The Farming Life


Dry Aging: Pay Now or Pay More Later

Dry aging (hanging carcass beef in a cool, climate controlled environment) has a long history but the modern beef industry has abandoned it in favor of a poor substitute deemed “wet aging” where all the excess fluids associated with a beef primal cut are supposedly captured with it in vacuum sealed plastic.

Here is what Hugh Fearnley -Whittingstall, a British small holder , livestock raiser and food writer ( The River Cottage Meat Book) has to say: “What happens to the meat during hanging (dry aging)is that the natural enzymes begin to act on the fibers of the muscle meat, making them softer and more elastic so that the meat becomes more relaxed and tender.” “The meat will also begin to lose moisture as it hangs. Paradoxically this is a good thing when it comes to cooking. Wet, fresh, underhung meat carries too much water, which expands as the temperature rises during cooking, stretching the fibers of the meat and leaching out between them-especially when the meat contracts again after cooking and during carving. This means that wet meat actually ends up drier after cooking and vice versa.” “In general, another great but rarely discussed benefit of proper hanging… is that dry aged meat will emerge  from the freezer with far greater credit than immature, wet meat. Again, moisture is a key issue. Water expands as it freezes so that ice crystals will tear and push apart the fibers of the meat.Not only will dry aged meat contain less of the damaging moisture but the more elastic fibers will cope better with the expanding ice crystals. So, as the meat defrosts , and again as it cooks , there will be less tendency for water to leach out.”

Remember that “dry meat” (dry aged) is “moister” than “wet meat” (fresh or wet aged) every time you discard the costly tray bib from a package of grocery store beef.


HHW Pricing Can Leave You Hanging

Hot Hanging Weight (HHW) based pricing is common in this business and can seem attractively priced but the consumer is mostly operating in the dark when it comes to actual yield expectations (net total beef cut weight as percent of HHW).  HHW is the net weight of the  rail-suspended, bare eviscerated carcass sans head, hide and lower legs at the point it enters the chilling cooler. Both payment to farmer and processor are based on this number.

A commercial grain fed whole beef carcass weighing 630 pounds can have a bone-in cut yield of anywhere from 44 to 79% depending on yield grade. This does not include dry aging moisture loss -which takes around 5% off the top -since dry aging is no longer used commercially. No such published statistics exist for grass-fed beef . Since grass fed breeds are  typically of British- not heavily muscled , high yield grade Continental breeding- their gross yield most likely tops out around the low 70’s , high 60’s after 14 days dry aging. Variability in individual cattle and grazing quality can reduce this to the low 60’s. This range of yield has a huge effect on net $/pound you take home.

Suppose you purchase a quarter (technically a split-half ) of the 630 pound HHW carcass (157.5 pounds) and pay $3.90/pound to the farmer and $.72/pound (combined butcher, cut, and grind fee spread over HHW) to the processor for a total of $727.65. You assumed an unrealistic 75% yield of 118 pounds ($6.17 per pound net) but only received a 62% yield of 98 pounds ($7.45 per pound net). Not a bad deal but way different from what you bit on.

Complaints to farmer or processor on your orders’ yield result will inevitably be met with the negative effect of your choice of  cutting directions: boneless cuts- including cuts processed into ground- reduce yield.  Deviations from – or lack of- a cutting “standard” leave an “out” for the grower and processor. Remember, there is only one firm number in this game: the one you are billed for: HHW.

Factor these expectations into your purchasing decision and resist unsupported claims of unreasonably high yield. Dry aging is costly in terms of yield. Be sure to have the processor weigh, total , and sign off on your net cuts so you can determine if you got a good deal.


All Hat No Cattle

It takes a decent breeding herd, fertile land, fencing, drinking water delivery works , expertise (luck too) and most of all;  time ( 6-12 months more than grain-fed) to produce a quality true grass- fed beef.

It’s not about just jockeying random maybe-grass-fed cattle between a convenient “sale barn”  and processor. Nor is it waylaying opportunistically-purchased cattle in some greenish chunk of pasture a few weeks.  It takes 2-4 acres of good pasture per finishing head to support that generation of cattle and the upcoming younger generations-for a whole growing season.

