I often get asked how beef is raised here in the United States.
This is a valid question and usually goes hand-in-hand with "What is the difference between Grass fed and Conventional beef?"
These are great questions and I often don't have a large chalk board to lay it all out, so I wave my hands furiously and try my best to explain how that pound of ground made it into your refrigerator last week...
It usually doesn't end well, with my well meaning, inquisitive conversationalist leaving dumbfounded, to no fault of their own, by that Crunchy, Hippy, Goofy Rancher guy.
Anyway, I finally used my hand-cranked, 1997 model HP to connect to that new-fangled Internet thing and put my thoughts into an Infograph.
Hope this helps... gotta go chase pigs.
Our hogs live outdoors where they should! You see, the nice thing about hogs is they will eat anything, and the bad thing about Hogs is they will eat anything... so you've got to be careful what they get close to.
The most important aspect of raising hogs is not what they eat, but how they live. Most pork is raised in confinement on concrete - a real drag for the animal and a great way to ruin the meat.
If you look at a Hogs trotters (their feet) they look like a lady standing in high heels - don't be dismayed, they can stand for long period of time, but are designed (yes I said that, I think they were designed - not chance) to stand on soft ground, not concrete - something we made.
So, when they are kept on concrete all their lives, they don't adapt, they suffer. And, when and animal suffers from chronic pain, they are sick... now, let's see, what does conventional, mega-factory, industrial farming do about that... yep, you guessed it - medicine. And it goes straight into your mouth.
At SonRise, our hogs are free to roam, and the taste comes through in the product.
Most conventional hogs would scatter at the sight of a 12 year old boy hanging out next to their lounging area, as in the photo to the right. Not at SonRise Ranch. Our goal is to keep them as "human adapted' as possible. This prevents a rush of adrenaline at time of butcher and affords the best possible taste in the resulting pork - plus, it shows that we care.
It's really pretty simple - we eat meat and they serve that purpose. We treat them with the most dignity and care during our time with them. The fact that their distant relatives live tortured lives on concrete - tortures us. We have a responsibility and we take it seriously.
Running cattle free range can be good for the environment - most environmentalists would disagree with this statement. In fact most environmentalists would say that cattle on rangeland are bad for the environment.
To be honest, I would have to agree with them.
No, that wasn't a typo. Let me explain...The traditional way of raising cattle, free range with no daily management is truly destructive to the rangeland they occupy. As just one small example, consider this...
Cattle have this funny habit of defecating when they drink. And, to make matters worse they drink (an average weight Cow or Steer) between 10 and 15 gallons per day. So that's a lot of manure being deposited next to the creek, trough or pond. Pray tell, where did that manure come from? You guessed it - the grass from the rangeland they occupy.
So, we have a problem. Technically this is called "Nutrient Transfer" and it is defined as the literal transport of minerals, nutrients and other organic material from the rangeland (wide area) to a specific location - in this case right next to the water trough. Or, even worse next to the creek! Let me tell you, right from the lips (or fingers) of a Rancher this is bad for the environment. How do we solve this?
Well, to be blunt - stop being so lazy. You see, in nature, cattle (actually buffalo to be precise) would have roamed freely as an entire herd. Every day, they would move to a new grazing area, due mainly to predator pressure, and in so doing, they would have spread their manure evenly over the rangeland they graze. So, in order to run a truly environmentally friendly cattle operation, you must move the cattle every day. Basically, a Rancher should run his Cattle like God ran the great western Buffalo herds.
How do we do that? With electric fence. Each day, the cattle are moved to a new paddock of grass (a subdivision of the larger grazing area) - oh, and their water is moved to a new location too, preferably to an area of the paddock that is in need of nutrients.
This is just one of the many aspects of a well managed grass-fed beef operation.
The sum-total of this is two-fold; first, the cattle are very healthy, and secondly, so is the rangeland that supports them.
Cool stuff, no feedlots, no antibiotics (cattle that are on new green grass don't need medicine), and great tasting beef - and if purchase meat from us, you are a part of that! Neat huh?
In part one of this series we looked at the inherent dangers in eating conventionally raised, confined factory chicken. These risks included contributing to overcrowded and inhumane chicken facilities, eating bacteria ridden meats and consuming antibiotics that were intended for humans thereby contributing to antibiotic resistant bacteria strains.
What then, happens to all the waste that is created by an average chicken farm producing over a half-million chickens in a small area each year?
Although innovative waste management techniques have been pioneered such as bio-fuel and bio-massing, the “litter” from broiler production in the United States is still processed the same way it was 50 years ago[i] – it is spread on surrounding fields.
The excess algae growth can block the sunlight, preventing the deep water production of grasses and other essential underwater habitat for fish, shellfish and microorganisms essential in the complicated ecosystem of body of water.
A USDA report published in 2000[ii] warned of the consequences from the consolidation of small farms into large and very large operations. The report linked the remarkable increase in livestock density with increased problems in the disposal of livestock manure. In other words the industry loves the cost savings associated with consolidation but can’t deal with the proper disposal of the waste associated with said production.
What makes our methods different?
At SonRise, we use three key concepts – movement, match and meticulousness
[ii] Kellogg, R.L., et. al. 2000. Manure Nutrients Relative to the Capacity of Cropland and Pastureland to Assimilate Nutrients: Spatial and Temporal Trends for the United States. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Economic Research Service. www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/NRI/pubs/manntr.pdf.
