Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Year is drawing to a close.

As we close out the year, our record books, and send off all the data we are required to by various agencies and breed registries, I find myself looking forward with excitement. We have a new poultry producer coming on board with pastured birds so our quality can remain high and we can broaden our offerings. We renewed our grazing leases for another 5 years so we can keep our cattle herds separated and production at optimum levels. The seed is going in for the irrigated pastures, the mowing is all done down here in the valley, the water truck is fixed so we have no trouble filling cisterns up on the hill, and our sheep flocks are producing like gangbusters!
My young dogs are really starting to get the hang of things although there are definitely cow dogs and sheep dogs in the group! Monk could care less about sheep but works the yearling steers along side his dad like a pro! (okay he cheap shots once in a while but he's just a year old!) Cricket is more settled on cows and Bella has perfect balance. As far as the sheep work goes, Tweed is 11 now and slowing down but Grace and her two pups are picking up the slack. I have to admit, working T is like driving a cadillac and the young dogs are more like Ferrari's. I'd gotten really spoiled!  Fly is super quick and listens like her uncle T, where Sweep is a bit more single minded and needs to be reminded who's boss once in a while. Sooty still would rather be a couch potato but Smudge is coming on. He'll make a heck of a farm dog and does really well close in. I have to say, 1 good dog is worth 10 ranch hands most days! (except for the days I take a green colt out to work stock with young dogs, then I need to be an octopus!)
We've decided to double what we hold for grass fed and finished production so no one gets told no next year. Our steers are averaging about 700lb at weaning which is great!(that puts them around 1500+ at slaughter) People are really liking the Piedmontese crosses and we're going to breed more this next year. I love it when an experiment works! These cattle are larger than our Aberdeen Angus and Simangus and the unique muscling characteristics are really going to be a bonus. Like the Charolais they carry the gene for double muscling, but the Piedmontese only carries 1 gene and doesn't become tough like the Charolais when kept on grass that extra year. They still calve easily unlike the Belgian Blue and their conversion on grass is amazing! I like medium framed cattle as opposed to the little guys, they have to be able to travel across the pastures and climb hills. We tried some small breeds a few years ago and have kept the belties because they are a rare breed, but for us a 300lb yield isn't worth the effort that goes in to getting that steer ready to market.(it takes the same amount of time to finish a miniature as it does a full sized cow) I have a friend that raises miniature Herefords and she does a great business with those little guys but 900lb live weight vs 900lb hanging just doesn't add up for us. (she'll tell you the opposite form her point of view, "Meg, people like to get a whole cow for under a grand!" and I'm sure in her case she's right)
We're rolling right along with sheep production as well, the commercial flocks will continue to be Suffolk and Dorper cross, again because our customer base seems to really like 5" loin chops! Our Khatadin's are about half the size and I like them a lot due to their extremely mild flavor. The chop pops are amazing but I want more than 1 bite! Some folks like smaller portions and that's fine too. We've had a lot of fun this year with pigs too! Phil still is doing the Berkshires and Duroc pigs on pasture and we picked up some crosses for fun here at the farm. What great tractors! my garden plot never looked so good! In March the Mule Foot Hogs arrive and by next Christmas we'll be able to see what they taste like!
We're getting ready for the partial move up to the Hill Ranch where we have 10 times the space that we do here on the Home Farm so we will be able to showcase more of what we do. I can't wait! This place is fast becoming more of a learning center, Canning and production classes are filling fast and my travel schedule has expanded quite a bit for next year, I'm also firming up a book deal and our PBS special airs in the next couple of months. Multi Generational Farming and Ranching is the backbone on which this country was built and I am grateful to be able to carry on the tradition, while at same time bringing innovation and education into the lives of those interested in how we get your food "From Conception to Consumption"(tm)
Next time: An illustration of what builds great beef!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A time to Share and be Grateful

First let me thank all of our Farm Family and Friends for their support, guidance, and help this year. We truly would not be here without you! I have learned so much from new friends about Social Media and the importance of sharing our knowledge with others. I feel blessed when someone that we have helped along the way takes time to say thank you or calls us with questions.It means that we are doing things right. People really are interested in the day to day running of a cattle and sheep operation, you do want to know how and why we do what we do. The best answer that I can give is also the simplest, it boils down to one word....PASSION.
I am Passionate about my chosen lifestyle and want others to get a sense of what I feel every day. Getting up before the sun to drive out and check the cattle is every bit as important to me as telling you the facts about cattle production. Talking about sheep breeding and stock dogs is as vital as you knowing the difference between just grass fed and Grass fed and Finished. I want you to understand why there is no such thing as grass fed pork or poultry, and why corn and soy are not good feeds for rumenants. I get a thrill when ultrasounding cattle and sheep to preg check, and I want you to get at least a basic understanding of what it takes for us to get these animals to your plate. We copywrited and trademarked the term "From Conception to Consumption"(tm) for a reason. Because we raise them that way!
 I get a little crazy when I see blatantly impossible claims made about production and or breeding practices and need to learn to cool my jets rather than scream about how wrong they are. I would rather teach you, the consumer what is right than point out someone elses failings, it doesn't do me any good and those that think it's okay to invent titles aren't going to change because I call them out. I have to thank Jesse for smacking me up side the head on that one!
I want you to enjoy my posts even if you don't always agree and come away having learned something new or with a smile on your face. I love having visitors trail me for a day and get their hands dirty. I believe that the only stupid question is one that is never asked and that God put me here to make a difference. I love my life and wouldn't trade a day working livestock for all the riches of the world.
I want you to buy from us because you know what we do, and are comfortable with our practices. You don't have to come watch a slaughter, but I want you to know that you can and we schedule those days far enough in advance so that you are able to plan to attend if you wish. I want you to understand why it takes so long to get that beef ready for you to take home as steaks, roasts, etc. And I especially want you to understand the practices that make it happen. From the grass they eat, and the timing and method of slaughter, to the aging and cutting process, each step is vital to the quality of the finished product. I am so Grateful to be able to share this with all of you, Thank you!
Until next time....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Transparency or Hype? There is a difference!

