State of the Farm

Ridiculous! The only way to state this banner year for grass (“it’s what we do”) is truly “ridiculous”. We have never seen such abundance in our primary crop as we have this year. Makes us sort of keep looking over our shoulder wondering if some calamity is on the way to offset the largesse we find sitting in our lap, a lap of grass luxury. So how did this happen and is it repeatable?

First, how did it happen? It started with a decision to under-graze our seven pastures and eight pig paddocks in the spring. The goal was to maximize our chance of having good ground cover when we reached the hotter, dryer periods of the summer. This wasn’t a new goal - we are always taking steps toward that goal. The difference this year is that we took it to the extreme. We were leaving ungrazed grass behind on our rotations to new pastures, and that was the extension of our normal process. So instead of “no cow gets her second bite”, it became “no cow gets her first bite every time”. That meant leaving grass behind that had not been touched. And that meant more protection of the soil, which in turn resulted in more growth. How’s that? Soil protection from heat and the preservation of moisture therein results in healthier, ever-growing grasses. Even as the rain was drying up, we could feel that softness in the soil that tells us that moisture is being stored.

Is it repeatable? Well, longer term predictions in the agriculture business is a risky thing. Each year brings differing issues, especially in a climate that is more volatile than any we have known over 28 years of taking a shot at predictions. But the theory is sound, so we will stay with it so long as there is a chance that we call it correctly.

For this year, it has been heaven-sent. We literally have grasses that are reaching chest-high in September and so thick that I have had to slow the tractor down by 2 gears and increase RPMs by 300 revs just to do mowing in the pastures that are set aside for winter planting. And the tractor still bogs down at times trying to get through the abundance.

Besides benefitting the harvesters (cows and pigs), this abundance has even more value to the payers (Honi and Glen). If the fall weather holds up, warm weather grasses will feed the eaters well into the end of the year. That translates into less planting of winter pasture, saving us tractor time and seed cost. We might even make a profit this year!

We’re living large here, folks!

French Chicken

I got a tantalizing article from one of you (thanks, Trish) about the joys of eating chicken in France where the caged chicken does exist but is largely spurned in favor of free range chicken roasted on an outdoor rotisserie. Made me want to fly straight to France to eat a chicken. The taste and succulence of a properly raised bird cooked on a rotisserie is the right way to eat, but you cannot underestimate the contribution of a rotisserie cooking method to enhance any chicken. We take one of our fine Jolly Farms chickens, put it in our handy-dandy countertop, electric rotisserie, let it rotate for a bit over an hour, and I assure you, this makes a great tasting and juicy chicken. The rotisserie is not terribly expensive and you will never go back once you try it. Jolly does such a fine job of raising chicken and the rotisserie finishes the job. My hat’s off to both, but I still want one of those French chickens. 

Pre-Salted Beef

We put forth my son’s accidental discovery of the benefits of salted beef left in the refrigerator to settle for 3 days. We were so impressed by the result in our own experiment that we added the step with our butcher. Specifically, we instructed that he salt the steaks immediately after cutting them and before packaging. I picked up one NY Strip in its hard frozen state on my way back to Houston on Friday to test the result. Arriving in Houston at 3 pm., I set the steak on our counter to partially thaw in order to re-start the process of salt osmosis; that is, when it had only a slightly frozen area in the middle of the steak but still cold thawed areas, I then put it into the refrigerator to thaw completely at a 34 degree temperature.

Sunday noon, the test began. After removing the package and leaving the steak on the counter for 30 minutes to bring it to room temperature, I cooked the steak in a medium high iron skillet, the bottom of which was coated lightly in olive oil and butter. In went the NY Strip for 4 minutes while the down side was developing a nice sear; when that happened, I flipped the steak, poured in just a bit of water, covered the skillet with my dutch oven lid, and removed it from the fire. It sat for another 7 minutes and I ate it. Clearly more tender, clearly even more flavor. Total time from the partial thaw on Friday to the skillet on Sunday: 45.5 hours. Had we had it for dinner instead of lunch, it would have added about 6 hours to the process. My guess is it would only get better with the added time.

So let’s review how this can be. I had heard years ago that allowing salt to sit on a steak started a process whereby the salt penetrated the muscle and turned the tendons within into liquid form. That explains the added tenderness. What about added flavor? my guess is this - we know that the tendons are pure protein so they are going to have a protein flavor. But that is not perceived when they are in their hard, tough form. It is only when they liquefy in reaction to the salt that taste and additional juices are released.

Please let us know if you have the same experience with our meats marked with “Himalayan Salt”. You can find me at glenboudreaux85@gmail.com. Thank you all from the Boudreauxs and the entire crew at JVF.  Our very best regards to and gratitude for you. You make it happen for us.
 

