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Get to Know Your Beef Producer to Know Exactly What You Are Getting

Posted 6/2/2017 9:32am by Paul Nehring.

Get to Know Your Beef Producer to Know Exactly What You Are Getting

If you were going to build a house or needed surgery, or needed get your car repaired, would you hire someone off the street, with no experience to do the job?  Not likely, right?  For instance, if were looking for a contractor to build a house you would probably hire someone with the right qualifications: a high skill level, developed through years of experience with good instruction; someone who has the right tools; uses high quality materials; builds with craftsmanship; and who treats you with honesty, integrity, and respect. If you are skilled professional you know the same ingredients go into making anything of quality. Isn't the same thing true for grass-fed beef? If so, doesn’t it make sense to look beyond price and convenience if you want good quality beef.

The grass-fed beef market is growing fast, at around 30% per year, and lots of people and branded beef companies are getting in on the action.  While it’s great to see the beef industry making the change from industrial scale feedlots to grass-fed, the problem is that demand for grass-fed beef production has meant that lot of “grass-fed” meat is hitting the marketplace that is not high quality, because it is not raised by producers who have the capability to do it right.

The fact is, not all beef is quality beef, as quality can vary dramatically, especially for grass-fed beef, which requires a high degree of skill.  It takes a long time, 18-24 months to raise grass-fed and grass-finished beef.  There are a number of variables that go into creating good quality grass-fed beef.  Despite that there are no requirements to raise and sell grass-fed beef.  There are no required training programs, no certification programs, there is not even a legal definition of grass-fed beef.  Anybody can raise a cow and call it grass-fed beef.  In other words, the grass-fed label is no indication of quality.  If you are a looking to purchase truly grass-fed beef of good quality, doesn’t that make you a little bit concerned that you are getting what you pay for?

Doesn’t it make sense, then, that when it comes to grass-fed beef, it’s worth taking the time to find a farmer/rancher/beef producer whom you can trust, because you know he/she has the skill, the tools and materials (good cattle genetics, pasture, hay, machinery) and does the right things to raise exceptionally good beef.

There are many aspects that go into producing high quality grass-fed beef.  Here are some of the main ingredients:

The genetics of the animal—different breeds will have different flavor and meat attributes, such as differences in tenderness, leanness, marbling and muscle structure.  Additionally, within each breed there are genetic lines that produce better beef.  In other words, just because it’s Angus doesn’t mean it’s good.  There are good genetics and bad genetics within the Angus breed, or any other breed. A conscientious beef producer learns how to discern which cattle will work for their environment to produce good quality meat.

What the animal eats, and drinks throughout its lifetime.  Feedlot cattle eat a relatively bland diet of starches, such as flaked corn and soymeal, which provide lots of energy to fatten the cattle quickly, but don’t add much to flavor.  On the other hand, when cattle are eating pasture, there are many different plants in the salad bar mix contributing a great deal to flavor in the meat, as plants contain terpenes, which are volatile compounds found in herbs in spices, as well.

It is essential, however, that the cattle be on well-managed, high quality pasture managed for peak nutrition.  That comes from selecting the right plants—we typically plant a 10 or more, in our pastures such as red clover, white clover, ladino clover, alfalfa, chicory, and a variety of grasses which all provide different types of nutritional compounds, and flavors.


Cattle are moved into new sections of pasture daily, allowing us to provide pasture that is at peak levels of nutrition.  Just as essential, when cattle are moved off of the daily pasture section, the plants in that section then have time to rest and recover to regain high levels of nutrients before being eaten again.   This practice benefits the health of the plants, the soil, the animals, and the quality of the meat.


Unfortunately, many grass-fed producers neglect to manage for high quality pastures.  They don’t bother planting beneficial species of plants, and they don’t manage the pasture to maintain peak nutrition, because this takes a lot more effort. It is much easier to just put cattle in a large area of pasture and forget about them until it is time to ship them out.  I call this the “Columbus method” of raising cattle: that is, put the cattle out to pasture in the spring time and go rediscover them in the fall, when its time so sell them. Suffice it to say, the Columbus method does not yield quality beef.

If cattle are mostly eating poorly managed pasture they won’t get the nutrients they need to properly grow, finish and stay healthy, and consequently meat quality will suffer dramatically.  During time of stress, such as cold, wet weather, the animal on poor pasture will burn fat and muscle to compensate, eating up nutrients such as glycogen needed to properly age meat.

