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I'd be crazy not to follow. Follow where you lead. Your eyes they turn me, turn me onto phantoms. I follow to the edge of the earth and fall off.   -Radiohead


Grass Fed Beef 2015


For those of you who are new to this, here is the long version

Where do these steers come from? - These are Black Angus steers borne to cows in our herd. We are a fairly small operation, with about ninety head of cows and three bulls. The steers have never had antibiotics - neither as medicine nor as a sub-therapeutic fed supplement. They have never been given growth hormone implants. They have not been branded, which is a crying shame because we have a really gorgeous, single iron brand. It is an old Felzien family brand: Lazy sixty nine. My cows wear it well. These steers have been vaccinated twice with five way and a seven way vaccine. They are band castrated, not knife cut, which will certainly disappoint the traditionalist cowboys out there. 

What does 'grass fed' mean? - It means these steers have eaten only the grasses and forbs that grow in our pastures, or alfalfa hay. It more specifically means I have gone out of my way to see that they never eat any grain based feeds. They are not certified organic. Our pastures are not fertilized, nor sprayed with herbicides or pesticides on a broad scale. I do spot spray some small areas in an attempt to control our horrible goat head problem. My steers have been free range in spacious pastures for their entire lives. In the winter, their dry pasture grass is augmented with millet hay. The hay I buy is very high quality hay raised by local growers. It is not organic; it has been fertilized.

Most cattle in this day and age are given growth hormone implants and finished in a feedlot, where the animals are crowded together in small, filthy pens. They are fed a highly programmed diet high in grains, usually corn and distillers grain, which is the leftover corn mash after it has been through an ethanol plant. The grains and grain by-products are mixed with various other materials including straw, ground alfalfa, and even wastes from plants that make processed foods for human consumption. These grain-based feedlot diets, coupled with the cattles inability to move around fatten cattle very quickly and cheaply. Part of the reason that grass fed cattle cost more is the extra time it takes for my animals to naturally grow to their full size.

Grass-fed beef has a lower fat content than grain fed. There is less marbling in the muscle. Grass fed beef can be slightly less tender due to the lower fat content. Also, the fat in grass fed beef is much better for you, with a proper ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids. I won't go into more detail here. I'll let you google it and see for yourself.

The beef will be dry aged for at least fifteen days to tenderize it, and to develop flavor. 

How big is a quarter? - A quarter will weigh roughly between 85-110 pounds. It will fill three cubic feet of freezer space. A side, or half, is twice as much. If it's too much, find someone to split it with. It is called 'cowpooling', and that is just fun to say. 

What does it cost? - For fall 2015, early 2016 my price is $3.85 per pound hanging weight. The processors price is described below.  I estimate your entire cost for a quarter, including both my cost and the processing charge to be somewhere between $700 and $825. 

Processors base their price off of the hanging weight. This gets complicated, so bear with me, and if you have any questions, call me or Your Choice Meats, and we can explain it. When a live animal is slaughtered and the sides of beef are hung, the weight is reduced by approx. 60%. This is called the hanging weight. It is measured by a certified scale at the plant. You will pay part of the slaughter fee, which is $50.00 per animal, and .70¢ per lb hanging weight to the processor. The final price varies based on the exact weight of the animal, and on how you have the beef packaged. Certain things can incur extra charges, like having ground beef formed into patties, or running round steak through the tenderizing machine. 

After the beef hangs (dry aging for fifteen days) it is cut up however you want, reducing the weight again by approximately another 55% thru evaporation and trimming of waste and bones.

For example, let's say I take in a steer that weighs 1100 pounds. After slaughter and dressing out it will weigh approximately 660 pounds. Those two halves, or sides of beef (each weighing 330 pounds) will hang for fifteen days. Then it will be cut to your specifications, with most bones removed, and fat and scraps trimmed off, This will reduce the 660 pounds to approximately 363 pounds. Divide this by four, and each quarter weighs 91 pounds. 

Why has the price gone up? There are two reasons for this. First, I have learned that grass fed animals take much longer to fully develop physically, and I was slaughtering too soon. Subsequently, they were underdeveloped, especially in a droughty year like last year. Hopefully, this year my steers will be larger and the poundage on the individual quarters heavier. Second, the cattle market is very high now; actually higher than it has ever been. There are many reasons for this: First, there is a nationwide shortage of cattle. Second,  the prices of most feeds are very high due to weather caused crop damage and competition with China.  My weaning age calves sell for almost twice what they did just three years ago.

Long story short: You will pay Your Choice Meats for processing, approximately $130 when you pick up the beef. Then, you'll pay me my recent price per pound multiplied by the hanging weight, which will be listed on your receipt. 

How does this work? - Please let me know if you are buying some beef, and how much- a quarter or a half. Also give me a daytime phone number.  Then call Your Choice Meats at 970-483-7885 and tell them you want to buy a quarter, or a half of Ned Norman's beef. Your Choice Meats will guide you through the beef cutting list to customize the meat however you want. When the meat has finished hanging, they will cut and wrap it and call you for pick up. They can hold it for a while depending on how busy they are. When you pick it up, it is frozen solid at a temperature much colder than your home freezer. Just wrap in a few blankets or tarps and drive home and put it in the freezer. You don't even need to bring coolers. Easy peasy. 