Recently my blogs have been somewhat shocking – even to the point of being accused of “scaremongering”, by some readers who, for whatever reason or motivation, just can’t deal with the awful truth that your government is not interested in your personal health. Fair warning to all who read, the next series of posts will be a real shocker. If you’ve got thin skin or a queasy stomach - this one might not be for you either. We are going to take a look at conventional chicken production and how it differs from the Free-Range, Organic fed model used here at SonRise Ranch.
The density of chicken production in the United Sates has changed drastically since the 1950s and 60s. The Pew Research Center has published a report titled Big Chicken a report that details a number of startling statistics that consumers of chicken and chicken products should know;
Drugs are killing us. The baltent overuse of antibiotics in the farming industry has created an epidemic of drug-resistant bacteria strains. This chicken industry has been one of the main culprits.
Tyson foods, one of the larger chicken producers in the US recently announced that they would stop using antibiotics used in humans – but the damage may have already been done. Currently 25 million pounds of antibiotics are used in animal product annually.
When you eat meat treated with antibiotics, you not only eat the antibiotic but the bacteria too, in fact 22% of all antibiotic resistant cases are related to food borne illnesses.
What makes SonRise Ranch chicken different?
First, and most importantly, our chickens live outside, where they should. If you’ve followed us for anytime now, you know about our innovative “Chig-tractors” a solid knock off of the traditional Chicken tractor designed and made tough enough to handle free range pigs too.
This solves the problem of density immediately since our chickens are given a new patch of land every 24-48 hours. This is great for the chicken’s growth, quality of life and overall health. But it is also necessary for good grass growth (the primary goal of a grass-fed beef operation). Conventional farms use Potassium, Nitrogen and Phosphorus, made from chemical compounds and petroleum. Nitrogen occurs naturally and in high concentrations in chicken manure. At SonRise, if our fields need Nitrogen, we move the chickens through and let nature supply the need.
Secondly, we don’t use antibiotics – period. This is pretty simple. Outdoor chickens don’t get sick because they are exposed to the elements and nature. They are very well adapted to “roughing” it and the last thing we want is to bring them in out of the sunlight and away from green grass, bugs and dirt. Thus we have no need of medicine for them. Our biggest worry is predators, which we mitigate with well build tractors the chickens occupy at night.
In our next installment we will look at bacteria, chicken waste and the fate of over 200 million chicks annually the system deems unmarketable.
I often get asked - what do you feed your hogs. This is a valid, but secondary concern, the type of environment the hog lives in is far more important than the feed they eat. Where they live is addressed in my blog on Logging Without Laws. Our hogs live outdoors where they should!
You may have caught this article in the Chicago tribune recently. It stands in stark contrast to our Ranch. The most important aspect of raising hogs is not what they eat, but how they live. Most pork is raised in confinement on concrete - a real drag for the animal and a great way to ruin the meat.
If you look at a Hogs trotters (their feet) they look like a lady standing in high heels - don't be dismayed, they can stand for long period of time, but are designed (yes, I wrote that) to stand on soft ground, not concrete - something we made.
So, when they are kept on concrete all their lives, they don't adapt, they suffer. And, when and animal suffers from chronic pain, they are sick... now, let's see, what does conventional, mega-factory, industrial farming do about that... yep, you guessed it - medicine. And it goes straight into your mouth.
At SonRise, our hogs live outside, on dirt, where they should. They are free to roam, and the taste comes through in the product.
Why then, do we feed so carefully? You see, the nice thing about hogs is they will eat anything, and the bad thing about Hogs is they will eat anything... so you've got to be careful what they get close to.
It's the whole program that counts. Non-GMO feeds are those that are not sprayed with Roundup. The advantage of a GMO crop that it is genetically engineered to withstand being sprayed with Roundup (the key ingredient being glyphosate - or, Agent Orange in the 1970s). The reason farmers plant GMOs is that they can then spray the field and kill everything but the crop - thus eliminating the need for weeding.
So, then, when the GMO crop is actually harvested, it has had a significant dose of Roundup (agent orange, glyphosate) poured on it during its growth cycle.
If the hog eats this crop (soybeans, wheat, corn, etc) this high concentration of glyposate goes directly into the hogs fat cells, and thus into you when you consume the animal. In short, you are what your animals eat!
So, our caution with feed is really for you, not so much the hog. We just don't want you (and my family too) to eat agent orange raised meat every day.
This costs us a ton of money - conventional, GMO hog feed is 17 cents per pound, non-GMO hog feed costs us nearly 50 cents per pound - almost 70% more feed cost. That is a huge expense at our Ranch, but well worth it.
In our area of the Sierra Nevada Foothills a hideously invasive plant referred to as Scotch broom invades nearly every inch of open space. This dominate species has no natural competition. It found roots in Sierras becasue of alcohol use during the mining days.
During the mid 1800’s, Scotch whisky was highly sought after by the Miners and tradesmen who made a living working in the mining camps. I can’t really say I’d blame them, if I lived in near freezing temperatures, sleeping in a tent with no earthly comforts beyond a wood stove that barely warmed my toes and burdened with back breaking work for the modern equivalent of $20 per day – I give a lick to the bottle too… but I digress.
