Crinkly-Ear Sow Farrowed/Restaurant Visit

June 28, 2012

The sow I wrote about earlier, (let’s call her Crinkly-Ear), farrowed.  She picked out a shady spot under an oak tree, far away from the rest of the herd.  She had twelve beautiful piglets.

When a piglet is born, it is covered in a thin membrane.  It takes a few minutes to dry and rub off.  A healthy piglet shakes off the stress of birth rapidly, and is up and struggling with its siblings for a teat.

The chef and crew at Dayton Street Grille came for a visit.  I love when a restaurant comes for a visit.  It shows they aren’t just using the “local” angle for marketing, but really care about the food they’re serving.

I took them for a hayrack ride and showed them the cattle grazing and Crinkly-Ear’s litter.  They’re holding some day-old piglets in the photo.  I drove the tractor and Shepherd provided the color commentary.

Then they got the bonus tour because a sow was farrowing up near the barnyard.  They got to see me reach in and pull out a piglet that was coming backwards.  One guy even touched the slimy newborn.  Thank you Dayton Street Grille.


Grass-Finished Steers vs. Corn-Finished Steers

November 4, 2011

Grass-finished steer, ready for butcher.  The four steers we butchered this week averaged 1160 pounds live weight, and 615 pounds carcass weight.  This means they gained an average of roughly a pound and three quarters per day since weaning, October 2010.

I’m very happy with this performance.  Our customers are as well.  We’ve been butchering these yearling steers every few weeks since July, and we haven’t had a complaint, with much repeat business.

In July, the steers have been gaining rapidly as they transitioned from winter/late spring hay to the lush May/June pasture.  The biggest weigh around a thousand pounds.  As the pasture slumps in the heat of summer, the steers are rotated into orchardgrass/alfalfa hay fields to keep their consumption and daily gain up.

Below you can see the level of finish, or fat, in the brisket of this steer.  By industry standards this steer is not fat, nor ready to butcher.  Most would recommend a few months of corn feeding.  But the marbling in the meat is near the select grade.  And the meat is tender.  And like I said before, we have tons of repeat business.

Below is a steer we sold to a farmer who corn-fattens.  This photo was taken in September.  The steer weighs about 300 pounds more than the steer pictured above.  Look at the amount of fat in this steer’s brisket.  This is the amount of finish the industry demands.  The farmer sold this steer shortly after the photo was taken, and topped his local market.  Each of us produced the animal, and meat, our market demanded.


REAP-Day on the Farm

July 19, 2010

REAP food group, Madison, put on a wonderful “Day at the Farm” at Jordandal Farms, my direct-marketing partners.

People turned out in droves.  I think people want to visit a farm, but are too shy to ask.

Eric and Carrie went all-out showing off their farm.  Here is one of Eric’s Jersey cows with her five-day-old calf.

Here are baby chicks in the brooder house.  Each specific livestock had a sign with pertinent information.

Eric and Carrie showed off their chickens, Jersey dairy cows, and sheep.

We brought some of our Red Angus cattle and hogs to their farm.

Chefs from some of Madison’s finest restaurants prepared an excellent meal.  Employees and volunteers from REAP made everything go smoothly.  I can’t believe this was the first time they ever tried one of these.  Here we all are after a successful Day at the Farm.


A Visit from Restaurant Magnus

July 12, 2009

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Owners and chefs from Restaurant Magnus visited our farms Sunday morning.  I applaud them for making the effort and taking the time for a farm visit.  It’s fun when someone is interested in what you are doing. 

Check out their menu.  Bold and creative.  Direct-marketing continues to introduce me to interesting people.


The Proof is in the Pudding

June 19, 2009

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Large hogs enjoying their last days on an alfalfa/grass pasture.

 Are you purchasing pastured meats for your health?  Or are you more concerned that the animals are free-range?

Free-range is great fun for livestock.  But without careful management, a pasture can quickly become a dirt lot, and the health benefits that come from eating quality pasture will disappear.

If you are purchasing pastured meats for your health, and want to verify that the animals are getting the majority of their nutrients from pasture, then there is one sure way to know.  Observe the animals’ manure.

