What Makes Our Meat Different
Organic, local, and grassfed have all become household names to describe a certain standard of food and meat. Unfortunately, with that popularity, their meaning and trust behind the label have diminished.
When you buy grassfed beef at a grocery store, even if it carries that label and the USDA Organic one too, you still do not know exactly what you are getting. The label “grassfed” does not mean the animal only ate grass and foraged its entire life. It may have been supplemented other feed, or even grain-finished in a feedlot. Grassfed simply means the animal had access to grass during its life.
Even if the animal did have access to grass/forage its entire life, there’s no guarantee it had fresh pasture. Most pastures are overgrazed (carpet grazing) and under rested, this decimates the grass growth and leads to compaction, erosion, and weeds. That’s not a recipe for health for the soil, animals, plants or humans involved.
You’re going to need to know your farmer, be on the farm, and know how he farms to know your meat is truly grassfed, grassfinished, and wellfed.
At Kinwood we do what is called “adaptive grazing”. This means we are strategically moving the herd on a daily basis to fresh pasture that has been allowed to regrow fully. Adaptive grazing allows time for the plants to regrow their leaves and roots which pumps carbon into the soil and thereby feeding the life in the soil. This leaves a new buffet of salad when the cattle come back to graze so that they are always getting a high level of nutrients from plants that are at or near peak nutrition levels. In the end you have a beautiful harmony of sunlight, plants, soil biology, and animals is nature’s equation for building soil.
The quality of forage is the biggest issue for well-nourished livestock, but there are other things to consider. Many organic farmers leave it at access to grass, but these days most pastures could use help including ours. We supplement salt for trace minerals, kelp for iodine, which is severely deficient in Midwest soils, and clay for minerals and detoxification.
Another thing to consider is the animal’s level of stress during life. Many farmers buy new calves in the spring, transport them to their farm, and then butcher them in the fall. Separating from its family and first home to move to another creates stress on the animal, and studies show that stress stays in their meat. When an animal is transported for butchering, that undoubtedly increases its stress before butchering. But, with a higher quality of life until then, that translates into less stress hormones in your meat. So when possible, choose animals that were born and lived on the same farm their entire life.
And finally, family. If a sheep’s mother was not pasture-based and raised organically, some of that effect does trickle down to its prodigy. The same is seen in people who are genetically predisposed to a certain illness, or have a genetic mutation that nutrigenomics (how nutrition impacts gene expression) has turned on or off during their generation. Not to mention the family that runs the farm. The USDA has allowed big ag to call farms “family farms” even if they are owned and operated by a large corporation, so you can’t really trust that label either.
On our farm, the lambs and calves are born out in the pasture with the herd and stay with their mothers until they are weaned. Even then, they continue grazing with the herd. This spring, the third generation of calves was born on the farm, along with the first generation of lambs. The sheep and cattle graze together in what’s called a “flerd”, a flock and herd combined. (Well, when we can keep the rebellious sheep with the cows, that is). The cattle provide protection from predators of which the sheep are susceptible to. They also serve as dead end hosts to parasites for each other. Again, this is another picture of the how nature works in harmony.
The beauty of nature is that when you follow its patterns, it requires little work for a big result. That’s how we view our farm. It looks worlds different than a feedlot, but we would have it no other way. Working with nature produces the most natural and healthy soil, plants, animals, and ultimately, you.