Saturday, 26 December 2020

Not Fighting Nature, Working with Nature...Loving Weeds

I would like to share with you part of an article that sums up succinctly how we in our arrogance  have sought to conquer nature, resulting in a deterioration of our ecosystem and which invariably affects our health. Steve Kenyon is a well known cattle farmer who works with nature achieving a mutually beneficial outcome. His recent article "Building Biology" in Canadian Cattleman magazine was particularly to the point, I have extracted his points on weed management as it encompasses most of what we need to know about the soil ecosystem.

Spraying weeds kills weeds....what else does it do?

It also kills legumes, so we do not get free nitrogen from the bacteria associated with the legume.

Without the legume the bacteria associated with the legume die.

Now we have nitrogen-deficient plants and production drops.

Nitrogen fertiliser is therefore added to get more production.

Nitrogen fertilizer changes soil pH affecting more soil organisms including mycorrhiza fungi which bring needed nutrients to the plant, so the plant has other nutritional deficiencies.

Plants will show drought stress sooner because the fungi transport water to the plants.

Without the necessary nutrients, plants become weak and are unable to fight pests and disease.

Now a pesticide may be needed to manage pests and disease.

While killing the pest there may also be devastation of beneficial insects such as bees, dung beetles, dragonflies and spiders.

Pastures like the fields my cattle graze are a polyculture containing many types of grasses, legumes, forbs and so called weeds as opposed to the monoculture of soy, corn and grain fields. We have all heard about the declining insect populations which are directly or indirectly killed by crop management techniques which in turn has decreased the number of birds today... a sick modern interpretation of the canary in a coalmine! Pasture lands maintained in a vegetative state by proper cattle management are islands of refuge compared to the surrounding cropland deserts.

The symbiotic relationship of cattle and grass needs to be maintained for preservation of beneficial ecosystems. The issue of methane, cattle and soil carbon sequestration is too big a topic for this blog article, I will write about this later.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Money Works Like Blood - Why Buying Local Matters

Money works like blood, it needs to circulate around the local economy if it is going to keep the local economy alive, if it leaves then the local economy bleeds.

The velocity of money is the number of times money changes hand in an economy, it's both a complicated and very easy to understand concept and can apply in a village or a country. The velocity of money is crucial because the Gross National Product (GNP) is equal to the money supply multiplied by velocity of money or the amount of money multiplied by the amount of times money changes hands in the local or provincial or national economy.

In a local economy if the money is not circulating fairly rapidly you move toward a recession or a failing local economy (the supply of money stays the same unless you are the US Federal Reserve and can print money from nothing!). When money circulates more quickly with money passing through more hands, more people have the benefit of the money.

I run a small beef farm (Starrs Point Steers), revenues are OK but expenses are high, however virtually all of my expenses or expenditure are spent locally, whether it is an agricultural supply store, veterinarian, mechanics or local labour all of this money stays in the community and the associated taxes are paid to the province. I use the example of a beef farm but you can substitute any locally sourced product, local retail or service. Spend your money with other locals or citizens of your province and they in turn should spend their money with you and help provincial taxes.

Buy beef (substitute any other local goods or service) from a local producer then that money is circulated from the local business to employees who in turn will purchase locally etc. etc. Buy steak from Alberta or much worse non-Canadian and you support their labour, services, profits and taxes, money that leaves our area, never to return.

If we as a community could retain more of our own money within our community and province we have a chance to remain or become a vibrant community, better able to retain our people and services.

Analyse where your money is going. Keep it local and it will come back to reward you in unforeseen ways. Price may be slightly lower for products from elsewhere (for multiple reasons e.g. factory farming, low wages etc.) but with price as the sole determinant we end up poorer in terms of health and indirectly through personal finances and economic health of the community. For community viability it is not how much the community has but how much the community can keep it circulating without letting it leak out.

David Acton
Starrs Point Steers
Starrs Point
Nova Scotia

Monday, 22 February 2016

Beef Flavour Notes


Raising cattle one expects sudden unplanned death to occur, mainly young calves from gastroenteritis or pneumonia or during prolonged labour, probably about a 5% death rate if one is lucky, this is now improved on our farm due to summer calving.  Occasionally an old cow will die from natural causes but the real bummer is when a young cow dies unexpectedly for no apparent reason which happened last week.  I debated doing an autopsy , decided to wait and see if any other deaths occur; in the meantime it was sent to a nearby rendering plant probably end up as pet food (there is no cost recovery with this, apart from a complete financial loss there are expenses incurred moving the carcass).

