We've been asked a lot of questions over the years about our farm, our cattle, our practices, etc. With the following list of Frequently Asked Questions, we hope to share the answers to some of those more common questions. Since we think there is no such thing as a 'bad' question, the list is long.
1. Why do you raise your beef from birth?
There are several reasons, the biggest being consistency and quality. We not only know the history of each calf, we know the history of his mother, grandmother, and, and in some cases, great grandmother. And by selecting new cows from our own heifers, we can choose the best of the best to represent the next generation. If we were purchasing a calf to finish, we could guarantee nothing about that calf's life prior to our taking possession of it.
2. What is the difference between Pastured, 100% Grass Fed, Grass Fed, and Grass Finished?
In other words, what do these labels mean? Unfortunately, there is no clear common definition provided by those in charge of label terminology (USDA). Only '100% Grass Fed' requires a producer affidavit to use on a a label. In the following questions, we will do our best to explain these terms as WE interpret them; our definitions are based on the accepted definitions of the words themselves.
3. What is 'Pastured'?
'Pastured' means that the animal spent it's life on pasture; to US, that means cattle have 24/7 unfettered access to fresh palatable forage, with animals casually munching on lush green grass, but it's not that simple. Pastures must have forages growing there in order to BE pastures, but a pastured animal could still be fed grain, confined to a small area and moved regularly (mob grazing, chicken tractors), fed or injected with antibiotics, and/or injected with growth enhancing hormones. 'Pastured' refers ONLY to a physical location.
4. What is 'Grass Fed?
This label should now read 'PRIMARILY Grass Fed'; the USDA, in its' definition of 'Grass Fed' now allows for grain "supplements" during times when forage is scarce (winter or drought). Thus, in our opinion - much like the term 'organic', this label has been rendered meaningless. At best, it refers only to DIET.
5. What is '100% Grass Fed'?
The last clear label left to true Grass Fed producers; it means that only grass and hay were fed to the animal during its life. No grain - ever. Not even one mouthfull. Using this label requires filing an affidavit with the USDA and providing access to the producers' 'herd book' (cattle records). This refers only to the animals DIET. While not economical, an animal could still be confined in a feedlot, fed only hay, and be 100% grass fed.
6. What is 'Grass Finished?
In the cattle business, "Finishing" refers to the last 120 days or so before harvest. This label is most often used by producers who purchase yearling steers from other farmers and "finish" them on grass or hay. This label gives no indication of whether antibiotics or hormones were given, nor if the animal was given grain prior to the 'finishing' period, nor where the animal lived.
7. So, which one describes you?
We are 100% Grass Fed, with AGA Certification. AGA requirements include a pastured life, and prohibit use of growth enhancing hormones or antibiotics. We go one step further, in that any animal who may become ill and require any antibiotic treatment whatsoever is removed from the beef program and sold at auction.
*SUMMARY* Labels have become complicated battlegrounds, where the meanings of words are fought over in the courts. None of the above terms, when they appear alone on a label, give any indication of what medications have been given to the animals - this is the cause for third-party certifications.
The perception of the consumer can be easily confused by the idyllic image that a word may imply; "Free Range", for example, conjures up images of chickens happily chasing bugs in a grassy field, but this is not the USDA definition. The reality is that "Free Range" simply means that chickens had access to an outdoor area; it didn't have to have grass or bugs - and they didn't have to go there. Labels become more and more important as the consumer is further and further removed from the producer; too often, it is the only means of gathering information about a product.
Our Best Advice: If you can purchase products directly from the producer, take advantage of your rights as a consumer and ASK QUESTIONS - And listen to the answers carefully!
Know that farmers are humans, and some are not above 'shading the truth'. We have seen it many times...
If you ask if produce is organic, and the farmer says "We're as organic as we can be", that is dodging the question, and it's a pretty safe bet that they are NOT organic.
