Grass-Finished Beef: Closer Than You Think

Are you having a difficult time finding grass-finished beef?  Are you a producer, unsure of how to produce grass-finished beef?  There is a good chance you have seen excellent-quality grass-finished beef but were unable to recognize it.  A shift in your paradigm will open your eyes to the grass-finished beef all around you.

Spring, 2007

“Would you sell us some feeder steers?”  Carrie asked me over the phone. 

The wheels were spinning in my head.  I had known Carrie and Eric for a few years.  I had visited their beautiful farm to look at their Scottish Highland cattle.  Carrie and Eric direct-market in the Madison area.  I had tremendous respect for their abilities because I had been trying to direct-market also.

“Yes, but what about your Highlands?” I asked.

“We need to expand and we want a faster-growing breed.  We thought of your Red Angus cattle first.”  Carrie answered.

“Great, I would be happy to sell you guys some feeder steers.  But they won’t be weaned until fall.  Why don’t you come over and I’ll show you the cattle and we can talk.” 

I was already formulating a plan in my head and I wanted to give my sales pitch in person.  This could be my opportunity to break into direct-marketing in a big way.  I also knew they were limited by the size of their farm and might be receptive to a partnership.

I took them for a jeep ride around the farm.  We looked at the cows with calves.  We walked into the heifer pasture and the curious cattle formed a semi-circle around us.  One of the heifers licked Carrie’s arm.  Now was the time to make my pitch.

I asked Carrie and Eric about their goals and dreams.  I listened.

Finally, Carrie turned to me and asked, “What do you want?”

“I want a connection to the consumer.  I want to know the people eating the excellent meat this farm produces.  I want to direct-market.  But I need a partner to help me and I think I’ve found a couple who could.”

Carrie stammered, “You found another couple, or do you mean us?”

“You guys,” I said. 

We laughed.  I suspect they had been thinking the same thing.

We sat around my kitchen table drinking wine and talking details.  We could go the traditional route and butcher steers 18-24 months old.  This plan put us 18 months away from grass-finished beef.  Momentum killer. 

Luckily, I had just read “Grassfed to Finish,” by Allan Nation.  In the chapter titled, “Turning Cull Cows into Gourmet Products,” Allan details how much of the world values beef from older animals.

“Paris native, Jerome Chateau, said the wide-spread American belief that meat from older animals has to be tough strikes most Frenchmen as incredibly naïve.  In fact, given the choice-as they are-the extremely picky French actually prefer their beef to be from older animals.”

“The meat cutter said he considered the best flavored meat to be from a five-to nine-year-old cow.  The older cows marble easily and are considered by the French to be in the prime of their life.”

“A five-year-old cow is like a 36-year-old woman.  She is at the peak of her beauty,” he said.”

I asked Carrie and Eric if they would be willing to try older beef.  I had a couple of four-year-old cows that had lost their calves in a freak April blizzard.  They were fattening quickly on our lush spring pastures.

Carrie and Eric were game.  We agreed that we should look at the carcasses and cut out one steak for a taste test.

The cows were butchered and the carcasses were dry-aged for two weeks.  Beef becomes more tender the longer it ages before it is cut up. 

Eric and I met at the butcher.  The carcasses looked good.  The butcher cut a steak out of each carcass.  Color and tenderness seemed fine.  The meat was marbled with enough fat to correspond to high select or low choice.  I was becoming more optimistic.

That night Carrie grilled the steaks medium-rare.  We each cut off a sample.  Chewed, smiled, clinked our wine glasses, delicious! 

Since then, we have butchered probably 30 cows along with many younger animals.  We still try a steak from every cow.  We had one eight-year-old cow that we deemed was too tough.  We made her entire carcass into hamburger.

We have not had a complaint on our grass-finished beef.  Chefs and other knowledgeable consumers have raved about our beef, especially the older beef.  It has a fuller flavor than the younger beef. 

The picture on my For Sale page is a great example of the type of cow that works for grass-finished beef.  Notice how fat she is.  All her angles are smoothed out with fat.  Her hips and ribs are covered with fat.

If you see a cow on pasture that looks like that, grass-finished beef may be closer than you think.

7 Responses to Grass-Finished Beef: Closer Than You Think

  1. Rad says:

    It is nice to know that you sample your product before it goes to market. Can you imagine the feed lot producers actually tasting the beef that they produce from the stressed-diseased-hormone injected cattle?
    The Grass-fed beef seems to be much more of a natural way and humane way to produce meat for the consumer without the worries of hormones-ecoli-mad cow and the such. Besides the taste being superior, is there any correlation as to the nutritive value?
    Referring to “FoodBubbles” blog, her flow chart shows the destructive nature of using just corn for feed an the collateral effects to the environment. Foodbubble also noted that feeding grass/hay for 3 days before processing reduced or eliminated completely the acid resistent e-coli present in feed lot cattle.

  2. James says:

    Do people really have that much of a preference, or even know how old the animals are when they are slaughtered?

    36 is at the top end of what I would call “prime” ;)

  3. stonybrookfarm says:

    Matthew,

    Great post. The only issue I can see as far as direct marketing of older animals that I can see is that, as you know, they need to have the spinal column removed (30 months and older), so you won’t be able to offer porterhouses and t-bones. I guess, however, since you have already butchered thirty cows, that this is not presenting a problem. What has been the reaction of those customers that want porterhouses and t-bones?

    I have really been enjoying your blog.

  4. curiousfarmer says:

    James, People don’t know where their beef is coming from. It is kind of a scam in the industry. Farmers have the perception that older animals are inferior, largely because the meatpacker pays us half-price for them. The industry takes this older beef and uses the higher-value cuts in restaurants, (country fried steak), and the rest for hamburger, charging full-price of course. Have you ever seen a cow discount in a store?
    Technically 30 months is the cutoff for “prime, choice, or select,” beef. Animals older than this are graded “standard” or lower. That is why I said the cow meat had marbling that corresponded to select or choice.
    The American mindset that older beef is inferior is so strong, I have yet to get my parents to try a steak from one of our older animals.

  5. curiousfarmer says:

    Rad, Thanks for the research. Interesting research on how to reduce E. Coli by feeding grass or grass hay.
    Limited research has been conducted on the nutritional profile of grass-finished beef. The omega 6-omega 3 ratio is supposed to be better than corn-fattened beef. I think the day will come when we are paid for the nutritional content of the food we produce. I am preparing for that day.

  6. curiousfarmer says:

    Thanks, Stonybrook farm. It’s nice to hear from another farmer. Good point about removing the spinal column on older beef. We can offer porterhouse and t-bone steaks on our younger beef. From our cows we separate the t-bone into the tenderloin and new york strip steak. The nice thing about direct-marketing is people oftentimes will substitute something similar if we don’t have exactly what they want.

  7. The shmoo says:

    The L.A.R.I.C. System: Use this system to handle objections throughout the closing sequence.

    1.Listen: Don’t speak until you hear your customer out, or you’ll look panicked. They need to get it off their chest. This also gives you time to think of the best way to handle the objection.
    2.Agree: Communicate that you understand the prospect’s objection. This is disarming, they expect an attack. Wait 4 seconds then reply: “I understand – it is a lot of money.”
    3.Restate: “Could you share with me why you feel that way?” This allows you to find the true source of the objection. Be patient and don’t interrupt. Often, the customer will answer their own objection. 4.Isolate: Once they clarified their objection, isolate that objection to put it to rest or it will resurface. “Other than that, is there anything else standing in the way of getting started?”
    5.Close: Use an appropriate close to answer their objection then assume the order with physical action

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