Our grass-fed and grass-finished beef is well marbled, flavorful, and juicy. A whole host of factors - the cow’s age, genetics, and stress level, the weather and the quality of the pasture, the care of the butcher - contribute to the quality of each cut. We often have people tell us that they don’t like grass-fed beef because it’s tough or gamey. If you’ve had this experience we hope you’ll try ours and taste how delicious it can be.
Permanent pasture is the foundation of a healthy farming ecosystem, and it is the foundation of our grass-fed beef production. It keeps soil safe from erosion, and if managed well it builds fertility. Unlike the monocultures of corn and soybeans that dominate most of the modern agricultural landscape, a permanent pasture supports dozens of species of plants and animals, hundreds of types of invertebrates, and untold numbers of bacteria and fungi. Keeping an appropriate number of cows on the land actually improves the health and productivity of the soil without contributing to environmental degradation like the hypoxic dead zones caused by excessive fertilization of cropland and by runoff from feedlots.
We manage our cows calmly and patiently. They live their entire lives free to enact their instincts to graze and move to new ground regularly. Our cows live in a cohesive herd. They get to kick their hooves up and trot around when the spirit moves them.
Our cows are 100% grass-fed and grass-finished. During the whole growing season and deep into the fall they harvest all their own feed from acres of orchard grass, fescue, clover, and forbs that grow in our pastures. Because the cows move daily they are always on fresh grass, which not only benefits the cows but also ensures that each section of pasture has plenty of time to regrow before being grazed again. This approach is called rotational grazing. The idea is that by moving the cows frequently the impact of their mouths, hoofs, and manure can be disbursed in such a way that the most productive and best adapted plants can flourish.
As the feed quality of the pasture declines, usually in the late fall or early winter, we start the herd on stored feed (hay). We are lucky enough to have a number of farms within a couple miles of us that produce exceptionally high quality hay, which makes up their winter diet. This means we don’t need to own the ridiculous amount of expensive machinery required to put up our own hay, and it means we get to import fertility in the form of minerals and nitrogen with each bale.
Because New York gets a good amount of precipitation, most of its soils, including our farm, are lacking in certain minerals as rainwater leeches these minerals out as it filters through the sediment. Our long term goal is to amend where we judge it worthwhile, particularly with high calcium lime, but we also account for this by giving our cows access to a free choice mineral feeder, which provides them with anything that might be absent from their diet. Each mineral has its own compartment and the cows take what they need as they need it.
We prefer small to moderate sized, easy finishing cows, because such animals have an easier time growing fat and happy exclusively on pasture. Unfortunately, most modern beef cattle have been bred to be as large as possible to meet the preferences of feedlot operators. Since we buy weaned calves at eight to twelve months of age this is a real concern. We have been able to find enough producers who share our values and 100% grass-fed practices to provide us with the animals we need, and our hope is that as local agriculture continues to grow there will be more and more like minded people raising the type of cows best suited to the production of grass-fed beef.
One benefit of moving our cows daily is that they become very comfortable with us. They see us regularly, and they associate us with fresh grass and hay, which makes it more pleasant for everyone when it comes time to handle the cows or load them onto a trailer. By being patient and calm we are able to get them where we want them without a lot of yelling and arm waving (which actually is counterproductive in our experience).
The cows live outside year round. People often worry about them in the cold, but cows are much better adapted to cold than we are. They grow thick winter coats, and more importantly the largest chamber of a cow’s stomach, called the rumen, is full of rapidly fermenting vegetation. If you’ve ever seen a compost heap steaming on a cool morning you can appreciate how much heat this process can generate. As long as they have enough to eat cows are comfortable even in the depths of winter.
A trough of corn and soy can pack a lot of weight onto a conventionally raised animal, but the resultant meat is insipid. Our cows are 100% grass-fed, and the huge variety of plants that make up a good pasture adds a complex depth of flavor that grain finishing can’t match.
A cow’s age also directly contributes to the quality of its meat. We raise our cows to approximately 20 months, with a target weight of about 1100 pounds. A steer in a feedlot is expected to finish at closer to 1400 pounds in 13 to 18 months, and this relentless push for maximum possible growth rate is one reason the meat produced by factory farms is so bland. Because our cows grow slower and live longer they produce meat that is rich and flavorful.
Raising cows a bit longer also means they have time to put on enough fat. Despite what you’ve likely read elsewhere, grass-fed beef is not necessarily leaner than conventional beef. A cow with good genetics raised on good pasture can put on plenty of fat, which is important to flavor in a couple of ways. While fat by itself doesn’t have much taste, it is a vehicle for other flavors, and it contributes to the juiciness and richness that can make a good steak a peak culinary experience.
A good layer of fat also means our beef can be dry aged for two to four weeks before being cut and packed. For the sake of speed most conventional beef is either wet aged in cryovac for a couple of days or not aged at all. Dry aging allows an enzymatic reaction to take place in the meat, which improves its flavor and tenderness.