For a few years now, we've started investing in buying our beef by the section. It has started with a simple call out on Social Media asking for who can recommend where to get a local quarter, half or whole, grass fed cow. We recently picked up this years half after such a call out, since we moved away from Airdrie and our previous supplier, Sage Creek Permaculture.
Do you know where your beef comes from? Canada actually does not have a system of being able to track from farm to fork. As stated in this article, it should be down to consumer choice, but unless you're buying locally, you'll have a hard time finding out where your beef actually came from. After putting the call out on Facebook, it was suggested that I contact Natural Heritage Farm from near Chauvin, Alberta. After a chat with the owners Cassandra and Tyler on how they raise their animals, we put down a deposit for half a cow, ready to go in the fall. (Check out their website for more information on their amazing farm and what they are doing) #Permaculture #BeyondOrganic
Natural Heritage Farm raises Lowline Angus cattle who are fed nothing but grass since they are weaned. The Lowline is chosen for grass fed raising, because they are efficient converters of feed, and can be raised and finished on grass (traditional beef often gets small amounts of grain, but fattened potentially on soy or corn - the goal of conventional beef is to get raised as fast and as cheap as possible). They only grow to about 60% of normal beef cattle and they mature early. They have reduced fat content, but have greater marbling. And a plus is that the cuts are smaller, so consumers themselves get more appropriate serving sizes (no one should be eating an 8oz steak in one meal!!). The steer that we split, was slaughtered at 18 months old, which is average for cattle beef (did you know a beef cow can live up to 20 years!!)
We also chose to take our half un-cut, so that we could save some money and process the meat ourselves. We're pretty lucky that my in-laws have lots of experience raising and slaughtering, so they could teach us the best way to utilize the slab. The steer was kept local - from being raised, to slaughtered, to cut and wrap - and we knew where it was every step of the way!
Why was grass fed so important?
Scientific research is beginning to show that animals raised on a plant-based, grassy diet tend to have fats that are much healthier for the human body; Omega 3 fats. Grass-fed meat also has higher concentrations of conjugated linoleic acids, which are fatty acids known to decrease cancer risk and may help people maintain a healthy weight. It seems that that health benefits found in the fat of animals greatly diminish when they are fed animal by-products, grain, and/or cornmeal - all of which are the typical feeds used for modern industrial livestock. Grass-fed animals typically have a healthier fatty acid profile, which translates into a less inflammatory effect on the humans who eat them versus grain-fed animals. Because the cattle at Natural Heritage Farm are allowed to free-range, they are generally healthier because they are allowed to move their bodies more than animals kept in tight quarters. They do not experience the chronic exposure to sick animals and faces that non-free-range animals do.
Beef is obviously an excellent source of protein and B12, it's a great source of zinc and selenium. You're also looking at riboflavin, vitamin B6, niacin, iron and phosphorous. (B12 and B6 are vital for proper cell function!) You may have heard/read/been told that red meat consumption leads to heard disease and cancer - but studies generally focus on the quantity of red meat consumed, not the quality.
Overconsumption of meat, especially the high fat, charbroiled, or well-done cuts is not healthy - however, lean cuts of organic, grass-fed beef, eaten in moderation, are an excellent source of many nutrients. What science is looking at now, is it the meat itself, or the way the meat is prepared which is making it carcinogenic. Studies are showing that reducing well-done meats can dramatically reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. When broiled or grilled at high temperatures, meat forms many potent carcinogens; these can damage cell membranes as well as the DNA within cells, setting the stage for the development of cancer. **The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, Michael Murry ND"
Part of the reason why we chose to take our half a cow un-cut, is so that we could maximize the meat to what our family prefers - lots of roasts, stew meat and ground. We kept a few t-Bone steaks for treats, and I'm super excited for the ribs we got out of it! We also got one of the most under utilized parts - the bones! Bone broth should be considered a super food! "Often mistaken for “stock,” bone broth is different due to how long it cooks for and that you don't need meat and aromatic vegetables to make it. The boxed stock available at supermarkets is a liquid; bone broth is cooked long enough for gelatin and collagen to be released from the bones and will gel into a solid when cold. The act of extensively cooking bones pulls out an array of minerals, amino acids, gelatin, collagen, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid that become part of the broth." Full article on this amazing healing potion (and recipe!) here.
Our meals weekly are balanced out, and we probably only eat beef two to three times a month - so this half will last us well over a year. We were not only able to help support a young family in their dreams of sustainable agriculture, but the local butcher got some business, and my own girls are learning more and more where their food comes from (the VP who is four in December was confused when we were going to pick up our cow, and then two slabs of meat were thrown into the truck!). We have chosen our own lifestyle, that has filled our freezer with chickens we raised ourselves, and now the beef that a family with similar goals has raised for us.
It definitely was more economical to buy "in bulk" in the long run, and is worth the investment up front. Not only in dollars and cents, but in the health of our family. The farms that I have dealt with also sell their product by the "piece", so if you don't have the room for a large order of meat (or can't find someone to share a quarter or half with!), then you can still get the benefits of local, grass-fed, sustainably raised beef (or pig!). You have the choice as a consumer on what you are going to eat, and you can make a difference with your spending dollars as well!