If a meat producer says "no order too large", they are slaughtering anything they can purchase and load on a truck. Be informed and ask pointed questions such as: "How many beef do you process each year?", followed by a few minutes of chitchat, then "How many brood cows do you keep ON YOUR FARM?" If the number processed exceeds the number of brood cows - they're slaughtering animals they didn't raise!
8. Lots of people raise cattle in this area - Why not just buy your neighbors' calves?
The only way we can be sure of the consistent quality of our product is to only sell beef we have raised. As nice as some of our neighbors' calves may be, if we weren't with that calf for it's entire life and finished it to sell, we could not guarantee how the calf had been raised, or what shots, if any, were given to it. Our Husbandry Promise and our Guarantee would be worthless.
9. Can we Tour/Visit your farm?
While we're working our way toward scheduled farm tours, we're not there yet. We do give private tours on request; if you're interested in a farm tour/visit, please contact us to make arrangements.
10. Where do you have your beef processed?
Our beef is processed at Greenbrier Valley Meat Co. in Lewisburg, WV, Donald's Meats in Lexington, VA, and Flying W Farms near Romney, WV, depending on scheduling availability. All are small, family owned and USDA inspected facilities.
11. Why do you Dry Age for 14-21 days?
The process of Dry Aging, hanging a beef in a chilled, humidity-controlled cooler, offers many benefits for the final product. Through enzyme action and moisture loss, flavors are intensified and tenderness increased. One of the less commonly known benefits of Dry Aging is bacterial control - the sides of beef are washed with a slightly acid solution (ie: vinegar) prior to hanging in the cooler. E-coli and other bacteria cannot survive such an environment; it is generally noted that NO E-coli will be present after 10 days of Dry Aging.
12. How many cattle do you have?
We currently have 47 Brood cows and two bulls, plus the finishing beeves and the new calves. At any given time, there are an average of 120 head of cattle on our pastures.
13. What supplemental feeds do you give your cattle?
Our cattle consume no feed except pasture and our own award-winning hay. We consider our hay a supplement; it is given to supplement their diet in times of inadequate pasture. They have free choice access to Trace Mineral Salt; a formulation that does NOT contain grain or grain by-products.
14. Is your hay really "Award Winning?"
Yes. For the two years we entered the local three-county hay competition (hosted by the Conservation District) our hay took first place honors in both the "First Cutting Dry Hay" and "Other Dry Hay" categories. Hay samples were taken by the Conservation District employees, and judged on nutritional analysis, overall appearance and palatability. We retired from competition after two years.
15. Why does producing "Award Winning Hay" matter?
During the winter months, when fresh forage is scarce, and sometimes during periods of summer drought, we supplement with hay. The goal is to produce the best beef possible; a beef must gain at least 2-3 lbs of weight per day in order to consistently provide the highest quality meat. One of the most important nutrients in hay is crude protein. Simply put: more protein = better hay.
The WV State Extension Office states that the average crude protein percentage for dry hay in West Virginia is 8%. Compare this to commercial feed rations (grain) sold for bred heifers at 16% crude protein. Lush spring pasture, at its very peak, is roughly 20%-22% crude protein, but pasture can be as low as 4% during times of extreme drought. Our hay consistently averages 14%-16% crude protein. During those times when it is needed, supplementing with our hay give our cattle an edge that shows in our beef, both in quality and consistency.
16. Is it difficult to produce high-quality hay?
Yes, very. Timing is the key, weather is the uncontrollable variable.
17. What vaccinations do you give your cattle?
If one were to believe the marketing, one would think cattle could never survive without a 5-way this and a 7-way that. After removing one vaccine after another from our program, we now administer only two vaccines to our catlle. Brood cows are vaccinated against Leptospiriosis, a disease spread by wild deer. At approximately three months of age, calves are vaccinated against 'Black Leg' (Clostridium chauvoei), a fatal disease cause by a soil-borne bacteria.
18. Do you use anthelmintics/wormers?
We have used wormers in the past, as it is highly recommended by most every source. During that time, we reduced use to a bare minimum, and wormers were not administered to beef calves after six months of age. We have learned that there are many natural ways to control worms in cattle, most importantly the timing of pasture rotations. For several years now, we have found that wormers are unnecessary with our management systems.