The best whisky came from Scotland and when shipped for that considerable distance, required protection from glass breakage in the form of a soft, pliable wrapping. Sequestered deep in this protective wrapping the original Scotch Broom seeds found their mission here in America. Once emptied of their precious content the useless bottles were often discarded on the ground and forgotten – seeding a perfect botanical rebellion that can be seen on the hills of Gold Country today.
Over the years relentless acres of once productive land, having long been abandoned by hearty Homesteaders who left for the bright lights of the city during the ensuing waves of Farm Crises, succumbed to the Scotch Broome invasion. The remnants of our once great agricultural powerhouse are now covered in Scotch Broome – depleting the local ecosystem of productivity and resources.
One tell tail sign of Broome infestation showed this last summer as a devistating 97,000 acre loss due to the enormous King Fire. It lasted from September to October, costing eighty structures, a dozen injuries and millions of dollars in firefighting resources.
Scotch Broom is cannibalistic – meaning that it grows on top of itself, so that previous generations provide layers and layers of bone-dry decay below. When ignited, Scotch Broome stands burn hot enough to boil the sap in the surrounding trees. Even when the trees don’t ignite directly they usually die from a “boiling effect” they might have otherwise survived. Once they die, our laws often prevent their removal by logging and they simply fall down - only to decay and provide yet another fuel source for the next fire.
There is a dangerous movement afoot to “keep things natural”, in an attempt to “re-wild” areas of the United States by leaving them for dead, with no human interaction at all. Unfortunately, the window for this opportunity has long since passed. The “natural” we observe today in our local forests is actually man-made - and like anything man-made, it must be maintained.
Abandoning ecosystems once touched by the human stain to suffer without proper management is tremendously destructive – and reeks of human arrogance. We messed it up - we ought to responsible to manage it properly. Human interaction has happened; we have affected the eco system - There is no turning back. In an often ill-advised, but well meant gesture we allocate incredible resources to an effort that is doomed to fail though generous donations to this or that club or society. The sad fact is that a dangerous cocktail of legal environmental rulings and ignorance of ecosystems have overruled the common sense approach of properly managed domestic animals on the land. Our country is now horribly mismanaging our forests on a wholesale level.
Scotch Broome grows at the rate of 1 foot per year if left unchecked and can produce approximately 18,000 seeds annually. Conventional methods for removal include pulling by hand, spraying, burning it, bulldozing - each having their drawbacks.
We have acres and acres of Scotch Broom covered land that could be used for productive grazing. One of Scotch Broom’s good qualities is that is it a legume, a plant that fixes nitrogen to the soil. You might recall that nitrogen is very useful in good grass production – we use Chicken manure for nitrogen too.
What we’ve found is that if we can remove the Scotch Broome, the fire hazard is reduced by 70-90% or more and the next season, a grass sod begins to develop. By season three or four we are grazing cattle on lush, moist grass with no fire hazard.
The problem – how do we effectively remove scotch broom? Bulldozing creates erosion, is often dangerous and costs money. Hand cutting requires frequent visits to the back specialist - and we have acres of Broome. Spraying will kill broom but eventually find itself back into our beef supply.
Our answer – HOGS!
We found that our 150-200 pound Hogs, love to root up Scotch broom. We place a border around them with electric wire, and give them a good source of clean water. Together with soy-free, 100% organic feed they go to town…
In a few cycles of rotation, they have done what would have been extremely difficult for us using a dozer or manual labor. The Hogs are in heaven - "Hog heaven". They love being able to express their hog-ness. They eat roots, bugs, acorns and just about anything else they can find. And, boy howdy are they healthy, building muscle and living life to the fullest. Most of all (for my wife) - they don't stink! Our neighbors and visitors are absolutely amazed that our pigs don't smell like pigs. It is truly amazing what happens when you allow nature to symbiotically intertwine with animals the way God intended.
Beyond clearing brush and saving homes, lives and possibly thousands of taxpayer dollars, our Hogs provide Good, Clean food for hundreds of families. They provide real, meaningful jobs to a small family of people who care deeply for the environment and their animals; they rejuvenate the soils with their manure, to make growing grass possible for the grazing of Grass-fed Beef. They take food dollars away from Hormel foods and other disgusting factory food, industrial, government subsidized producers that make available nutritious products such as Spam to you and your neighbors.
Free-range, proper domestic animal management is a boon to the environment. By voting with your dollars, you are doing more to save the environment than any donation you can make to a club or society.
We find the same types of behaviors with our Hogs. They always group up and move together. This is where being a Rancher has a tough learning curve. For the longest time, if I had one animal out, I would run myself ragged chasing it around until I could get it back in the confinement area I wanted it in - sometimes to my detriment.
One day, after a particularly hard two hours or so of chaos and animal-induced aerobic exercise, I had an ingenious idea. I went up to the hill and let all the other Hogs out from the escapee’s pen! Man, you’d have thought I'd lost my mind (our Ranch hands certainly did). What happened next was awesome. The penned Hogs joined up immediately with the escapee Hog and all of them acted as a giant herd. We worked for about 3 minutes to move the now co-joined group back to “safety” (as they saw it) within the confines of the electric fence.
