ribeye got sick, you’d have more limited options for what you could treat him with. Then again…anything a “conventional” farmer gives Ribeye should be out of his system long before Ribeye becomes a ribeye.
“Natural” is more of a marketing term and is unregulated. Look, I’ve got friends who raise and sell “natural beef”. They do raise their cattle differently than us – and that’s ok!! Beef being marketed as natural implies a more “organic-like” form of production, but it definitely DOES NOT guarantee it. Ask the farmer you buy your natural beef from to tell you about it!! They’d probably love the opportunity! And it may be that it costs them too much money (it’s actually quite a hassle too) to go through the organic certification, so they raise their cattle with organic production methods and label themselves “natural” to set themselves apart.
Bottom line: as a consumer you have choices, and that’s cool. But try not to make assumptions without talking to us farmers. We raise our cattle conventionally, and I feed it to my family. But if you choose natural or organic, that’s cool too! If you raise natural or organic beef, my hat’s off to you for providing beef to support consumer’s demands!
If you’ve made it this farm…I hope I could share something with you that makes you more comfortable and confident about beef. After all, it’s delicious, protein-packed goodness and much like Bubba on Forrest Gump… I’ll take it in any form you want to prepare it. Except well-done.
Eat beef, folks.