I need a cow, pronto.
Who hasn’t uttered those words? My growing young men, 100 pound pit-bull and I are carnivores. Between the three of us, and the dog, we consume an immense amount of animal flesh. The amount of time I’m spending in the car and store obtaining the meat has reached an all-time high. Seriously, who has time to schlep to the market daily? I’m not behaving in the efficient manner I preach.
I’ve been eating all sorts of animals recently. This week alone, I’ve snacked on ostrich, wild boar, turkey, chicken and all sorts of slippery fish. If you took my family’s votes, however, I’d be alone in my wild game push. They love beef the most. Frankly, the grass fed variety is damn high on my list, too. Healthy? Affirmative. From whfoods.com:
Beta-carotene: shown in several studies to be significantly higher in grass-fed beef, and often at levels twice as high as the amount found in conventionally fed beef. Beta-carotene is not the only carotenoid phytonutrient that increases with grass feeding. The carotenoid lutein increases as well. This relationship between grass feeding and carotenoids appears to hold true even if the cows have been fed silage during the winter months and are pasture-fed only during summer months. The relationship between beta-carotene and grass-feeding in beef is so strong that some researchers have suggested that the yellowish color of fat in grass-fed beef can be used as a good way to determine the extent to which animals have been pasture-fed.
BC is our friend. In the body, beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A (retinol). We need vitamin A for good vision and eye health, a strong immune system, and healthy skin. Let’s season up some rib eyes (booya) and get to work.
So beef is healthy, delicious and we eat a ton of it. It makes sense for me to buy my beef in bulk. ½ a cow will yield 250-350 lbs of meat, enough to last my boys and me about a year in the freezer.
Oh shit, I need a freezer.
I have a nice fridge/freezer combo in my kitchen, but with all the Eggo waffles and Otter Pops, there simply isn’t room for my incoming heifer. I picked up this one to prepare for the impending arrival of all the steaks, roasts, ground beef, organs and bones. Anything over about 7 cu. ft. should be enough to house ½ a cow.
Okay, now that I’m prepared to store a cow, I need to find one. Finding a source with a cow I could visit in person was my aim. Living in Malibu and not near any cattle ranches, this wasn’t the easiest task. If you live near a ranch with grass-fed cows, I envy you.
Stephanie, Kaplifestyle’s know it all, done it all (I kid, Steph) editor simply drives down her red dirt road to a random farm in Maryland and picks out the most stunning steer; she’s home salting in like 15 minutes. If you’re like Steph and are near rural areas, you have many more options. Here are a few from kitchenstewardship.com:
Ask a rancher friend to raise it for you.
Ask a local butcher.
When the county fair rolls around, this could be a good time to keep your ear out for animals who may not have qualified for the fair.
Sure, I’ll just go hit up the county fair. You know the one, it’s right where the 10 freeway meets the 110. Downtown LA, here I come. The rural approach obviously won’t work for us city folk. I had to take a more Malibu-ish approach. I pulled it out. My laptop never fails me.
With some good old-fashioned searching, I began calling around to local farmers’ market suppliers. I was turned down numerous times due to exorbitant shipping costs before I finally found a promising market. I asked them if they could sell me a ½ cow. They couldn’t, but they gave me the name of a ranch in NorCal that could supply me with the kind of cow I was looking for.
ALL Novy Ranch cattle are born and raised entirely on our ranch.
We raise our herd in large, open pastures with room to roam and places to hide from inclement weather or when a mother cow feels the need for privacy to give birth. They are never confined in feedlots, ever. In the winter months when grass is dormant, they are fed high quality hay (high protein) of mixed grasses and alfalfa and are provided straw to bed in. The ranch terrain itself provides areas of shelter from wind and weather with trees and hilly, lee-side areas, but in addition, we provide bunkers of large straw bales for the cows and calves to nestle in and behind. The cows love this. We know that caring for them well and reducing their stress enables them to produce a better product for you.
Now I have storage and a supplier, but I also needed to know what questions to ask. I quizzed superstar FOX Sports 1 basketball analyst, Bill Reiter, about making such a hefty (see?) purchase. His pops is in the cow biz. He shot me back this text, directly from the elder Mr. Reiter:
Would not do it unless I knew if the animal is a steer, heifer, cow or bull, the age when slaughtered and how it was fed. Will the carcass be USDA graded (ie: select, choice, prime etc.). Last, there will be a lot of cuts that you don’t ordinarily cook like cuts from the chuck, round, brisket to name a few.
Who knew this was so much work? You know how we do it here at KL, missionary style…um, I mean, we are on a mission. So let’s break this down. Here’s your glossary:
Steer: A male domestic bovine animal that has been castrated and is raised for beef.
Heifer: A young cow, especially one that has not yet given birth to a calf.
I’m sure Bill’s dad knows his stuff, but according to Jeannine Schweihofer, Michigan State University Extension and Dan Buskirk Michigan State University Department of Animal Science, the difference in the meat is marginal:
Very small differences are noted between beef from steers and heifers after looking at large populations of data. Michigan State University Extension summarized studies for carcass traits and instrumental tenderness that compared beef from heifers and steers. According to the most recent National Beef Quality Audit, heifer carcasses had slightly more marbling than steer carcasses, but USDA quality grade was not significantly different.
Making the call didn’t disappoint. All in, I’ll be spending about $5/pound for beef that I am confident was raised happily and humanely and slaughtered with care. The quality will far exceed the grocery store beef I’ve been purchasing, and I will be saving money compared to the Whole Foods product I’ve been investing in. I will be spending less time in the car and more time high fiving my boys over shared meals. My dog will be devouring organ meat and bones.
I understand a new process. I feel more confident. That mission we laughed about? It was well worth it.