Now, as a matter of procedure, when I have one Cow or Hog out, I let all of them out, and herd them back in as a group – it works miraculously.
In the video above you will notice some of our Free-Range Hogs in the foreground. The Cattle in the background were absent one hour before this video was taken and the Hogs were hiding out near some pine trees as they typically do; but, when the Cows came around, the Hogs came out in the open and began grazing. It was as natural as you could imagine – they just wanted to act as a herd.
We have found, oddly enough, that this type of behavior and social interaction is enormously necessary for proper animal health and nutrition. To stay at optimal health, the animals need to feel protected, calm and at peace with their environment. This creates the best tasting, most flavorful and delicious meat for two reasons:
First, healthy animals have no need for conventional medicine – something that has a tremendous impact on meat flavor.
Second, healthy animals are not in a constant state of stress and therefore have very little adrenaline in their systems. Animals in confinement, particularly Hogs living on concrete, have continually tense muscles which results in a horribly tough meat texture.
Herd animal behavior is kind of a funny thing…they do stuff we don’t normally associate with domestic animals.
For example, I will often see our bulls hovering near a fence line, only to find the Cows and Heifers on the other side. Now, you might think to yourself, “Hey, that used to happen in High school, quite often,” but we’re not talking romance here.
No, for the most part Bovines of both the Male and Female type aren’t really interested in each other until about the time of the Female's estrus cycle – they are sort of no-nonsense kinds of lovers and just associate at exactly the right time in order to get the job done, then he is typically off to see the next lady…a real player. So, in a sense, it might have been like high school, but I digress….
Anyway, what my Cattle were doing that day was just herding up together. No females were in heat, so the Bulls typically wouldn’t be interested. They simply wanted to be together as a herd, fence or not. You can see this in the photo above - our Bulls have 15 acres, the Cows have 40 and they are all grouped up next to eachother at the edge of each acrage.
SonRise Ranch Grass fed and finished beef shank is particularly good for the following reasons;
Prep time – 15 mins Cook time – 4 to 6 hours
I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, "So, what do I get in my CSA?"
The has answer is always the same... I don't know - until now!
Let me explain,
When we butcher a beef, we receive a certain distribution of various cuts of meat. I won't go into detail, but you can be sure I get plenty of ground beef and very few filet mignon steaks. I have always joked that I would someday love to raise a steer that is nothing but steaks, but I assure you that animal would be a hideous looking, non-functioning creature.
God designed them a certain way for a good reason.
Not having a ton of steaks is a blessing in disguise, as it forces me to explore cuts that our grandparents enjoyed.
Some years ago, I had the privilege of personally meeting a great chef. He introduced me to the world of "other cuts" in a dish made with beef shank. I had no idea this cut of meat (which we used to just boil because it was so tough) could be so flavorful if cooked properly. This was a turning point in my life, when a Rancher began to really appreciate the ART of cooking and the talent of a good chef, dedicated to his trade.
Here at SonRise we evenly distribute the cuts in each CSA from an entire beef - thus the share sizes of 7 and 14 lbs respectively. Each pre-made CSA, the ones where we choose the items, is a fractional, even distribution of ground, sausage, roasts, steaks and other ancillary cuts from a whole beef.
So, the other day, I had a thought. Couldn’t some of our customers, who want to choose their CSA items do so, based upon our current inventory - thus creating their own, self designed CSA?
And so began our latest creation - the Custom CSA.
After hours of programming and work, we are now able to offer a CSA monthly shipment to our subscribers that allows them to choose the items they want in their CSA. This is an amazing feat for a small ranch, but we did it!
The custom CSA is available in Full or Half Share, and requires a 6 month commitment, but, the consumer saves a ton of money, and runs no risk of being disappointed - since each item in the box is chosen by them.
When the customer signs up, we send them an email notification each month that opens their CSA fulfillment period during which they have a one week window to customize their order. If they don't change your order we will send them the same selection as the previous month (or as near as possible).
It’s a match made in Grass-fed heaven! Come check it out.
As SonRise Ranch has grown, so have our customer needs. We have been innovative in Farming/Ranching, Feed profiles and we assume our customers expect nothing less than the best modus operandi in delivering our outstanding product each week.
My chief complaint has always been that the USDA required packaging our product in plastic. I wanted to wrap it in white butcher paper, but they wouldn’t have it.
A side effect of having no true competition in the San Diego area is that everyone wants our product. This means we drive from kingdom come and back to service our customers making delivery. Sometimes our customer density doesn’t grow in correlation with customer breadth – meaning we have a few customers over a large geographical distance.
To keep environmental impact at a minimum I have always discouraging shipping our products in exchange for hand delivering to the customer.
A founding principle that I’ve insisted on from the beginning of our little company was an unwavering commitment to environmentally conscious principles of operation. Overnight shipping has been off the list for many years now – it was never the fuel consumption, Gas was being used in a FEDEX van if we had a box onboard or not (and we had to use petrol to get product to our customers anyway).
No, the main issue was contributing to our carbon footprint by using tons of non-biodegradable products to insulate our frozen meat during shipment only to shoulder our customers with the burden of guilt by tossing everything in landfills after their shipment arrived. Over the years we looked at Styrofoam, Glass-Packs and just about everything else you can imagine – but none of it fit the bill. So, I stuck to my guns and discouraged shipping as much as possible.