19. Do you use pesticides/Fly control?
When fly populations warrant, we use Crystal Creek No-Fly Natural Fly Repellent.
20. Are you 3rd Party (AWA, AGA, USDA Organic, etc.) Certified?
We understand that the further the consumer is removed from the producer, the more important 3rd Party verification becomes. As our consumers are now spread far beyond the Greenbrier Valley, we felt it appropriate to provide 3rd Party Certification for the assurance of those who cannot come to the farm to see for themselves.
In early 2014 we became an AGA (American Grassfed Assosciation) Certified Producer, and the only AGA Certified Producer in West Virginia. AGA standards include not only diet (100% Grass Fed) but living conditions (100% Pastured; exceptions only for temporary safety or health interventions) and drug use (No Hormones or Antibiotics administered).
21. What fertilizers do you use?
We use urea as a nitrogen source, and mined mineral 'potash' for potassium when fortifying the hay meadow. Our goal is to fully restore the farm and wean the land of the need for chemical fertilizers through building organic matter in the soils - this process takes time. Each year we have significantly reduced the amount of fertilizer needed by our hay meadows, (pastures are fertilized only by the cattle). Applications are done only after soil testing, with each application being only what testing indicates is needed. With the assistance of the cattle and the poultry, we have gone from 0% organic matter to an average of 6% organic matter in seven years, and expect to find our soil tests no longer showing 'hungry' very soon.
22. Do you use herbicides?
We do not use broadcast (sprayed) herbicides of any type. We do occasionally have need to use a brush-on product for direct application to woody shrubs (Multiflora Rose) in pastures. 99.9% of our weed control work is done by mowing and mattock; mowing prevents weed seed dispersal, manual removal of the offender stops the reproduction/regrowth, particularly necessary for thistles and cedars.
23. How many beef do you process for sale each year?
Our average harvest is about 30 beef; our goal is 40 to 50. We don't expect (or want) to expand beyond that.
24. At what age do you harvest?
Average age of harvest is 22 months.
25. When are the calves born?
We've been steadily moving our calving season to later in the year (calving originally began in January). We're now at our target to begin calving in late April to early May. We believe this will improve both the life of the cattle, being a more natual time in better weather, and ultimately our product, as the calves will come when pastures are lush and green and the cows' nutritional intake/milk production are at maximum levels.
26. Where do your cattle come from?
We have a 'closed system', meaning no cows or calves are brought in from outside. We occasionally purchase bulls to bring in outside genetics. Our brood cows were once heifers we raised; many are decendants of grass fed cattle lines dating back to the early 1980's on this farm. All calves raised for market beef are born and raised on this farm.
27. Why cross Angus with Galloway?
A few years ago, we were looking for a new Angus bull, and could not find the sort of bull we were looking for in our area. Everything offered was, in our opinion, too big and too leggy; not well suited for finishing on grass. They simply did not 'fit' with what we envisioned for the future of our herd. So, we started exploring other breeds, and Galloway seemed the best fit. We acquired Registered Galloway bulls to cross with our mostly Angus cows in an effort to improve the quality and efficiency of the herd, and we are very pleased with the results.
28. Why not just feed grain?
Maybe a better question is: "Why feed grain?".
29. Do you supply restaurants?
30. How do I purchase your beef?
Our beef is available at all HealthSmart Stores, the Alderson Food Hub, at our farm, and through our Online Store, acessbile through this website and our FaceBook page.
31. How much freezer space will I need for a side of beef?
You will need approximately 6 to 7 cubic feet of freezer space for a side of beef. Space requirements may vary slightly depending on freezer configuration and how you have it cut.
32. Do you deliver?
Within reason, Yes. Fuel charges may apply; please call for more details.
33. How big is your farm?
34. How many people work for you?
We do. Robert's mother helps with answering telephone calls, some recordkeeping and occasional baling/tractor driving; otherwise, it's the two of us.