When we livestock breeders and producers talk about transparency we want you, the consumer, to know what it is we do, how we do it, and why. There are certain things that the law requires us to do, like annual bangs testing, certain vaccinations for breeding animals, keeping logs of any and all medications used etc. All of this information is kept on file for review at any time.
Livestock inspections take place whenever animals are sold or move into slaughter channels. The Brand Inspector comes out and logs which animals are going where and checks to make sure all the paperwork is in order. They don't come out for "Wellness Checks" unless there has been a problem in the herd or flock that requires monitoring for health reasons such as a Brucellosis positive test or Coccidiosis infection.. (and that is done by the State Vet.)
Most Livestock producers follow accepted protocols set down by the USDA, and BQA as well as PQA Certifications are becoming more and more prominent.(These programs do require on site voluntary inspection)

What we as Producers do by choice is provide our customers with an outline of how we manage our herds and flocks, our feeds and feed sources, and our pasture/ range management techniques. We take our customers out to see the animals that will eventually grace their plate, and explain why we follow a given feeding/ raising model. Not everyone does everything the same way. For example:
We raise Purebred Angus and Simangus crosses. In order to market that beef as Angus we have to follow specific guidelines set down by Angus Source verification protocols. The same holds true for Grass fed and Finished. There are guidelines that must be followed to legally make these claims. Grass fed doesn't always mean Grass Finished, But Grass Finished always means Grass Fed.
When it is time for our animals to go to slaughter there are two distinctly different ways this is done.
If that animal is to be Custom Killed for Farm Members, The Butcher comes to the ranch, dispatches the animal on site, and takes the carcass back to their abbatoir for Processing. The resulting cuts from any animal may not be sold at retail, This is called CUSTOM processing. The only exception to this rule is poultry.
If an animal is to be sold at retail, farmers markets, or on line, it must be USDA Inspected AND Processed. If it does not have a USDA inspection stamp on both the carcass and the final packaged product it is not legal for sale. There are also requirements for approved storage facilities prior to sale. These facilities must be licensed and regularly inspected by The Department of Environmental Health or the product is not legal for retail sale. Another myth that needs busting is the fact that USDA inspected means legal for sale. Not So! If your butcher has USDA inspected product he can sell it to you legally at retail, You cannot legally re-sell that product. Why not? Because it was not packaged for final sale under USDA inspection. Meats that are USDA inspected and processed here in California always arrive at their final point of sale vacuum sealed with a clearly legible label affixed to the shipping container or on each individual piece. If it is offered any other way other than at a butcher shop or store it was not Packaged under USDA inspection.
Now, lets move on to Quality and Niche claims.
Yup there are rules that govern that too. If you raise what are known as Heritage or Rare breeds of livestock you have to be able to back up those claims with verifiable paperwork. Just because a pig has Berkshire, Tamworth, or Old Spot markings, doesn't make it a Heritage Breed. You have to be able to prove that that pig is what you claim it to be. The same holds true for Beef cattle like Galloways, Parks, and Pinsgauer, and sheep like Tunis, Khatadin and St Croix. These animals must be verified as Heritage Breeds or they can't be sold as such, and cross breds can never carry the Heritage claim.The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has the requirements clearly defined on their web page.
If you claim breed specific products the same holds true. For example: We offer Berkshire Pork, The label on that product shows the Berkshire Verification stamp in addition to the USDA stamp. Our other pastured pork is not always breed specific so does not have the Berkshire Label on it. Our Angus cattle sell under the Angus Source Verified label and it appears on the package. Cross bred beef does not have the Angus Source Verified seal.
Same thing for quality. Beef and lamb under USDA inspection can be graded for quality, this is voluntary and costs extra, but in order for us to say that our Grass Fed and Finished beef and lamb grades Choice or higher we have to be able to prove it. And the only way to legally make that claim is to pay for that added inspection.(and get that blue stamp on that carcass!) Grass fed and Finished Beef  and lamb will grade Choice or better under proper management and we are proud of the fact that we can make this claim.
I get upset when I see things like Gold label, Premium, or other baseless claims on products. I think it is false advertizing and gives a distorted image.  Look for local farmers and ranchers that can back up their claims with verifiable proof not hype and whitewash. If a marketing claim seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Until next time!