Recently, Marcia (our awesome Office Manager – shameless plug here!) ordered a frozen, free-range Turkey from a small farm back east. When it arrived the shipping instructions said the insulated foam inside was made from Corn Starch and was environmentally biodegradable. And could be rapidly dissolved in water!
I was thrilled, and boy howdy, my mind began to race… I soon spoke to the manufacturer, Green Cell Foam and discovered we could employ their products to ship our meats and prevent their total thawing for up to 72 hours. After running a few experiments, and checking the viability of our plan, we settled on a FEDEX program named Home Delivery, that was competitively priced and pretty fast to the San Diego and Los Angeles area.
So we now offer our product to a larger region, using a medium that is environmentally conscious and friendly at an extremely viable rate - sometimes as low as $12!
I know of no other company doing what we are, it’s the complete package – Organic Soy-Free Feeds, Free-Range, Grass-Fed and now Green Shipping… it’s our way of staying ahead of the curve, thanks for joining us.
Our house here at the Ranch has a front and back yard. We love having a really nice grass stand and a well trimmed lawn – it looks nice, and feels great. Each year we take care to make sure the grass is nice and neat for the fun of the summer season. Usually, about Spring time, we get real serious about it, trimming, edging – all the things normal “city folk” do to their yards to make them look neat and pretty. During the winter months, we let it get ragged and overgrown.
Overgrown, that is, until I break out my lawn mowers. Yes, I said mowers with an “s”. I have a bunch of them. My mowers don’t take gas, do not require oil changes and never need their blades sharpened. I never have to empty the grass bag where the clippings are collected – they do that on their own. I don’t have to push them – they have “power assist”. My kids don’t complain when I ask them to mow the lawn, on the contrary, they rather enjoy it.
It usually takes me about a day to mow the entire yard, and both sides of our 1/8 mile long driveway. When I am done, the place looks nice and clean. All the weeds are gone, the grass is tidy, and my mowers are very happy. I run them until I find them standing all day. I can tell the mower bags are full when the Cows sit down and chew cud. If I find them standing all day looking for grass, they are not getting enough. When you drive by Cattle and see them lying down, they are full and have plenty of feed. If they are standing all the time, they are underfed and the grass is usually overgrazed – you can tell when you see them in the same spot each day that they are not managed very well. Cattle need to rotate from one setting to the next to keep themselves and the grass healthy.
So, I don't sweat very much doing my lawn care... oh and my Cows are happy too.
If you own a milk cow, you always have Milk Calves around. I ran into a guy the other day who bought a Milk Cow. He wasn’t sure what he should do next, so he just put her out to pasture. She was not in lactation, so his goal was to get her bred again then calf, then milk. Cows gestate for 9 months, like humans, and then 83 days after birth are re-bred to have another calf. This makes for a nice 12 month cycle.
Anyway, we've been there... the romantic thought of having your own milk source. I had a rude awakening years ago when we got our first Milk Cow - I was absolutely amazed at how much work they were. I remember coming back from the barn after milking at 5 AM, before heading off to work that day. I had 8 gallons in my bucket (from one Cow!) and told the kids to start drinking...
"Yep, Dad, we had a few cups, we made Hot Coco", they replied.
So, I went to Eve and asked, "Hey honey, did you get some milk?"
"Yes", she replied, "it tastes great, I even made butter".
"Ok, uh, what are we going to do with this?", as I held up the 8 gallons of fresh milk.
"Just put it in the fridge", she blurted out...
"Sure, sweetie, I will, but the fridge already has 25 gallons of milk in it", I replied.
By the end of that week we had 85 gallons. It was time to call all our friends, and get some pigs (milk fed Pork is really awesome). I learned quickly - Milk Cows are bred to produce!
A few days before Christmas this year, one of our Jerseys had a real nice heifer (female) calf. You can see her in the video above. The Cow in the background is not the calf’s mother. The heifer’s mother approached right after I stopped shooting the video to check me out. She is an excellent mom, and a great producer to boot (about 9 gallons per day).
A few things about calves – first and foremost, Mother Milk Cows cannot keep their calves. Our average Jersey produces between six and ten gallons per day. A calf needs about 1-2 gallons to be healthy, so within a few days of birth, a young calf will be die because it cannot stop drinking her mother’s milk and mama won’t tell them to stop either (she likes the relief). The Calf gets "Scours", or diarrhea, and actually dehydrates as it just can’t process that much liquid.
Our management technique is to separate mother and calf for a portion day and all of the night. Milk calves get a nice warm stall with a heat lamp, during the night, and time with their mothers while mom grazes during the day. Time with mama is limited to a few hours at a time - so as to prevent over-drinking. I tell Eve those darn calves need to join "MA", or, Milk-Anonymous, as they all clearly have a drinking problem.
In the winter, Mother and Calf are together from after morning milking (at about 10 AM) until sundown. It works really well, we end up with a very friendly, easy to lead calf (she is led out and in by us via her halter) and a happy Mom who gets to look after her calf all day. Our Calves also learn herd behavior as the Mother and baby forage with others in the group. Grazing is a learned behavior and calves watch what their Moms eat as they slowly transition from Milk to Grass over about 3 months time. These elements are missing from most Dairy Cows as they are conditioned to live in confinement and only eat grain. We need to have efficient grass-to-milk converters who have heard and grazing skills. This is only the case for our dairy heifers, not our bull calves – bull calves are fed enough milk to grow up and are quickly put on a grazing rotation, so they can be of use as a feeder steers or sold at market.
