Madison Primal/Paleo Meetup

July 14, 2013

Madison Primal/Paleo Meetup

The Madison Primal/Paleo Meetup group toured our farm Sunday morning.  It’s always fun meeting new people who are engaged and interested in what we do.  Most were from the Madison area, but a few were from as far away as Michigan and Iowa.

I showed them a bred gilt who I predicted would farrow within a week.  She farrowed much sooner than that.  By 5 pm she had twelve nice piglets.  I wish the meetup could have seen it.

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Commodities, Food, Inflation

November 20, 2011

The office of Lynch Livestock, Iowa.  We sold cull sows last week.  Leroy always treats us well, but I was shocked with our price.  He paid $.61 per pound for the heaviest sows weighing over 600 pounds.  It was about $370 per sow.  I can remember when I was pleased with $200 per sow.

Hog, cattle, corn, and other commodity prices are at or near historic highs.  I’ve been trying to understand why this is happening and if it’s going to continue.  Our direct-market meat used to be priced at a premium, paying us for the extra costs involved with hoop-house pork and grass-finished beef.  But the commodity markets have narrowed that premium, and I’m rethinking it.  Maybe grass-finished beef should be cheaper, since the cattle aren’t being fed high-priced corn?

A buddy turned me on to Chris Martenson.  Chris says there is unprecedented levels of money and debt.  Inflation is just more money chasing after the same amount of resources.  The USA and world carry so much debt, there are only two ways out; default, or print more money.  If more money continues to enter circulation, inflation will ensue.  Inflation erodes wealth, because a dollar today buys less in the future.

Is this what’s happening in agriculture?  We are certainly handling more money.  But the costs of our inputs: fertilizer, corn, soybean meal, metal, wood, machinery, have all risen.  Should we save for a rainy day or buy now?

Toasted Tofu sent me a link about how Goldman Sachs created the food crisis.  It said that these huge hedge funds have been buying commodities, and only buying, and this has driven up the price of commodities.  An error in the article says that corn prices just kept going up.  Actually, in the last few years, corn went up to $7 per bushel, dropped back under $4, and then went back up over $7.  There is definitely more volatility.  My grandfather remembers when corn was $1 per bushel, only moving a few cents up or down for years and years.

As you can probably tell by this disjointed post, I don’t really understand what’s happening, or what’s going to happen.  I guess I’ll continue to use this blog to post what is actually happening to me, and the prices I incur and receive.  History always becomes a clear, concise, obvious story, but the future is always uncertain, with only fools and experts making obvious predictions.


Katie Couric Investigates Antibiotic Use in Livestock

February 11, 2010

I watched Katie Couric infuriate the US livestock industry over the past two days.  She reported on sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock and the “superbugs” that may develop as a result.  It was a fair report.

A little background to catch you up to speed.  The US livestock industry routinely uses a low level of antibiotics in the feed or water of birds and animals to promote growth.  This is what is meant by the term sub-therapeutic, or growth-promoting.

One of the problems with this strategy is the possible development of “superbugs”, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  I don’t know if this has been proven, but it seems plausible.

We gave this some thought on our farm and discontinued sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics years ago.  We aren’t organic, however, and we do reserve the ability to use antibiotics to treat disease.

And this makes sense to us, because, after all, this is how most people use antibiotics in their own life, (hand sanitizers excluded).

And this is a paradox many animal rights people don’t understand, but most livestock farmers enjoy raising animals and don’t want to watch them suffer from disease if there is a treatment available.

Katie Couric profiled the Danish swine industry which banned sub-therapeutic antibiotics years ago.  Contrary to predictions of the industry’s demise, the Dutch pig producers learned how to raise hogs without this crutch and their industry has even expanded since the ban.

Banning sub-therapeutic antibiotics is not without a cost, though.  The cost to raise a pound of pork increased five cents per pound.  This sounds about right.

And that’s why I’m not knocking hog farmers who choose to use sub-therapeutic antibiotics.  Five cents per pound over several years can make or break a hog farm; and it is an acceptable and legal practice in the US.

But sub-therapeutic antibiotics are not necessary and it gives the livestock industry bad press.  I wish we could come to a consensus as an industry and eliminate the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics while still reserving the ability to use antibiotics to treat disease.  But of course I’m biased because that’s the protocol for my farm.

What do you think?  Do you see the difference between antibiotics used to treat disease and sub-therapeutic antibiotics to promote growth?  Do you pay more for antibiotic-free meat?  Do you seek out the lowest-priced meat?  What is important to you?  Why?


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.


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