This winter is certainly better than last winter, the ideal weather for the animals would be slightly below freezing, sun and no wind, recent fluctuating temperatures especially above freezing with rain makes a mess of the pastures so they have to be corralled until the ground freezes again, not their choice nor mine.  It will be touch and go with the hay this year and I will probably have to cull some old cows for the benefit of the rest of the herd.  The two cows I have in mind are 15 years old, any cows that old and remaining in your herd are ones best cows and have given me lots of calves.  A humane dispatch will be preferable than a cow getting progressively weaker and having a lingering death, in this case I am just bringing forward what I planned to do a few months earlier....still I feel kind of sick about it having known them for 13 years.
Life and death are constant features on a livestock farm.


I am obviously biased for grass fed beef and I will continue to promote the numerous advantages to your health, the environment and animal welfare when choosing grass fed beef.  From the farm and studying the subject of grass fed beef I am aware of misleading statements, studies and opinions expressed or produced by others on the pros and cons of beef which fails to differentiate grass fed/finished beef, where cattle grow in their natural state compared to industrially raised feedlot beef which is 99% of beef in N. America.  Many generations have now grown up only tasting feedlot beef so it would be inappropiate for me to judge somebody for their preference for feedlot beef as food preference is highly dependent on lifetime taste conditioning . However, I firmly believe that any food grown slowly with care and respecting the environment it is grown in is best.  Food is best when you can taste the nature that nurtured it.

The inappropriately termed quality grading of feedlot beef i.e. Canada AAA and US Prime is based solely on the visual inspection of marbling ..... the small flecks or streaks of inter-muscular fat
between the 12th and 13th ribs.  Meat industry scientists state that marbling is responsible for flavour and tenderness with juiciness aiding mouth lubrication other food scientists independent of the meat industry provide conflicting evidence re flavour and tenderness in respect to marbling.

Tenderness is a reflection of genetics, animal husbandry, carcass conditioning with marbling responsible for only 10% of tenderness. The most tender meat has generally moderate to low marbling. Tenderness can be mechanically increased by knives/blades during industry processing, this generally occurs with older animals up to 20% of meat and is generally found in cheap steak houses or bargain wholesalers, unless labelled you can not detect these steaks (these need to be cooked to at least medium rare and should be flipped a number of times on the grill to kill E. Coli driven into the interior of the steak by the mechanical tenderizer).

Most foods grown quickly have lesser flavour, feedlot beef is finished at 14-16 months, grass fed beef at 18-30 months.  In France the preference is for 3-4 year old animals.  As cattle mature they develop more muscle myoglobin producing a redder meat and more flavour. beef like wine, cheese and whiskey needs time for flavour development.

Grass fed beef's more interesting flavour depends on soil minerals and different grasses and therefore is a location specific product compared to grain or corn fed beef.  Grass fed beef can have a subtle 'gamy' flavour which in reality is the real taste of beef and partly produced by increased omega 3 fatty acids.  Flavour primarily comes from amino acids, sugars and up to 25 different fats in combination with heat produce up to 340 different flavour compounds, some only in beef (medium rare is probably the optimum in enhancing flavour).  Fat extracted from feedlot beef in lab studies is white; fat from grass fed beef, Kobi beef and bison is much darker.  Alphalinoleic acid, one of the unsaturated omega 3 fatty acids found in grass and grass fed beef when combined with heat, sugars and other proteins forms complex compounds associated with a beefy flavour (Maillard reaction, caramelization on the meat surface).  Grass fed beef also gets its flavours from terpenes created by micro-organisms in cattle's rumen from chlorophyll.

Quantity and quality are two opposing goals, whether it is hormones, drugs or genetics increasing quantity there is a price to be paid in quality.  Feed lot beef industry specialises in quantity but tries hard to convince the consumer that quality is their sole concern deliberately ignoring the inconvenient presence and quality of slowly grown flavourful grass fed beef.

I understand that based on life-long taste conditioning that feedlot beef will be the preference for some over grass fed beef.  I also understand that not all grass fed beef is the best eating experience as it is much more difficult to manage and finish cattle in their natural pasture environment compared to the formula driven grain or corn diet in a feedlot.
However, I firmly believe that the best grass fed beef is always better than the best feedlot beef.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Calving Time (finally!)


while composing my next blog found this orphan blog from last summer

First calf came in early June, by my calculations 2-3 weeks premature. The mother cow was quite protective and adopted an aggressive attitude , bellowing loudly, ears pricked up and eyes widened showing a lot of white around the iris when I approached . I found them in the pasture when the calf was probably 10 minutes old judging by the amniotic fluid slicked coat, took some pictures and moved on. Being the first calf of the year there was more than the usual interest from other animals including one of the young bulls who had probably never seen a newborn calf, came back 10 minutes later and the calf is standing, partly dried off by the mother licking the calf's coat, much as I wanted to stay and watch cow calf bonding this was the time to back off and allow the calf to find her way to the udder for colostrum, vitally necessary for immune protection as the calf acquires immunity through colostrum as soon as possible , beyond 6 hours the mortality rate is very high.