In theory, it's pretty simple, but in practice, it can be quite challenging. This is something we will teach to each of our apprentice and interns during their time here at SonRise (beginning in 2016). They must know how to manage Milk Cows as they are the center of the sustainable farm operation. Here is a brief summary of how it works…
The pro-GMO world’s talking points include the argument that we can’t feed the world without the large production levels that GMO’s with immunity to pesticides allow. However, I propose that we just use the worlds grass supply, that is, if we can get to the grass before desertification can.
I momentarily considered titling this post "The Perfect Pork Chop", but that would make whole affair a bit of an understatement. This week we will feature our new contributor from the Ranch, my wonderful wife Eve. She was cast into the limelight a few weeks back when we featured a photo of her homemade butter made from the cream of one of our Jersey Cows - but this week she comes out in a smash-hit debut featuring the a moist, temperature perfect, "paleo on steroids" kinda' plate that I call the Righteous Pork Chop.
You might think, as do I, that a Pork Chop is only a Pork Chop - I have a tendency to be somewhat of a reductionist. I'll often tell Jacob (our Ranch hand) to "just take some supplies up the hill and fix that fence." Jacob is a trooper, so a task like that even on a rainy day doesn’t seem to faze him. I will find myself feeding hogs a half hour later and wondering where he is; after all, I told him a whole 30 minutes ago to fix that darn fence - never giving a second thought to the fact that its easily a four-hour job.
By the way, when we start our #SonRiseRanchIntershipProgram, many an energetic free-range-critter-grazer-in-training will be thankful to Jacob for having paved the way forward in teaching me the patience of Gandhi - but that is for a later post.
For now, we are going to conquer this Pork Chop.
The first thing Eve does is locate some true Free-range, organic fed (that means no GMO's and no Soy) Pork - none of this is too hard for her, since she happens to be married to a Sustainable Rancher and critter grazer.... She then preheats our oven to 400 degrees (at our altitude of 1200 feet above sea level). No, we don’t go cut wood for this; we have a gas stove – life on the Ranch is not that archaic.
Eve washes the Chop in cold water to remove any blood and then pats it completely dry with a paper towel. Having prepared a series of foil squares large enough to completely wrap each Chop with the reflective side out, she places each Chop in its own bed of foil square.
As if washing pork wasn’t dirty enough, she uses her hands to prepare the Chops by adding one-half tablespoon of Grass-fed Ghee, one-half tablespoon of Organic Olive oil, and then one-half teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce on each side of the Chop, along with some citrus pepper (or another pepper of your choice) found at the local market. She rubs all this together to marinate the Chops, ensuring the meat is well coated with the mixture.
Resist the temptation to add salt; although it enhances the taste after cooking, it will tend to dry the Chop out during cooking.
She rubs each side thoroughly and wraps the foil around the Chops. She has tossed more than a few foil pieces in the trash getting this right - but they must have not a single puncture. Each chop, carefully wrapped, is placed on a cookie sheet, evenly spaced and the cookie sheet is then set in the middle of the oven.
Now comes the hard part – you will need to keep your salivating significant other from constantly asking if they are done yet. Find creative ways to keep him or her busy, like telling them the bull is out in the neighbor’s yard, or the pigs have escaped to the next county (becoming truly free-range forever); just make sure they don’t foil your righteous chops before they are really done - they will fill the house with an awesome aroma making the task even harder. Stay strong - you can do it!
To get this just right, after about 35 minutes have passed she checks to see if they have reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Eve meticulously checks them by removing the chops from the oven, opening the foil of one and inserting a food thermometer into the middle of the chop about half way down into the meat, being careful to not puncture the bottom of the chop or the foil. If they are short of the required temperature, don’t lose faith - just replace them in the oven and recheck at 5 minutes intervals.
I have never known how to brand it, but I am constantly divided between two far-distant lands. In one, a Rancher, Capitalist, Outdoorsman and Energetic young “take on the world” critter grazer lives. On the opposite side of the political, religious, world view perspective lives a concerned Environmentalist, Earth Lover and Student of Nature who cares deeply about any scars he might leave on the earth and holds a genuine concern for the world God has trusted us with - constantly aware of the inalienable fact that my children will inherit the choices I make.
I have often mentioned that Grass-fed and finished beef draws these two diametrically opposed worlds together. Many have entered into Grass-fed beef out of necessity – the cattle business is brutal and any marketing edge one might acquire is fiercely pursued – Grass fed and finished beef, with its higher premiums, offers a tempting choice for traditional cattle producers looking for higher profits on their herds.
The problem with this premise is that traditional cattle husbandry methods don’t match up too well with the Grass-fed and finished direct marketing strategy – in other words, it’s hard to take your feed-lot destined calves and “just keep them a bit longer” to make grass-fed beef out of them. It’s taken us years to perfect our methods – making sure we have enough really good grass to keep all the mouths fed and get those critters fat.
