We raise Highland cattle on our farm for many reasons, not the least of which is the ultra lean beef they produce.
A naturally hardy breed, Highlands have a very thick winter coat of hair that keeps them toasty warm in even the coldest climates. This warm winter coat is one reason for their lean meat, as they don't need the thick layer of fat that other breeds require to help insulate them from the cold.
Highland cattle are also natural browsers as well as grazers. This means they are happiest strolling about the farm nibbling a bit of this and a taste of that. They will eat shrubs and other greenery such as cedar boughs, as well as pasture and hay. Highlands are well adapted to this type of diet, and although they would grow faster and fatter if fed grain, we prefer to allow our cattle to grow slowly as nature intended.
While this means they take longer to mature - an average of 2 to
2.5 years vs. 12-13 months for grain fed feedlot cattle - the trade off
is a much leaner, healthier end product.
When available, we sell our grass-fed Highland beef directly to consumers, keeping the route from our farm to your table as short as possible.
Consumers who wish to avoid beef that has been raised on any amount of grain will want to question their supplier carefully about their feeding practices. This is because the term "grass-fed" is becoming very trendy, but it can mean different things to different people.
For example, a farmer may consider their cattle to be grass-fed if the animals receive any amount of green feed (pasture, hay, silage, etc), even if the cattle receive supplementary grain to encourage faster growth, or are grain finished. Another farmer may use grain as the primary feed, but finish the cattle on pasture. This is more accurately called "grass finished" beef, and is not the same as 100% grass fed.
We use the term 100% grass-fed beef to convey that our cattle receive NO grain whatsoever. This doesn't mean that they eat only pasture as this is not possible in our climate, but rather that they eat only green fibrous foods, versus concentrated, hard-to-digest feeds such as grain.
During those times of the year when pasture is not available, our cattle are fed hay either from our own hayfield or from neighbouring farms where we know the conditions under which the hay is grown. We also make use of garden forage, such as sunflower and corn stalks which we grind up and use as feed. It's important to know that our cattle get only the leaf and stem parts that remain after harvesting the seed heads or dry grain. These parts of the plant are fed to our laying hens (who do eat grains as part of their natural diet), or are kept for our own use.
In addition, our cattle enjoy occasional treats of apples, pumpkins, cucumbers, and other seasonal produce from our garden.
Feeding from our garden is one way we "close the circle" on our farm, and ensure that nothing of nutritional value goes to waste.
These are all things that our cattle would eat in their natural environment, whereas they typically have to be taught to eat grain by mixing it with sweeteners and top dressing it on hay until the animals have become accustomed to the taste and texture.
Another important aspect of raising ethical beef is allowing the cattle to express their natural behaviours and keeping stress to a minimum.
On our farm, calves are raised with their dams and the rest of the herd. They have access to their mother's milk for as long as they wish, though they begin to sample grass, hay and browse at just a few weeks of age.
Calves are allowed to wean naturally when they are ready. This is usually between 8 and 12 months, but sometimes later.
Natural weaning contributes to a low-stress environment for the cow, her calf, and the entire herd.
Of course, it goes without saying that we raise all our farm animals as naturally as possible. Accordingly, we do not use any hormones or antibiotics to promote faster growth in our cattle. This does not mean that an ill or injured animal will not receive medical care if needed, but we do not condone the routine use of antibiotics purely to promote weight gain.
As a result of their natural, grass-based diet and their active lifestyle, our cattle grow much more slowly and the meat is significantly leaner than conventional beef. Animals raised on pasture also have a healthy muscle tone, as opposed to the more flaccid muscles of a typical feedlot animal that gets no exercise.
You will find, for example, that our steaks typically have very fine marbling and little fat to trim when compared to commercially grown, feedlot beef. In order to get
the very tastiest results from these firmer, textured muscle fibres,
it's important to treat your grass-fed meat as tenderly in the kitchen
as we treat the animals on our farm.
Here are a few tips for getting the most enjoyment out of our grass-fed beef:
First and foremost, take great care not to overcook the meat. A tough grass-fed steak is the result of over-exposure to high temperatures. This causes the lean muscle fibres to contract tightly, resulting in meat that is dry and chewy. The ideal is to lightly sear the meat on the outside, then finish cooking at a much lower temperature.
mind that grass-fed beef cooks about 30% faster than conventional beef.
So keep a close eye on the BBQ and don't turn your back for long! In
less than a minute your steak can go from perfectly cooked to overdone.
The judicious use of marinades, bastes, rubs and tenderizers can also help ensure tenderness. While these are definitely not necessary, their use can increase the margin of error if you are new to cooking grass-fed beef and are concerned that you may overcook the meat while you become accustomed to the extra leanness.
Our cattle are slaughtered humanely and processed in a government approved and inspected facility. The meat is aged for a minimum of 21 days, and is then professionally cut, wrapped and flash frozen. Once we receive the meat back, we weigh each package, then sort and store it in our commercial freezer awaiting pick up by our customers.
If you have further questions about our grass fed beef, please email us and we'll be happy to help.