Continuing our discussion about how our beef and our farm practices differ from some of the other farms out there. In this 3rd and final installment, we’ll talk about the seasonal nature of our beef harvest, and about following the rules relating to butchering.
4) Seasonal harvest
I’ve seen some farms offering beef nearly year round. I can appreciate being able to provide beef whenever a customer would like it, but the reality is that grass fed beef, like all other fresh foods, is best harvested at a specific time of year. I could go buy strawberries at the grocery store right now (in January), but I know that they wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as strawberries harvested in June or July.
Our “Premium Summer Beef” is named as such because it is harvested in late June, when the steers have had 6-8 weeks to dine on the premium grasses during the period of lengthening days, giving them the highest sugar content. Higher protein grass – such as grass in the fall and winter – makes for gamier and tougher meat. This grass is better for growing calves and for milking cows. Grass with higher sugar is better for fattening animals and making more tender meat. Because the sugar content (Brix) in grass is higher in the late spring/early summer. So, we plan our seasonal harvest so that the meat benefits from the animals having grazed mainly on sweet grass leading up to harvest. This is also why we adjust our price for the “Neighborly” beef shares available during the fall… those animals have had less sweet grass prior to harvest, and their meat, while excellent, is not usually quite as tender, and we adjust the price to reflect that difference.
Incidentally, the sugar content of grasses is also higher during the afternoons after the grass has had time to absorb sunshine, which is why we usually move the steers onto a new pasture later in the day, rather than in the mornings.
We’d love to be able to supply families with beef shares all year, and to supply local restaurants as well. However, we know from experience that the taste and texture of grass-fed beef changes quite a bit during the year, and we prefer to limit our harvesting to the time of year when quality is at its peak.
5) It’s the law, ma’am (Rules regarding “custom-exempt” meat processing)
Here’s a link to an OSU report summarizing small-scale (custom exempt) meat processing rules.
a) why ¼-animal shares?
Our beef shares are butchered and processed by a local state-licensed facility. When you buy a share, you are actually buying ownership of 1/4 (or more) of an animal. While we could legally sell 1/8 shares, this is stretching the limits of the “custom exemption”, which is basically a a loophole in the Federal Meat Inspection Act to enable farmers to be able to get their own livestock processed for their own use. When farmers use this loophole to divide up an animal among more than 4 customers, they are really stretching the intent of the loophole, and it can cause additional scrutiny (and possible repercussions) for both the farmer and the butcher. We think the loophole works just fine as is, so we don’t push the boundaries just for the sake of making additional sales.
b) butchering and cut/wrap charges.
The laws are definitely clear cut about this. Customers are supposed to pay the farmer directly for their share of the live animal (based on live weight or hanging weight), but are not allowed to pay the farmer for the butcher’s services. While some farms include the butchering fees in their per pound cost (ostensibly to avoid confusion or “hidden” fees), they are not actually following the law. We choose to follow the law about this, and have our customers pay the butcher directly for their services.
c) meat delivery
By law, we could deliver the meat to customers. However, given our small scale, and our lack of a delivery vehicle, we don’t do any deliveries. We feel that the easiest way to handle the beef shares is for the meat to leave the butcher shop directly with each owner, rather than us getting into the delivery business.
We are happy to facilitate cowpools… this is when 2 (or more) families get together to purchase a quarter share of an animal. If families are interested in cowpooling we are happy to take note, and to try to connect them with other families. When cowpooling, families need to come to agreement about their cut/wrap preferences, about who will contact the butcher with the preferences, and how pick-up will be handled. We are willing to hold a quarter share for a potential cowpool for a limited amount of time, but can’t guarantee that we will find another family to share the share. We encourage families who are uncertain about a full quarter (due to freezer space or other considerations) to talk with friends and families members about sharing a quarter.