Real Grass-fed cattle production requires maximum attention to grass growth and recovery, and this is borne out only through an authentic concern for the environment (one that goes far beyond talking the talk, but really means walking the walk). At its genesis, to be a good Grass-fed and finished cattleman, you’ve got to be a die-hard environmentalist. This creates an internal conflict of sorts as most right-leaning cattlemen don’t have a left leaning, earth hugging, and long-haired environmentalist living inside them.
I spoke with a Rancher recently who proudly exclaimed that his cattle drank out of a stream, and had no water troughs, no modern conveniences and was “livin' off the land like in them old days” – I was absolutely aghast.
Most average folks know that when ruminant animals drink, they tend to manure about the same time. Here at SonRise, we use this to our advantage by placing the water trough in nutrient depleted areas thus attracting more manure deposits for future grass growth (did I mention my main goal as a cattleman is to grow grass?).
So, pray tell – what might the first true environmentalist (or, worse yet, any environmentally concerned millennial) say the first time you tell them that not only do you have running water on your Ranch, but you let your Cows poop in it?
Holy surface water contamination, Batman!
Worse yet, this guy was marketing and selling Grass-fed beef… so his likelihood of encountering that well educated environmentalist was far greater than your average worn out old Cowboy having a cold one at the pub complaining about the price of feed this year.
And what happens when that stuck-in-his-ways stubborn old Rancher does run into that environmentalist? You guessed it - Grass-fed cattle gets another black eye.
That is why Grass-fed cattle can’t be just a slick marketing technique, but must be a lifestyle change – I know I sound like a die-hard Paleo dieter trying to convince a WeightWatchers member to start eating Bacon here, but this is a really critical point – we can’t take on the industrial, confined mega-farming complex with those who don’t care about the environment in the ranks.
Terracing (above the fence line) caused by cattle continually passing back and forth looking for grass on the hillside. This particular pasture has cattle on it year round with no chance for the grass to fully recover. This is not natural, as in nature the herd would pass by and move on only to return months later for another bite.
I have included a picture of an overgrazed pasture for your enjoyment. Some cattlemen would be proud – after all “we got every last ounce of grass out of that pasture,” and to heck with the year-over-year destruction it might cause from nutrient depletion, terracing (left and right grazing lines on the hillside) or erosion due to the shallow roots of overgrazed plants (most plants grow 1/3 above the surface and 2/3 below in root structure – so taller plants hold more sub-surface soils together).
Either way – you are the judge…. And I will be the “Christian Fundamentalist Lunatic Libertarian Environmentalist Rancher” who can’t fit in anywhere.
What kind of oil do you cook with?
Almost every meal I cook here at #SonRiseRanch starts with some type of oil. Oil is an essential part of cuisine not only because it provides a medium for frying and sautéing, but because it is a source of energy and a vehicle for fat-soluble vitamins.
There are many options. Some traditional fats include:
Some of the newer oils on the market are:
With so many options, and a plethora of contradicting scientific claims about the health of these oils, how can one choose which fat to cook with?
I take the following into consideration:
Unfortunately, the answers are almost always “yes” for the newer oils listed above. What’s more, these vegetable oils have replaced nearly all of the traditional fats in restaurants, packaged foods, and have even snuck their way into products labeled as pure olive oil.
What this means is that I cook at home 99% of the time. I even like to make French fries in beef tallow made from #SonRiseRanchGrassFedBeef.
For the traditional fats, the answers are almost always “no” to the questions posed above, as long as the animals are raised on healthy pasture, and the plants are grown organically. Devotees of the lipid-heart disease hypothesis will warn you about the lipid profiles in traditionally used animal fats, but good science and personal experience can vouch for the health benefits of the fat-soluble vitamins, non-oxidized cholesterol, and pure energy contained therein.
We are currently offering rendered beef suet (called tallow) and rendered pork fat (called lard) so you don't have to save your bacon fat.
I would like to share with you an incredible TED talk from Allan Savory—an elephant lover and an environmentalist extraordinaire! It's short, jaw-dropping, and it's the kind of video that could change the world if everyone saw it!
I hope you have a chance to give it a view, but here is a short summary for those with busy schedules:
By supporting your grass-fed rancher, you are doing wonders for the environment! Many folks understand that eating healthy animals is good for their health. But most people are still under the impression that eating meat is environmentally unfriendly. Well...it all depends on what animals you eat....
When you take Cattle off of grass and put it in a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), it poisons the land (and water) with overly concentrated fecal matter. The subsidized mono-crops (corn, wheat, soy) that are fed in CAFOs are incredibly energy intensive to produce and result in desertification (thank you, MONSANTO).
At SonRise, we follow a different model. Our beef are solar powered! Instead of killing the land, they restore and rebuild the land and the soil. Not only do our beef not contribute to greenhouse gasses, they are actually net-negative! This model of rotational grazing that we use here on the ranch is not new. It is simply a return to a healthy and normal relationship with our planet and our environment. Once upon a time, there were millions of buffalo roaming the American landscape. Tragically, I don't think they will be returning anytime soon. This means it is us, a handful of ranchers doing what we do, and a few visionaries like Allan Savory (and Joel Salatin) who are on the cutting edge of environmental progress—feeding people and having a positive impact on our planet at the same time. As our customers, you are the most important link in this chain.