Hay, for wintertime feeding, is every bit as important.  Hay needs to be high quality, made at the right time, and stored properly to prevent mold.  This is another area where many producers skimp, as they make hay when they have time, not when the plant is at ideal stage for cutting.  Or they buy in cheap hay, which is low-priced because it is of poor quality or moldy.  Again, the animal can’t get the nutrition needed out of the hay to grow and maintain healthy levels of fat.

The soil that produces the forage that the animal eats.  Soil health is imperative to producing nutrient dense forages such as pasture and hay.  That means soils fertility should be maintained.  That includes maintaining high levels of organic matter, which is essentially decaying plant matter left behind after grazing, which helps feed soil critters.
That’s right, we need to feed the soil “livestock,” as well, and we do that by leaving some pasture behind, that the cattle have stomped into the ground.  Some farmers would see that as waste, but we see that as essential to creating healthy soil.  When there is an abundance of well-fed soil life, the nutrients in the soil are much more available to plants.

The way the animal is handled, from birth right up to the end, will positively or negatively affect the quality of the meat.  Cattle can be stressed by poor stockmanship, which can make them feel lousy, and even create sickness—just like negative stress does for us.  However, good stockmanship can alleviate stress, improving health, and production.

Good stockmanship, or cattle handling, is an art form that takes proper instruction, years of practice, and a good attitude to master.  Yet, few livestock producers ever bother to learn basic principles of stockmanship. Instead, they force cattle do what they want them to do, which creates stress.

I consider myself a lifelong student of good stockmanship principles, and have attended stockmanship schools taught by some of the best in the business.  After many years of practice, I now even teach stockmanship to others because I believe it is so fundamental to good, humane treatment of cattle.

Beef aging.   Beef has the benefit of containing enzymes that can, over time, dramatically improve the tenderness of the meat.  However, these enzymes need at least 12-14 days to do their work.  Most local butchers only age beef for one week, because butchers don’t want to allocate space to age meat for longer than that.  Aging beef in climate controlled coolers takes space and costs money, so most of the beef on the market is not dry-aged for long, if at all.  Instead, it is packaged in plastic and any aging that is done is during transit to market, or when it sits on the store shelf.  Wet-aged meat, however, can develop metallic off-flavors as the beef ages in it presence of its own juices.

If beef is too lean, and has no backfat, which is true of much of the improperly raised grass-fed beef on the market, it should not be aged for long.  The meat will dry out too much, and certain types of mold, though harmless to our health, that are normally trimmed off with the fat, will grow into the meat, creating fishy flavors in the meat.

Newgrass Farm beef, on the other hand, is finished properly and is dry-aged for 21 days, or more, if requested.  Not only does the dry-aging improve tenderness, it also concentrates flavor, providing a more robust, beefy flavor.  In fact, if you would like your half or whole beef to be aged longer, you can do so.  You can age the carcass or just the primal cuts such as ribeye and NY Strip for as long as you want.

A skilled butcher.   Without a skilled butcher and good relationship between butcher and meat producer, everything else done up to this point is worthless.
We have worked for many years with our butcher, Andy Geiss, owner of Geiss Meat Service, to develop the aging system, cutting, and packaging that provide you with good quality meat that you expect.

Last, but not least, the way the beef is cooked.  We provide you with support such as cooking methods and recipes, and try to answer any questions about how to cook something.

Without a doubt, high quality beef production takes skill and the right ingredients: good cattle genetics, well-managed pasture, high quality hay, good cattle handling, proper aging, and a good butcher.  If you are looking for great tasting, grass-fed beef, that’s raised by someone who takes the art of beef production seriously, give our beef a try.

Interested in finding out more?  Please give us a call or send an email.  I would be glad to talk to you.


newgrassfarm@gmail.com (mailto:newgrassfarm@gmail.com)   715-675-0688

Farm market

You can find our products at the Wausau Summer and Winter Farmers Markets.  During the summer we are at the VFW Hangar Lounge parking lot on River Drive, on Saturday mornings, from 8:00-noon from mid-May through the end of October.  During the winter we are at the Marathon County Extension Building on River Drive, in Wausau on Saturday mornings, 8:00-noon, from mid-November until mid-April.  Or you can give us a call or email to arrange home pickup or delivery. 

Contact Info

NewGrass Farm, LLC

4009 Henry St.

Wausau, WI 54403

715-675-0688

newgrassfarm@gmail.com

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