This sounds complicated and intimidating if you haven't done it before, but it is really simple. And tasty. And healthy. Please call, text, or email me, or post a comment with any questions, and I can explain the process in more detail. Or less detail. However you like it.






Calving Portraits


The ongoing document of calves. Wet, slick with vernix, covered in mud. Curled in the sun. Teetering wobbly on legs buttressed hard against gravity. Momma hovering close, bothered, mad at me, busy sniffing, licking and cleaning. Two objects locked in a primal orbit, slowly spinning around each other while drifting out across the winter faded pasture. Soft mooing black notes in a white song. 




Spring Blizzard




Spring blizzards have been common, late and severe this year. They are hard on cows, birds and us. 

A few weeks ago, within a twelve hour period we had, in order:  A warm day, mostly sunny, with the temperature almost to 70°, then thunderstorms moved through with heavy rain and lightning. Very strong winds, strong enough to blow two power poles over, usher in an extremely nasty cold front. Then tornado warnings. Then enough small soft hail fell to cover the ground. It didn't melt, but froze as temperatures plummeted. Then the winds shifted out of the north. Finally, snow, driven by the blizzard force winds, piled on top of the frozen hail crust. Temps dropped close to the single digits. All that within twelve hours.

Two in the morning checking cows, I have to watch the ditch and fence as I drive because I can't see the road in the whiteout blown snow. I startle up a gangly Blue Heron who had taken cover in the plum bushes. It struggles to fly away in the strong gale, flailing like a bed sheet hung on a clothesline.

Two calves died. Laid out flat, covered in ice, frozen to the ground. 

Storms like this, that get the calves thoroughly soaking wet before it gets cold and snowy are the worst. The calves struggle to stay warm. They nurse too often, which can make them sick; and the cold taxes their immune system. I've doctored three with antibiotics and antitoxin.  

 School was canceled for Ella, and Maret stayed home. We watched Starlings take cover on the porch and hide in the firewood pile. One was bleeding and ill, and died there sometime later.

Maret's Grandfather Marvin used to say, "Make sure you still have half your hay on the first of April". These blizzards are why. You go through a enormous amount of feed during these storms. Every morning I roll out grass bales so the calves have a dry place to lay, and every evening I put out more bales for feed. 

Chores and calving are exhausting during these blizzards. First, I am wearing twenty pounds of heavy clothes and muck boots. Second, the corrals are hard to walk through. The corrals that were soft dirt, are now a thick amalgam of partially frozen mud churned together with all the leftover hay. Next, large areas are puddled in water. Now top this with a crust of hail. Now top that with snow that is drifted thick in places. 

Middle of the night, walking through the heavies, I notice the Meadowlarks have come into the corral and are nestled down inside deep cow footprints. This is odd because Meadowlarks are shy birds; they are never in the corrals. They are trying to hide from the wind. Trying to use the heat in the ground to stay alive. 

Two calves were born during this storm. Both times I found the calves wet and new, shivering. Both times I had to pick up the eighty pound limp calf and carry it, walking backwards through the muck, a hundred yards or so into the calving barn. I walk backwards so the cow, angry and bellowing, can see and sniff the calf. If I turn around, the calf seems to disappear to the momma, and she goes back to where she last saw it. 

Maret's mother, Gail, finds over a dozen dead Robins in her yard after the storm. I find a few to weak to fly and easily catch them. I set them on a sunny windowsill to warm up.

I rub the cold calves vigorously with some old towels to dry them as much as possible. Then I put them in my calf warmer- a super insulated box with two heat lamps hanging overhead. The front has clear curtain so the momma can look in and see her kid. Usually, two hours has them dry and toasty warm, and after giving them a bottle of warm colostrum they can go back with mom. One of these calves has already lost most of its ears from frostbite.

After the blizzard the corrals fill up with ponds and puddles of snowmelt.  Water the color of thick black coffee from decades of tannins leached from hay and cowshit. And swimming in them is a half dozen ducks, taking a rest from their long migration.









Contracted Tendons and Other Problems


There are now thirty two calves. Actually thirty three have been born but I didn't tag this one because I didn't think she would survive. Turns out I was right. Though born alive, she can't stand up, or even sit up. I've kept her alive for the first few days by tube feeding her. She is even unable to nurse. In this photo you can see her in front of the Ranger which has the tube feeding bag hanging from it. She is only sitting up because I have placed her in that position by folding her legs under her, so she will be in the right position to place the tube down her throat. She flopped over right after I took the photo.

I've consulted with my vet as to possible causes and remedies but there isn't much to be done. Likely cause is a neurologic or brain development issue. I gave her shots of both an anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic on the rare chance it is bacterial meningitis. No luck. I have tried repeatedly to lift her up, stimulate her legs, help fire those nerves, but to no avail. I"ll have to put her down or else she will starve and suffer.  

In the photo below you will notice the calf has duct tape wrapped around his front hooves. Since birth this calf has had trouble walking. He can stand up, but his front legs buckle at the ankle due to contracted tendons not allowing the front legs to straighten. I've had this happen before. Sometimes they simply grow out of it in a few days. He is not improving very quickly, so I've wrapped his legs in cast padding and vet wrap. Then I splint the legs straight with PVC splints and duct tape. I also give him a shot of a tetracycline antibiotic which rapidly binds with calcium allowing for muscle and tendon relaxation. I learned that last nifty part from my amazing vet, who is probably tiring of my phone calls.