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.
“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.