Six more calves have arrived since then, some a result of artificial insemination, others from a clean up bull immediately afterwards, hopefully many more in the next 2-3 weeks. Finding them can be difficult and moving into a different pasture requires a keen observation to make sure calves and mothers are not separated which is quite easy in long grass and calves who sleep most of the day and mothers off feeding. Young calves often do not recognize their mothers and it can be hard or near impossible to link a calf with a cow especially if it is a first time mother and the bonding instinct is slow, the young cow being traumatized by the birth, seeing something strange on the ground making strange noises and the mother hungry and thirsty can often lead to separations while calf attempts to get milk from other cows who push the calf away,,,, anyway, so far, so good.


THE FOOD - tasty tales to follow shortly.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Following Nature and the Perfect Steak


This nesting pair of geese has returned to the farm pond, last year they successfully raised 4 goslings.

The beef animals went to pasture 10 days ago, this is much later than usual due to the harsh winter and late Spring. Even then, it was pushing it to put them on pasture in Starrs Point so they have been rotating through each field for 1-2 days for light grazing in order not to over-graze grass and deplete their stores before the three to four leaf stage. These animals were here last summer and know the drill. When let out of the trailer they froliced around and went off exploring, they hesitated at an open gate knowing this is normally closed and electrified, having carefully inspected the opening they then went through....I was pretty impressed that they remembered, makes my life easier. When moving them from field to field I walk in front of them and lead rather than push them from behind, like the Pied Piper of Hamlin.

The main herd will go to pasture on the Canard Dyke in a few days....this is the best day of the farm year. Cows will be vaccinated first as I do not want to put them through the ordeal of herd health when they are heavily my calculations calving should start June 10th, a few will probably arrive a couple of days before that...hope to have 25 -30 calves on the ground by the end of June....always exciting.
The calves will be born on clean pasture just as their mothers milk production will be enhanced by fresh grass. By replicating wild animals breeding season this makes all the elements work for healthy animals getting the best start. Traditional beef farming as we know it in the past 40 -50 years calved in mid-winter to early Spring so that calves would be at their heaviest when weaned and sold in the fall, usually 7 months average weaning age. On my farm they will wean naturally around 10 months and will stay with their mothers for another few months before I move them to Starrs Point, deciding which to keep for beef and for cow replacements or for sale (ones that do not fulfill my criteria).

On the farm today (May 25) were 2 bald-headed eagles perched on a fence over-looking the Canard River, a goose sitting on a nest on an island in our pond, a nest of baby racoons in the cattle barn, nesting ducks and a large coyote walking through the pasture!


How to Cook Steak

Many people have their own technique that they swear by, others have no technique except guesswork.
Technique is dependent on type of steak and personal taste.
Most contend that steak from the fridge or freezer should be brought to room temperature. The steak should be lightly dabbed with kitchen tissue to mop up excess surface moisture to prevent a boiled taste. However, you can also cook steak directly from frozen in the pan or on the grill, takes a few minutes longer to cook; I have done a taste comparison and there was no difference in taste between frozen and room temperature steak.
Grilling time depends on personal preference, cooking temperature, steak thickness and type of steak.
To assess doneness there is a simple trick using the fleshy part of your palm below the thumb (thenar eminence). When you lightly oppose the tip of your thumb to the tips of individual fingers and press on your palm this is equivalent to the degree of doneness, that is , tip of thumb to index finger your palm will feel flaccid, tip of your thumb to your little finger tip your palm will feel firm. Rare steak will have the same firmness as thumb to index finger, well done will be same as thumb to little finger, then everything else is in-between. So you press on your steak on the grill, it will be warm not hot and then compare to your palm. Other methods include a meat thermometer if steak is at least 1.5 inches thick or if all else fails making a gash into the thickest part of the steak for visual inspection.
The 'purist' would put nothing on a steak but most would put some salt, preferably a large grain salt on their steak five minutes before grilling. Butter sauces and some steak mixes can be good especially if compensating for steak in lower quality steak restaurants or grocery store "special' priced steak.

Steak should be placed on a very hot grill or pan for 1-2 minutes per side for the "Maillard Reaction" a reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars causing browning and caramelisation creating different natural flavour compounds and the unique taste of steak. After this, turn the heat way downor turn off the heat leaving the steak to cook slowly according to the degree of exact doneness.When cooking on the grill avoid flame flare ups, a charcoal grill is preferable. If cooking on a stove top use a heavy iron pan with ridges. A very thick steak can be started on the pan and finished in the oven with a meat thermometer. Thin or leaner steak can be sliced before or after cooking, cutting obliquely against the grain.
To summarise, the most important things are steak quality, control of temperature and paying attention when cooking.......all other steak cooking measures and tips are much less important.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The lies we are fed......