Shame on You, Sugar

We all now know that sugars are to blame for so much of our chronic disease and contracting life spans, right? Diabetes, heart, obesity, senility, possibly even certain forms of cancer (although cancer sounds like a stretch to me). But even more evidence is surfacing that missing the mark on the cause of increasing rates of disease was not mere negligence but downright malfeasance in both our government and our industries.

If you missed it, JAMA reported in its November 2016 edition that it had clear evidence that the sugar industry knew that sugar was the cause of rising heart disease in the 1950’s. So they promoted publicity to blame heart attacks on animal fats instead of sugars, and funded false-result studies to support their claims. The result was to form a tripartite force of food processors, the USDA and sugar businesses whose goal was to blame beef and pork for disease while adding foods like sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oils to our diet. They cut off government funding to any researcher who dared to suggest otherwise, and pilloried anyone who used private funding to question their false claims. Wow. We all lost our innocence with this one, yes?

State of the Farm

Really escaped with nominal damage [from Hurricane Harvey]. No creatures lost at all. In fact, the pigs seemed to have enjoyed all of the mud and water coming at them. Our concern was the possible over-topping of our dam (Pig Lane) as happened in the Memorial Day flood. So I had opened the drain pipe valve two days earlier and drew down about three feet of water. Got back to Houston just as the rain began. The extra three feet of water holding capacity made the difference. Water got high but never to the dam top. Every once in a while you get something right.

In the Kitchen

Last month I wrote of John Henry's discovery about the beneficial effects of salting steaks three days in advance of cooking. I spoke to our butcher and learned that the inspector approves that procedure and the butcher thinks it's a good idea. So I am going to experiment with a few cuts for next month to see if it should become our standard. Here's the process, both at the butcher and the kitchen. When the butcher cuts a steak in the chilled cutting room, his assistant will sprinkle sea salt on it before vacuum packing the steak. From there it goes into the freezer room. That begins the osmosis process of breaking down protein tendons, though it will be suspended once frozen. When the steak arrives at your house you may choose to just thaw it normally OR, if you want the full benefit of the osmosis process, take it from your freezer to the fridge to thaw for two full days before cooking.

State of the Farm

People sometimes ask why we call ourselves "farmers" rather than "ranchers". It's a legitimate question since we raise livestock as our primary product. But the answer lies in our motto, "Grass. It's What We Do." That says it all about how we think of ourselves. We are grass farmers. Grass is our primary crop, and it's what makes everything else work.

So if grass is our crop, what are our cows and pigs? Our harvesters, of course. Except they are not $100,000 John Deere tractors. They are producers rather than expenses. Nice system, wouldn't you agree? Mother Nature knows best. This system was devised a long, long time ago. It has only been re-discovered, not invented, in modern times. If PawPaw was alive, he would tell you we are only doing what was done before the post-WWII “get big era”.

Keeping in mind that we are grass farmers is important to our day to day activities. It guides and reminds us daily that grass must be protected and watched at all times. Our pastures are divided into eights as are our pig paddocks. These divisions allow us to monitor and limit the amount of grass harvested by our creatures and affords recovery time for each of those divisions. The basic thesis that becomes the daily operating rule is to leave 1/2 the grasses available for harvest to act as solar panels for the next growth cycle. Move the livestock to the next pasture or paddock which assumedly will be ready because it was rested and allowed to regrow fresh grass blades for the next batch of harvesters. The further you go beyond the "1/2 harvest" rule, the longer the recovery time becomes. So stick to the operating rule, even if it means putting out a bale of hay while you await the next pasture's maturity.

So there you have our short term operating thesis. What are we looking looking at for the longer term?  2 parameters: will we get through the warm season without running out of grass; and which pastures will be planted first with our cool season grasses? The first parameter is decided by the eyeball test - experience over nearly 30 years tells us where each forward pasture will be in 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks or more. The second parameter looks at the two pastures that are irrigated. We want to plant them first in winter grasses and if there is no rain, we can still get water to them from our deep well. Just as grass is what we do, rain is what grass does. We are looking to finish our irrigated pastures first so that we can then plant our winter pasture, relying on the other 6 pastures to get our livestock through until the first crop of winter pasture is ready for the harvesters.

There are several secondary factors to consider not mentioned here, but this gives you a broad sense of what goes into being grass farmers as well as the growing-out of the harvesters. We're dancing with Mother Nature, folks. She has a lot of moves. Pay attention!

The Longer-Term Plan

We have not gone “hard” on this yet, but are seriously considering taking a month off each year with December being the most likely candidate. Our thinking is that a one month rest will be good for all creatures on the farm. The rest in December will probably make our November deliveries boom, especially since we expect to be offering Christmas lamb in the November deliveries. So that would be an appropriate end to the calendar year deliveries.
We will let you know our final decision in the next newsletter.