When you spend your hard earned dollars on grass-fed beef, lamb, pastured pork and fowl, you are supporting ranchers like us—we can't do it without you! You are also supporting sustainable and profoundly necessary change in the way we interact with the environment. Here at SonRise Ranch, we are proud to be a part of positive change, and we are extremely thankful to our customers who make it all possible. Hope for the future, and I hope to see you at the market!
There are many reasons why I think our #GrassFedBeefSanDiego is the best you can find. First, we keep our beeves on grass start-to-finish using healthy, rapidly growing, green pasture in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Secondly, our cattle are humanely slaughtered, butchered at a small artisanal butcher house, and dry aged for 21 days or more. After all, what good would it do to spend 27 months raising the best Grass-fed beef only to have it tainted at a large, mass-production slaughter house?
What is dry aging? This is a common question we are asked at the market.
Dry aging beef is taking a large piece of meat, or a quartered animal, and placing it in the following conditions for approximately 21 days: 50-60% humidity, and 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit, with steady airflow.
The beef forms an outer crust which is cut off, and the deep red meat underneath is butchered into steaks, roasts, and grind. The meat has lost close to 10% of its water weight at this point.
I believe that this is an essential process for flavor and digestibility because:
· The nutrients are concentrated as the meat loses water weight, and nutrients translate to flavor. There are more nutrients per square inch of dry aged beef than there are in non-aged (wet-aged) beef, so you literally get more for your money.
· Enzymes in the meat initiate proteolysis. This means that the long protein strands in the meat are gently cleaved into amino acids – essentially making it easier for our bodies to digest the meat. Think of it like a very low and slow cooking that makes more nutrients bio-available.
· The process allows for proper browning in a pan. Meat that is not dry aged has more water content, and when put in a hot pan with a hot fat it will sputter and steam the meat – oil and water don’t mix. When the excess water content is removed, this hydrophobic reaction is reduced, and the meat will turn golden and crispy when seared. This is one reason I almost always sear my beef in cast-iron.
In large meat-packing operations, dry aging is too time consuming, and generates water-weight loss…two factors that decrease profits. We take the time to do it so that you can enjoy our delicately-raised beef to the fullest.
Have you ever had dry-aged ground chuck? Try ours – it is absolutely amazing. if you are a #FoodieSanDiego - this is a real treat... after all, you might pay $60 for a dry aged Sirloin in Vegas, but right here in San Diego, you can get our dry aged ground delivered right to your door!
I’d like to begin by thanking our entire group of loyal customers (some of you have been with us since the very beginning) for supporting us through thick and thin – so, on behalf of my family and our valued employees, a big “Thank You” for supporting sustainable and environmentally friendly Ranching.
As many of you know, we here at #SonRiseRanchSanDiego are at a critical point in our business. We have taken on Goliath in the modern world. Direct marketing (from the producer straight to the consumer) is almost unheard of today, as many companies rely on a massive network of distributors, wholesalers and retailers. We don’t – we do all of this ourselves.
Our Goal at SonRise is simple... bring you the very best tasting #GrassFedBeefSanDiego, #GrassFedLambSanDiego, #FreeRangePorkSanDiego, #FreeRangeChickenSanDiego, and do so in a manner that is truly honoring to the environment and the animals it supports.
By supporting our Ranch, you are literally #FreeRangePorkSanDiego and sending a distinct message to the industrial farming complex. And believe me, they are starting to notice! Your voice is being heard, and things are changing.
Whether you are a #FoodieSanDeigo, #EnvironmentalistSanDiego, or just plain love a good grass-fed steak, we hope you will continue to be delighted with our products.
That being said, we are growing, but we need more support. We believe that the younger generation is the key, and well read, critical thinking young minds are going to bring this movement of #FoodFreedomSanDiego home! They will most likely do so via social networking.
So, here is how you can help. First, please follow us on Twitter. Secondly, you may have noticed my intentional overuse of the hashtag # in this post. You can help us reach the next generation of real food seekers by re-tweeting as much as you can the tags we’ve used here. Then go to our webstore and use the coupon code “hashtag” at checkout for a package of our awesome ground beef for just $1 (don’t forget to add at least one package to your cart).
Any little bit helps. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat…they all support the hashtag #. Just use my exact word structure, preceded by the # symbol, and tag away!
You have heard me talk a lot about Management Intensive Grazing--or MIG, as we call it. MIG is a method of animal husbandry that primarily applies to care and feeding of ruminant (animals with multiple stomachs that chew cud) animals. When practicing MIG, the burden of care and animal needs falls directly on the Rancher. It is a very steep learning curve, and without careful attention to detail, your animals' nutrition can go downhill fast!
Hog operations have some inherent drawbacks. Hogs produce as much as three times the manure that other farm animals produce. Their manure is high in phosphorus and can be beneficial if used properly. However, managing all this output can be quite a task.
Here at SonRise, we keep things on the straight and narrow. Our goal is to be a productive, environmentally friendly, clean and compliant grass-fed and free-range provider that is in total compliance with the law. Unfortunately, our huge federal and local bureaucracy is influenced and controlled by the large industrial mega-farm mentality that has infiltrated every corner of our society. To make matters worse, we have a society that is wholly ignorant of healthy and animal-friendly farming techniques. As such, we attracted the attention recently of the public authorities…. Let me explain.