                                                                THE FARM

10 days since last post and still have significant snow issues. Portion of the lane down to the farm is still blocked with a 3-4 foot drift, about 70 yards's hard to be patient and wait for a sufficient amount of it to thaw but until I do I am unable to clear the yard, get to the barn with the tractor or deliver my new bull. In a normal year I would be fixing fences, a 3-4 day job, but have to wait for the wires to emerge from the snow. I'm counting and re-counting bales, will be out of hay on May 26, keeping fingers crossed herd will be on pasture by then, if it dries up quickly.
On the other hand, animals still looking pretty good after their hardest winter yet, even #338 a 14 year old cow is looking better, so perhaps a stay of execution....oops, harvesting!

Reviewing the data on my new Shorthorn bull, passed his sperm quality test, has good marbling and satisfactory rib eye size on ultrasound....his progeny will be for the grass fed beef market but the main reason is to produce daughters (Angus/Shorthorn crosses) to be kept in the herd for maternal cows. Breeding Red Angus cows with Shorthorn produces a Durham Red a new composite breed with the best qualities of both, then rebred to Red Angus for the optimal beef animal. Most of herd has been bred by AI to another Shorthorn, followed by an onsite loaner Shorthorn before the Charolais bull came back to the herd. Picture will follow when he gets here, for now here's some girls (Photo today).

                                                                                                                                                                 THE FOOD

 The lies, mis-truths, deceptions we are told and its not just from politicians.

One needs to look someone in the eye, ask hard questions and observe their actions otherwise those that wish to sell you a product or a dream remain to be proven. You can choose your own examples and experiences and I will illustrate one such case although there are many to choose from in the food world including horse meat in commercial ground beef in Europe, steak which is mechanically tenderized causing sickness from E.Coli 0157 and retail or fast food burger composed of meat from tens of animals.

Wagyu beef better known in the West as Kobe beef is portrayed as a pampered product of animals that are massaged daily and fed beer or sake. True Kobe beef only comes from the area around Kobe in Japan and costs a fortune, for example $175 for a 10oz. rib eye steak, it is as rich as foie gras which is an apt comparison. However these Japanese beef farms are very difficult to visit and you won't see the cattle on pasture. The farms are very small, there is very little pasture land in Japan, so the animals , often just one animal, are kept tied up in a stall for 3-4 years (veal gets off lightly at 6-8 months confinement). The massaging is to alleviate the arthritis from this confinement, brushing is to remove the caked manure on the hide and beer is to stimulate the depressed animals appetite so they can continue to put on weight like a Sumo wrestler. Wagyu beef in N. America is very rarely true Wagyu beef and are not confined in the same manner. 

Cattle are social animals, herd animals and become stressed when they cannot exhibit their normal social characteristics. On my farm I always wait until I have at least two animals to transport even though at times it is inconvenient, never dealing with a solitary animal. If they lie in their own manure the rain will wash it off or they will rub against some structure to achieve this and they are never confined save for a couple of minutes a year during their health check.

So, is it a lie, being economical with the truth or deception where you can spin a story from deprivation and confinement to one of pampering and extraordinary care. You should know where your food comes from, most of the time it is not possible and one shouldn't beat yourself up on that, however if you have a choice then make the informed choice.

next time, something to cook steak!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Never ending winter, Nova Scotia 2015


We had a couple of days in a row above freezing, this normally would not make me move the cattle off the snow covered pasture but they have taken to standing on the frozen pond, drinking the thawed water off the pond surface. Since I don't have life preservers it was time to move them into the corral, I could have moved them to another part of the farm but the snow is so deep it would take a lot of tractor time to clear the snow. Now counting bales, have to ration from now on as they probably won't hit pasture until end of May, need 6-8 inches of grass before they go out.

Tractor sank into the snow                                                                       spent a couple of days digging it out as I could not get the                                                                       other tractor near it. The snow shoe is standing on end.
 Ruari, Tully and Harry                                                                                       always a good day!
I need to transport my new bulls to the herd, lane way is open to tractors but not truck and trailer....can't keep them where they are much longer. Ground beef supply should be ok for another 4-6 weeks, cows 338 and 341 will be destined to go as they may not last another winter. Overall cow condition has remained pretty good despite the winter ( the worst in living memory).


Items that caught my attention this week
Canadian Food Inspection agency is reducing food inspectors in meat packing plants but keeping the same number in meat plants that export to the US.
Importers of Canadian wheat are complaining about the drop in quality since the Canadian Wheat Board was dismantled by government.
The aggressive and litigious Montsanto are complaining to the World Health Organisation about Roundup being classified as probably carcinogenic following a scientific review by WHO.

The above is irrelevant to Starrs Point Steers customers but you can draw your own conclusions or more likely confirm your suspicions re industrial agriculture and their government supporters.