Make sure you are getting what you pay for . Ask questions. Make a farm visit. Don’t simply go along with crowd-think.


The (Down) Under Side of Cheap Imported Grass Fed Ground Beef


Bos Indicus cattle

There’s a region of the world where large-scale beef production is  relatively new and “grass fed” remains a disparaging term: the equatorial lands of Brazil and Australia where only Bos Indicus cattle breeds like Zebu can endure high heat, humidity, insect pressure and drought cycles to gain some very lean, tough weight over a 3-4 year harvest interval. Australia exported 2.5 million metric tonnes -predominately this type of beef- valued at $8.285 billion in 2015/2016. That works out to $1.19 USD per pound.

Here’s what they have to say about its quality and destined usage: “Australia’s beef exports are globally competitive, but are generally low-value exports (grass fed for ground beef) rather than high-value products (grain-fed for high value sale). According to Meat & Livestock Australia, in 2016, 75% of Australian beef exports to the US were low-value manufacturing or hamburger beef (MLA). The US cattle herd has been near historic lows, fueling increased demand for imported beef.”

With the US as it’s major export destination a whole bunch of this beef most likely makes it’s way into the head of the fast food industry pipeline via Lopez Foods in Oklahoma, distributed as preformed, precooked, frozen patties.

Brazil’s deforested Amazon basin is a much larger producer of this type of beef but is barred from export to the US due to Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks. They also have a long history of being demonized for rainforest destruction so are compromised in the arena of health food marketing.

Some of this ground beef marketed in retail packages is labeled USDA Organic- a label whose meaning is being increasingly challenged such as in this Dec 2017 Washington Post story:  “What was the organic movement has lost control of the National Organic Program (NOP)- the pirates have taken over the ship,” said Dave Chapman, a Vermont farmer who has farmed organically for 37 years.”

At it’s essence Organic is only the certified absence of forbidden synthesized inputs: fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and drugs. Even that basic requirement is somehow overlooked by current administration of the NOP according to audit results. Virtuous, feel-good niceties like holism, species diversity, integrated pest management, etc. are relegated to window dressing by the caveat “where possible”.  Perversely, it is possible to merely deplete a natural environment  with the Organic blessing (UNCTAD p24).  Organic or not, rough, dry-land ranching has always been a brutal business with no lack of adversaries; real (drought) and perceived : kangaroo


I bought a couple pound bricks of Australian (AU) grass fed ground beef to try out for eating quality.  Cooked them “sous vide” for 60 minutes (sealed in zip lock plastic bag and immersed in temperature-controlled circulating water bath) in quarter pound segments cut direct from the  brick alongside the same of my own Hay Creek ground beef.  The samples cooked ‘”rare” (126 deg F) had the most pronounced difference with the AU sample have a chewy texture like  rubber bands that slowly disappeared as chewing progressed. The “medium” (142 deg F) and “medium well” (157 deg F) AU samples were also more rubbery-chewy but not so distinctly as the “rare”. Flavor was comparable between my own and the AU samples. Samples of both presented to farm dogs were wolfed down so quickly that the hundredth-second stopwatch differential could easily be attributed to operator reaction time.

This is not a bad quality product but why the completely opaque source labeling with only a whole huge continent  of widely varying climate and environment as the “country of origin”?  No state or territory or farm name. The USDA labeling laws don’t preclude more information but they do help obscure those that desire to remain so.

Don’t be reeled-in by colorful, cheery labels with no real information. Can you tell if you are buying from small farms or mysterious corporate entities or brokers?  Where -as in on the map-is the beef raised?  Practically speaking Organic means different things in different settings and practices, particularly when imported.  In tropical native grassland grazing it can mean next to nothing or even be a force for land clearing or other forms of  environmental degradation.  

Reinforcing this madness; cheap ($38USD/acre), raw, previously un-farmed land is actually favored by the NOP in that it does not require the 3 year transition to Organic of lands with a history of conventional farming.



