Lifestyle & Flavor
The way a cow is raised directly impacts the flavor and tenderness of the meat. Several different factors determine tenderness: age, genetics, nutrition, sex, and stress and management. People who object to grass-fed beef describe their experience of it as “dry” or “tough.” Unfortunately this can be correct, but what it usually means is that the cow that gave the meat had not been properly finished.
Finishing refers to the final phase of growth in an animal. It’s the stage where the animal has reached his maximum skeletal size and his muscles are fully developed. During the finishing period, the food the animal consumes results mainly in intramuscular fat, or marbling (distinct from the extra-muscular trim fat). A decent amount of marbling is important in your meat because it naturally tenderizes the meat and helps it retain water and stay moist during cooking. This is a balancing act between both the animal’s age (and resultant internal physiology) and weight—in beef cows, 18-24 months and 1000-1500 lbs. If the animal is too young, its metabolism will not have slowed enough for it to put food to fat. Likewise, if the animal is underweight in proportion to its age and skeleton, all its eating will go towards adding flesh, not fat.
Because grasses and forbs do not build up fat the way high-energy feedlot grains do, pasture-raised beef has naturally less marbling and trim fat than standard feedlot beef. This, for example, results in an automatically leaner ground beef. Nonetheless, if the pasture-raised cow has been raised to finishing weight and beyond, it will produce meat with enough marbling to ensure a tender and juicy roast or steak. It’s when pasture-raised cows are slaughtered before finishing weight is achieved that dry beef results.
Why would a farmer slaughter the animal before it reaches finishing weight? Any number of reasons—expenses, drought, failure to match the animals nutritional needs with the available forage, and even just ignorance. However, by tapping into the natural growth cycle and metabolism of the cow, cow and farmer worker together to produce tender and flavorful meat.
The Farmer & The Cow
One of the reasons we love the pasture method is that it is truly good for the animals. Caring for your animal humanely makes a happy animal, and a happy animal in turn means healthy pastures and great meat.
Our cows fill two roles at the farm: they graze our pastures and they produce meat. We typically raise Angus cross meat cows. Born in the spring, they spend their first summer on pasture with their mothers, nursing and eating some grass. At 8 months, they are fully weaned, and they spend their second year entirely on pasture. They graze through the summer on lush foliage and legumes, and hit their finishing weight in the autumn, right when the grass stops growing, at 18-24 months and 1000-1500 lbs.
Our cows eat a mixture of grasses, forbs, and legumes, and by grazing ahead of the chickens, keep the grass short for the poultry. (When the grass gets too high, the chickens create tunnels to get from one place the next, and sometimes get lost!) We move them to a fresh paddock every morning, which prevents the land from being over-grazed and maintains soil fertility.
Beef is seasonal. Because our model mirrors the growing cycle of the grass, all our beef is fall beef, and the demand for our fall beef is greater than our production. Pre-ordering will help you beat the rush and secure a portion of our signature fall beef.
To meet year-round demands, we source beef from our neighbors who meet our standards and whose cows are on a different cycle. This enables us to supply interested customers with beef that was finished out in the spring and summer.