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This is the picture of hog manure from one of the hogs pictured above.  It is almost as green as cattle manure and contains less grain than the hog manure pictured below, which is from a hog receiving no pasture or forage.

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Now that you have this knowledge, I’m sure most of you won’t use it.  And I don’t blame you.  The joke in the movie, “Tommy Boy,” is, “You can stick your head up a steer’s ass to find out how good the steaks are;  but wouldn’t you rather take the butcher’s word for it?” I’m guessing most of you would rather take the farmer’s word for it, too.

I also have two nice pictures of contrasting cattle manure.  If anyone is interested, comment or email.


Pork Carcass Breakdown: What to Expect

May 3, 2009

You want to buy pork, in bulk, direct from a farmer.  What should you expect?  Here is a link to pork carcass cutout charts.

Pork carcasses are usually sold as whole or half carcasses.  Traditionally, there are more cured and smoked products in a pork carcass resulting in a greater butchering cost when compared to beef.  I will detail a hog we butchered recently with butchering costs.

Description Weight Price Amount
Processing 172 lbs. $.45 $77.40
Cooling & Offal Pickup 172 lbs. $.22 $37.84
Hams 44 lbs. $.40 $17.60
Slicing Bacon 16 lbs. $.60 $9.60
Rolled shoulder 25 lbs. $.25 $6.25
Sausage Links 14 lbs. $.85 $11.90
Spare Ribs 10 lbs.    
Pork Chops 30 lbs.    

 

The total weight of the pork we took home was 139 lbs.  Some of the pork was lost as bones and other waste.  Pork carcasses will vary of course.  The amount of take-home pork will also vary based on the amount of processing, (i.e. deboning, etc.), you choose.

Based on $172 to the farmer and $160.59 to the butcher, the total cost is $332.59.  Divided by a take-home weight of 139 lbs., cost per lb. is $2.39.

Comment or email if you have questions.


Grass-Finished Beef: Closer Than You Think

March 10, 2009

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.


Beef Carcass Breakdown-What to expect

March 1, 2009

You want to buy beef, in bulk, direct from a farmer.  What should you expect?  Here is a link to beef carcass cutout charts

A carcass is cut in half and then can be further divided into front and rear quarters.  The front quarter has more hamburger and roasts.  The rear quarter has more of your higher value steaks and will cost more per pound.

There is a better way to divide a beef carcass, though.  Ask for a half of a half.  You’re still buying a quarter, but you are buying half of the front quarter and half of the rear quarter.  That way you get some of all the cuts. 

I will detail the breakdown of a quarter I sold to my sister recently.  The steer weighed 925 lbs.  His hot carcass weight was 500 lbs.  The hot carcass weight is what is left after skinning and the head and guts are removed.  This is the weight we use to figure our price.  We charge $2 per lb. so that makes the steer worth $1000.

My sister received a half of a half or a quarter.  This is what she received in individual cuts:  33 lbs. hamburger, 4 lbs. rolled rump roast, 2 lbs. liver, 5 lbs. tenderized round steak, 6 lbs. sirloin steak, 5 lbs. cube steak, 6 lbs. chuck roast, 6 lbs. arm roast, 8 lbs. t-bone steak, 6 lbs. rib steak.  Total weight of packaged meat equals 81 lbs.

This is a typical cutting order for beef.  Our butcher charged $83 for this quarter.  There are many variations and different cuts that could have been requested.  It is an asset to have an experienced butcher in our community.

The total cost for the quarter is $333.  $83 to the butcher and $250 to the farmer.  My sister received 81 lbs. in packaged meat, so her cost per lb. is $4.11.

If you have any questions, please comment or email.


What’s in a Product? Read the Label

February 11, 2009

What’s in a product?  Do you think you know, so you don’t have to check?  I’ve had two instances where I’ve been shocked by the content of something I thought I knew.

Corn syrup is in just about everything.  Would you believe it’s in bratwurst?  I was running low on different meats and thought I would pick up some bratwurst from our butcher when I delivered hogs last Monday. 

I picked up a package of brats and read the label and put it back quickly.  I was trying to stay away from corn syrup before I started the meat diet.  I especially don’t want any now.

I called Carrie, one of my partners, and asked her, “Do you know Weber’s puts corn syrup in their brats?”