My Food Background

Been in the food business continuously in one way or another since starting at Pillsbury R&D’s fledgling frozen foods group in 1976 as a process technician. Put together and operated a low-budget, skunk-works pilot plant for process experiments on a new Totino’s pizza concept. The engineering came naturally. Learned the basics of cooking , baking and GMP from food scientists . Left there in late 80’s- after attaining a mechanical engineering degree and process engineer title- during one of a series of takeovers and downsizing that culminated later in purchase by General Mills.

Went on to Food Engineering , a small fabricator of specialty equipment primarily for the prepared cereal industry. Lots of time spent in vast processing plants starting-up new lines, new products or diagnosing malfunctions. Spent an overnight in a South Korean instant ramen  soup plant  to get the kimchi drying quality they expected out of a new conveyor-type dryer with 3 temperature zones and 5 conveyor levels that required 6 hours retention time.

Quit engineering to take up beef farming/ranching in ’98 while the kids still young enough (10 and 12) to be excited about the prospect.

Stumbled into low-carb nutrition by the back door after a spring and summer of eating old-timey (fat/flavorful) pork out of their 2 Hampshire-ish sows and a stubby, round, spotted gift- boar. The family bought a half pig from them and ate pork a least  4 times a week , believing pork only had a 6 month freezer life. So much pork to eat we hardly had the appetite for carbs beyond that from vegetables. That fall, at my 30th high school re-union, I was lighter in weight (165 pounds) than any point since high school.  Don’t recall exactly how I pieced together cause and effect but I’ve been a low-carb advocate since. Get a headache from high glycemic foods..

Beer-Braised Beef and Onion Recipe Review

Excellent NYT recipe. Chunked-up Hay Creek grass-fed beef chuck roast holds it’s own in the intensely flavorful sauce. Fat Tire “Belgian Style Ale ” worked well in the recipe and as an accompaniment. I used dried parsley and thyme and chopped-up bay leaves coarsely with knife and left them in with the beef. Sourdough bread went well with; thinking maybe a sourdough rye would work even better. Dijon good  too!

Box Price Special

Box size (nominally 33 pounds) beef packages specially priced at $6.95 per pound for a limited time. That’s  a whole dollar per pound off normal pricing! Limit 2 boxes per order/delivery address. Only PayPal (not mailed check) deposits received while this post is active will be eligible. See “How to Order” on menu.  For Mpls/St Paul area home delivery on March 24.

Availability and Delivery

A few quarters -or many boxes-available for winter and early spring 2018 farm pick-up or Mpls/St Paul or Fargo metro delivery. Check the freezer and see if you need to replenish. Nice to have on hand for cold weather oven -roasting or stewing. Grilling outdoors on those rare bright, balmy late winter days.

Next Fargo delivery  April 14, 2018

Next Mpls/St Paul area  March 24, 2018

Soup Bones (Meaty) , Suet, Liver Special Offer

Quarter orders are normally eligible to receive 2 packages each of soup bones, suet and liver for an up-charge of only $0.50 per pound of these items to cover both extra handling and delivery. Halves are eligible for double these quantities in addition to one (1) of the following: heart, tongue or oxtail. You must request w/order: not automatically included.

Limited time special offer is for DOUBLE the above quantities.

Oxtail Stew: takes the chill off the coldest day


This recipe has evolved over the years from an old “Joy of Cooking” version. Better, easier and more healthy.

Begin by browning 3-4 pounds of thawed Oxtail or Soup Bones (pictured) in a skillet w/lard or tallow.  Rotate each piece at least twice until browned on meaty surfaces. Transfer to a 5 quart lidded pot , fill to cover w/water and add peppercorns (10-20 each), bay leaves (3-4),  and salt( 1-2 tsp). While pot is heating , saute until translucent/beginning to caramelize 1-2 cups coarsely chopped onion. Add onion to pot, bring to simmer, cover and stew for 4 hours. You can either remove bones at this point or leave them in. Meat should separate easily from bone.

When stewing time is up add 1/3 cup quick or medium pearled barley, 16 oz stewed or crushed tomatoes,1-2 cups coarsely chopped red cabbage, 3 sliced carrots, 1-2 T dried parsley, and 1 tsp each marjoram, thyme,basil and sage. Bring to a low boil and cook uncovered another 30 minutes or until reduced to desired consistency. Serve w/ course salt and pepper and a good sourdough.

good stuff