Shipping grass fed meat from Colorado to New Mexico, California, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, and all the states in between . . .
Many of you have asked us why we do what we do. For years we were as involved in commodity beef as most ranchers – completely bought the whole idea of finishing cattle on grain. One year we even retained ownership through the feedlot, hoping to be able to make a profit that way. Didn’t happen, and when the medical bills started coming in on the animals we started to panic. We called the feedlot owner and were told that actually our animals were pretty healthy and our bill was not nearly as high as other rancher’s bills. Hummmm.
Located in southern Colorado near the New Mexico border, our two kids grew up on a small ranch raising grain-finished steers for our 4-H program. We got pretty good at it and won Grand Champion a number of times. Lambs too. And pigs. And rabbits. Didn’t have a goat program back then or I am sure we would have tried that. Our daughter was even reserve champion in her breed at state fair once. That was the year we learned how all the games were played at state fair and all the things you could do to the animals to push them and pump them and hold them and legally medicate them. It was a very interesting learning experience.
In the meantime Allan was guiding hunters on the side. One year he had a hunter who would rather talk to him about grass-finishing beef and intensive rotational grazing than hunt. So Allan was introduced to his ideas, and this hunter recommended the Stockman Grass Farmer magazine as a great source of information. Allan thought it all made a lot of sense and subscribed to the magazine.
The more he learned the more sense it made. He began to talk to me about butchering one of our animals straight from the field instead of sending it on the truck to the sale barn and ultimately the feedlot. I protested greatly. We were about grain-finished, not grass. I had spent years trying to get buyers to the 4-H auction, very carefully explaining to them that this was the best quality beef available anywhere. How could we continue in 4-H when his mind was going elsewhere?
I have to admit the concept of niche marketing was on our mind as we discussed changing directions. We had lost money or broken even year after year and Allan saw this as a chance to be in control instead of being controlled. However, unless we were convinced that grass-finishing was actually BETTER for the consumer as well as for the animal there was no way we were going to change just because there might be a profit in it.
So we decided to butcher a calf from our pasture and try it out. Allan insisted that I pick the calf, knowing that it would be important to me that the animal was showing “finish,” since we had heard many awful things about the experiences other folks had eating grass-finished beef. I chose a nice, plump Hereford steer that showed a lot of nice finish.
I will always remember the evening that we had our first bite of meat from our steer. We grilled a sirloin steak, my personal favorite. No special seasonings, no marinade, just beef, salt and pepper. From my first taste I was completely sold on grass-finished beef. I had never tasted beef with more flavor, and the tenderness was all there. No complaints whatsoever.
After this I became more interested and involved in Allan’s research, and he began to educate me about the health benefits of grass-finished meats. We attended a conference in Dallas, Texas, put on by Allan Nations of the Stockman Grassfarmer magazine. There we were introduced to Jo Robinson, author of the book, “Why Grassfed is Best,” and creator of the www.eatwild.com website. She is an expert in human nutrition and we became further convinced that grass-finished was the only way to go.
This is where we were first introduced to the importance of Omega 3’s and CLA and their health benefits. We learned that in the meat of grain-finished animals the presence of Omega 3’s and CLA was greatly diminished. This was because Omega 3’s and CLA are a product of the photosynthetic process and require the presence of green grass, something feedlot cattle have no access to. So although the animals entered the feedlot with a good level of both, after 150 days in the feedlot they had less than 25% of the Omega 3’s and CLA left in their systems. We also learned that grass-finished animals have much less saturated fat than corn fed grain-finished animals, as well as higher amounts of vitamins A & E. From the human viewpoint this looked awfully convincing.
When we learned that cattle lack a critical enzyme necessary for digesting grain, this really closed the deal for us. It made a lot of sense and explained why we had so many bloat problems with our 4-H animals, why so many of them got sick, and why some died when finishing on corn. We learned that this feedlot system of feeding corn to animals in confinement was a relatively new concept, and that prior to WWII no one finished animals on grain in confinement. Grain was a very cheap commodity in abundance after WWII and feeding it to animals seemed like a perfect way to use up the surplus. The rest is history. However, it was not until the 1970’s that the commodity program of grain-finishing cattle in confinement completely took over the market. That is why only people alive before WWII and even many of those involved in ranching after that realize that the meat today does not taste like the meat they ate growing up.
We learned that grass-finishing beef did not just mean taking a steer off grass and processing it. There is a lot of science involved. English breeds, smaller in stature and maturing at an earlier age, were best suited to grass-finishing. The grasses that the animals were finished on were critical to the flavor of the meat. Dry aging for 10 to 14 days ensured flavor and tenderness. Rotational grazing was very helpful because the animals were eating grass at its prime and always had plenty of good grass to eat. They were also not able to pick and choose the grasses in a pasture but ate nearly all of them, and over time the pastures produced better grasses in abundance.
Changing our genetics meant starting over, which we did back in 2001. We are still in the process of rebuilding and refining our herd. In 2004 we felt we were ready to begin direct marketing our beef. Allan wanted a website, something I quite honestly did not think was that big of a deal. How wrong I was. From almost the first day our website went online we have been receiving steady inquiries and sales. That, and linking to other key websites, has been the foundation of our marketing plan.
We felt that helping other folks understand this program would be much like converting a non-believer to Christianity. It would mean admitting that what they thought was right, was not. That there was truth they had never heard about. That they didn’t even want to hear about, like me, because they could see that believing this new truth could turn their whole world upside down. But some things just have to be faced, because they just keep coming up and demanding your attention. That is the way grass finishing was for us.
Could we ever turn back? Never. Some folks supplement their pastured animals with grain for the last few months before butchering them. While I suppose this is better than a feedlot, we have become purists of sorts. Our customers don’t want a compromised animal, they want the real thing. Our personal opinion is – why supplement with grain when we can produce incredibly delicious meat from grass, without the extra work and expense of grain, much less the risk involved in feeding a hot diet of corn?
Some of you have asked why we are not certified organic. Two reasons. For one, we lease our pastures and we have a number of leases in Colorado and New Mexico. Certifying each of these pastures would be too costly, and in the end we do not have complete control of leased land. Secondly, many organic programs require the feeding of certified organic grains and since we do not feed grain certification is unnecessary. But we can assure you that we do our absolute best to put our animals on pastures that are clean and natural, and where they will be eating the best quality grasses we can find.
Our grateful customers remind us and encourage us that we really are meeting a need and helping them in their quest for wellness. And grass-finished meats definitely help with wellness. Since changing our family seldom gets sick – an occasional cold is about all. And our customers report the same. Of course, wellness is not just about meat. Folks who purchase our meat are generally the same folks that are eating lots of fruit and vegetables as well, often organic or homegrown, and taking vitamins and supplements. It’s a package deal.
We are looking forward to working with each of you and hearing your comments on our grass-finished beef. Thanks for choosing us over all of the other producers out there. We really do appreciate you.
Lois & Allan