“Yes,” she told me.  “That’s why we came up with our own recipe.  It doesn’t need to be in there.”

I agreed.  I told her I would be over to pick up some brats soon.

The second time I was shocked was when I was negotiating a partnership with Carrie and Eric to direct-market meat together.  We discussed our production protocols and what the consumer wants.  One of the items we discussed was feeding animal products to animals.

“Never have, never will,” I confidently asserted. 

A few days later I was grinding feed and thought to look at one of the feedbag labels.  We put 40 lbs. of a vitamin/mineral premix in every ton of hog feed.  There is a kajillion ingredients on the tag and I guess I had never read all the way to the end before.  When I read the last ingredient I had to sit down.  Animal fat.

I called our feed salesman and asked him if he knew.

“Yes, it’s just a little bit.”

“Why?” I asked.

“To keep the dust down.”

To keep the dust down.  The reason JBS United puts animal fat in their feed is to make the feed less dusty.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  They are a progressive company when it comes to swine nutrition, but massively out of touch when it comes to the ultimate consumer.

I asked if we could get our feed without animal fat.  He wasn’t sure but would check for me.  Turns out JBS United has a natural product line called, Grand Prairie.  All we had to do was ask.  We switched over right away and the hogs have done just fine on the new feed.

What’s in a product?  Read the label, but do it sitting down.


Better-tasting Pork: Fat is where it’s at

February 6, 2009

Your job as a direct-marketer is two-fold.  Marketing:  make the sale.  Production:  produce a product that turns a casual customer into a repeat customer.

Most people have never eaten a juicy, flavorful pork chop.  There are two reasons for this:  overcooking and too-lean pork.

Fat is where the flavor is.  I read that blindfolded volunteers could not tell the difference between pork, beef, or chicken meat, if  all the fat was removed from the protein.

People will continue to overcook pork.  However, pork with more fat will stay juicy longer.

What can we do as direct-marketers? How can we increase the odds that our customer will have an excellent eating experience with our pork?

We can educate our consumers and change our swine genetics.  This takes time and is an ongoing process.  Hand out cooking information, talk to consumers about how they cook, select boars with more intramuscular fat, (marbling).  Some of the breeds such as the Duroc and Berkshire have boars that are clearly superior for intramuscular fat.  We have used some of the Durocs from SGI to increase the marbling in our pork.

But there are two things you can do right now.  Take your hogs to heavier market weights and only use barrows for your direct market. 

In the 1980′s most market hogs had over an inch of backfat at a market weight of 220-250 lbs.  The meatpackers began to demand a leaner hog and were willing to pay for it.  They also asked for heavier hogs to increase their throughput.  Swine geneticists took the cue and bred hogs that stayed leaner to heavier market weights. 

Consumers didn’t want fat either.  The Pork Checkoff  jumped on the lean bandwagon and began to advertise, “Pork, the other white meat”.  Consumers thought they were buying a chicken-like product and in many respects they were.  However, pork doesn’t make good chicken.  So we ended up with drier, less flavorful, more expensive than chicken, chicken-like pork.

Now everyone has realized the pork industry swung the leanness pendulum too far.  Changes have been made in the industry.  The meatpackers changed their buying grids to no longer reward the super-lean hogs.  However, it takes a long time to change the nation’s swineherd and pork is still quite lean.  This is where your opportunity as a direct-marketer lies.

Many of our pork customers tell us one of two things.  “We have never had pork like this before.”  Or, “this is the pork I remember from my youth.”  Either way we’re golden because we are creating a noteworthy eating experience for them. 

Back to what you can do right now to improve your pork.  Hogs have more marbling the heavier and fatter they become.  We shoot for a 220+ lb. carcass which means the live weight is 300+ lbs.

We only use barrows for our direct market.  Barrows have about .2 inch more backfat than gilts and correspondingly more marbling.  Also, there can be quality issues if a gilt is butchered when she is in estrus.  Barrows are a sure thing. 

There are two disadvantages to taking your hogs to heavier market weights.  Feed efficiency is reduced as hogs grow larger.  And an athletic 300+ lb. hog can be quite a challenge to load.  Happy marketing!


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