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 pregnant.....by 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 long....it'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 lighter....how 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.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

An explanation and a soapbox


Grass fed beef, grass finished beef, natural beef, organic beef, pastured beef, grass fed beef finished with grain............definitions are as slippery as a politicians promise or a marketers imagination.

This is how Starrs Point Steers Farm provides you the best quality grass fed and finished beef.

The herd has approximately 50 cows, 40 - 60 calves or yearlings and two bulls. I have been looking after these animals for nearly 15 years, some of the cows have been here since I started caring for them, in fact they were bought with the farm and descended from a herd established thirty years ago.
The cows are Red Angus or Red Angus Shorthorn crosses and for the grass fed market are bred by Red Angus bulls and occasionally Shorthorn bulls. We also have a Charolais bull, none of his offspring go into grass fed beef market and none of his daughters are kept for re-breeding, they are all sold as calves at auction and go to feedlots, same path as 99% of all beef.

Our cows and their offspring are uniquely adapted for grass fed beef and when developed correctly do not require grain feeding. Our methods replicate as much as possible a natural environment, a closed herd apart from bulls, cows living on the farm all their life, minimal human interference, a diet they have evolved to eat over millions of years and harvested humanely at the right time. This is nothing unique, 60 years ago most of this was self evident and built on thousands of generations of farmers, herders and hunters and is also still practised to a large extent to this day in Ireland (disclaimer..Irish born and bred) and other parts of the world.

Like animals in the wild e.g. deer, calves are born in late Spring on pasture after their mothers have built up their bodies from the winter and benefit from the best milk of the year. Calves stay with their mother cow for as long as possible, usually end of April, weaned off to allow mother to devote her reserves to growing her unborn calf. After 7 months on managed pasture the herd is fed hay and haylage (high quality, high moisture hay in wrapped bales) from mid November to early May...all feed is harvested on the farm.
The weaned calves spend 7 months together on pasture growing their frame, then in a barn for the winter after which they go back to the same pastures for 3 months on the best quality grass for final finishing. The best heifers are kept back to replenish the herd.

Now you know the full story,  you can call it grass fed, finished, pasture raised natural beef.


The low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet implosion.

The hypothesis that reducing fat in your diet would beneficially improve rates of heart disease has been a juggernaut in health dogma for fifty years. We would have expected science to have investigated this with properly conducted un-biased trials that could be replicated, however this was not the case as epidemiological evidence was selectively interpreted to show the desired associations between fat, high cholesterol and heart disease that were then apparently proven in poorly conducted studies. The same biased scientists and medical establishment who controlled the purse strings for the research then cajoled and bullied their way into making government health policy much to the delight of the food industry who make greater profits with processed foods. Dissenting science and evidence was not published, ridiculed by the establishment and had a negative impact on their proponents careers. Please refer to the reading list on the previous blog.

This fiasco and health tragedy has resulted in a population whose general health indices are inferior to previous generations when you exclude effect of antibiotics, vaccinations, safety regulations etc.
The good news is eat the the same natural foods as your grand parents and great grandparents cutting out processed foods and reducing sugar ....there is no magic to good nutrition.

it's grim out here (but also sunny)!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Farm and Food...a beef farmer and physician perspective

To say it has been a while would be a joke not that anyone has been on tenterhooks for this.

The first part of the blog will primarily concern the farm, the second part about food particularly beef, food industry, health and any other topics that I want to rant about.


In 14 years of looking after my cattle herd on the Canard Dyke, this has been the most difficult winter yet. To get to the cattle  I have been snowshoeing one kilometre each way, (more difficult if you have to carry jugs of diesel) and praying that the tractor down at the hay barn will start in sub-zero weather. Fortunately, my extensive experience with hay bale grazing on pasture in mid-winter has been a life-saver this winter. Following the long range weather has allowed me to anticipate the number of bales required until I can get there next time. The most I have put out were prior to my Argentina trip, 84 round bales in total (about 50 tons).....don't worry they were checked on regularly by Leonard on snowmobile.
The cattle are looking good, as good as any other winter, they only take shelter in the barn when it is very windy. My other stroke of good luck was taking the bulls out at the right time last year so all calves will be born on pasture from May onwards.
Check out the pictures on Facebook (Starrs Point Steers)


Finally, after 50 years the diet heart hypothesis (low fat being the holy grail for defeating cardiovascular disease) has been proven to be false. The enormity of this flawed policy and advice on public health is almost beyond comprehension. I am a physician but in my role I do not have continuing patient care responsibilities nor provide patient advise so I can look at this issue more objectively. It's a huge complex issue and will take many blog posts (yawn, yawn!).
How does this affect a cattle farmer and beef producer? The medical establishment, the food industry and government have been pushing a low fat diet for nearly 50 years and demonizing saturated fat/animal fats. Carbohydrates have expanded as a substitution or switch from dietary fat and manufactured or vegetable fat and oils as a substitute for saturated fat..
I'll continue this line of thought in my next blog. I have extracted most of my information from the following authors as well as peer reviewed scientific papers. I would particularly recommend the first three books.

Big Fat Surprise............Nina Teicholz
Deep Nutrition (Why your body needs traditional food)...Catherine Shanahan
Steak.....................Mark Schatzker
Death by Food Pyramid.......Denise Minger
Fat Chance........Robert Lustig
Why We Get Fat.....Gary Taubes
Grain Brain......David Perlmutter
The Great Cholesterol Con....Anthony Colpo
Ignore the Awkward......Uffe Ravnskov