Beefy thoughts…

A faithful reader asked if we might sum up some of our experience raising meat animals vs. buying meat raised elsewhere.

Right now I’m eating a glorious dinner based on this recipe, and thinking that as much of a pain it was to raise Doug & Buddy, there are some real benefits to grass fed heritage beef that you just can’t buy.

We didn’t grain-finish them, as most beef operations do. Even our fall-back producer, Hemlock Highlands, finish their pasture-grown cattle with grain. Grain pretty much turns to marbled fat in cow muscle. It makes the meat softer. Raising them on grass/hay most of their lives gives them flavor and texture. When we first tried our boys’ meat, I was a little disappointed. For some reason I thought we’d get beef as tender as store-bought, but with more flavor.

Once we did some research into the nitty gritty of natural beef, we made some adjustments in our expectations and our cooking styles.  Our beef has incredible flavor that literally can’t be bought. When we slow cook a pot roast or simmer shank bones all night for soup or stock, it turns into magic. Since our steers were allowed to do whatever they wanted, roughousing, playing, goofing around, they developed strong connective tissues. This is what is broken down with slow & low cooking, and adds incredible richness to whatever you’re cooking. That in itself is just about worth the hassle of dealing with naughty bovines.

Another unexpected benefit is that we reconnected with the cooking styles of our ancestors. Funky recipes like Swiss Steak, Rouladen, Goulash were created back in the day when cattle were only butchered after a long productive life as a beast of burden. Our grandmothers knew how to make the most of even those tough buggers, and searching out old-fashioned recipes is a way to experience a piece of the past. Not terribly long ago, the only really tender parts of a cow were the filet mignon, and a few other steaky bits. These days everyone expects every part of the cow to be not only that tender, but also cheap. No more saving up for a special steak dinner….

Another bonus to home-raised, home-butchered beef is the offal. Wanting to honor the life sacrificed for our meals, we try to use everything possible. Heart, liver, tongue, suet, all will be used in some interesting way. With store-bought beef, you only get the parts you choose.

I think for most people, buying from a local producer is the way to go. You can see how your meat animal is raised, meet the farmer, and often buy more parts of a cow than are sold at the grocery store. You can usually buy anywhere from 1/8 to a full beef. It costs a little more, but tastes much better. It’s also closer to what most people are familiar with in terms of texture. But if you can, raising your own beef steer is a great experience.

Once we calculated the breeding fee for Stella, vet bills, hay, slaughter/butcher fees, etc. we ended up paying $5 a pound for a freezer full of beef. Would we do it again? Yes, but not for a while 🙂 When we run low on Doug & Buddy, we’ll most likely buy a steer from the neighbor and finish him out a little before sending him to freezer camp.

In other news, we’ve had our first frost. Everything but the greens are out of the garden, and we’re experimenting with low tunnels or hoophouses to see how long we can keep fresh leafy produce growing. We’ll take what we learn from this trial version and hopefully get a head start on peppers and maters next spring.

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4 thoughts on “Beefy thoughts…”

  1. Thank you for the write up! I still would like to try a piece of Doug or Buddy, I have only had store bought grass fed beef.

    The hoop house looks great – what is the height of it?

  2. Thank you for the information. Funny to read that changing your meatsupply alters the way you cook. Also funny to see that these changes always require a step back in time.

    Sorry to hear about “dealing with nauthy bovines”. This seems to stand in the way for next trial. When growing up in a herd the older cows will help keep calfs in check for you.

    In my country grassfed beef is normal, but they are supplemented with grain. Milking cows are visible in the landscape. They supply most ground beef in the store. Bovines for meat are less visible. I am not familiar with the whole process from raising to the stores for these animals.

    It surprises me that for you raising your own beef has been fairly economical compared to (my estimate of) retail prices.

    For me, I’ll stay mainly with naturally ripened cheese. I like that much better than meat. But I don’t think I will deal with all the work involved between the keeping the cows and retail sales.

  3. Here’s a fairly accurate write-up of where most retail beef comes from – http://www.chattoogariver.org/index.php?quart=W2004&req=beef

    It’s ugly, turning animals into a retail commodity. Economy of scale makes beef cheaper for the average person, but it doesn’t make it better. Most people don’t want to know the details, because they’d feel obligated to make hard choices about what they eat. But knowledge is power…

    Jannette, the ‘houses’ are about 3ft tall, 4ft across. We’re due for a windstorm this weekend, so we’ll see if the lower profile holds up to the weather. With such unpredictable spring/summer weather, we’re going to plant our peppers & tomatoes under cover next year. Hopefully the extra protection will bring fully-ripened crops and no blight.

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