Tag Archives: Meat

Kahlua Pulled Pork

15 Sep


Although we love smoked meats, our time in the summer is very limited, so we take shortcuts. If you have the ability to smoke your pork in a smoker, this recipe is not for you. After searching and trying several pulled pork recipes, we have come up with one we think is best, and easiest. The recipe uses liquid smoke, but before you discount using this “fake” ingredient, remember all liquid smoke is not the same. It is possible to get a more natural product.  Read all about liquid smoke on Serious Eats website:


Here is a shortcut to get some delicious pulled pork.

One 3# pork roast ( shoulder and fresh, uncured ham works best for shredding)

2 tsp Hawaiian sea salt

2 tsp liquid smoke

  1. Pierce pork all over with a carving fork. Rub salt then liquid smoke over meat. Place roast in a slow cooker.
  2. Cover, and cook on Low for 16 to 20 hours, turning once during cooking time.
  3. Remove meat from slow cooker, and shred, adding drippings as needed to moisten.
  4. Serve on buns with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Cooking time can be shortened by cooking part of the time on the high setting. Also, recipe can easily be doubled. […]

Meat Processors: Federal, State and Custom

8 Jul

A customer gives us some money, we give the customer some bacon.
Sounds good, no?


Mmmmmm. Bacon.

If only it were that easy.

To sell meat in the state of Minnesota (and most other states for that matter) the meat has to be processed at an inspected processor. In Minnesota, there are 3 different “levels” of processors, each with attendant restrictions on the resulting meat.


The top tier processors are the federally-inspected USDA processors. These plants are inspected by the USDA, and that inspector is there watching every animal that moves through the facility.

If the label bears the little circular USDA stamp, it can be sold to anyone anywhere.  USDA inspection is required for any meat that’s moving across state lines or out of the country.

The second tier consists of state-inspected “equal-to” processors.  These facilities are inspected in much the same manner, but instead of a USDA inspector, they have an inspector from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.


The label from a “equal-to” facility will have the Minnesota inspection stamp. State inspected meat can be sold to consumers, restaurants or schools, but can’t be sold outside the state of Minnesota.

The third tier of meat processors are the “Custom exempt” processors.  Custom processors are inspected by the state, but don’t have an inspector there every day watching every animal like a state or USDA inspected processor would have.


Custom processed meat is typically packaged in white butcher paper, and will bear a “Not for Sale” stamp. According to MDA rules this meat can not be sold, and can only be consumed by the owner, the owners family and non-paying guests. If you buy meat in bulk, like a whole, half or quarter of a cow, or a whole or half hog, then this is how your meat will be packaged unless you specify otherwise.

You see, when you buy half of a cow, we are technically selling you half of a living cow, then transporting that cow to the processor for you. You then pay the processor to cut & wrap the meat from your cow. This keeps everything nice and legal.
This doesn’t mean that you should worry about the safety meat that is bought in bulk. On the contrary, the processors we use are all USDA inspected, even though they may package in butcher paper with the “Not for Sale” stamp. We pay extra for the cryovac packaging and retail labels, an expense you may not want for your bulk order.

Farm Paperwork 2

7 Feb

I got a big manilla envelope in the mail today from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.  Turns out they sent us our exempt processor certificate for eggs and on-farm poultry processing.



Now we’re A-OK to sell eggs (on and off farm) and farm-processed poultry (only sold directly on-farm).
Eggs: check!
Thanksgiving turkeys: check!

Still to go:
Mobile retail food handlers license
Retail food handlers license (Farm Store)
County building permits to remodel the Farm Store.

I’ve been talking/emailing our regional MDA inspector and have learned that there are some flatly ridiculous requirements that the MDA has for selling meat and eggs at a farmers market.

Eggs really aren’t that bad, at least compared to meat.  To sell eggs at a farmers market, you must candle and grade them, label them and sell them from a cooler with ice packs  (reasonable so far…)

BUT  If you’re going to have that cooler out for more than 4 hours total (and what farmers market isn’t more than 4 hours including transport time?)  then the MDA has decreed that you’ll need to have your eggs in a commercial refrigerator that is constantly plugged in, even during transport.

Apparently requiring that eggs be kept under 40°F just won’t cut the mustard around here.  After your arbitrary 4 hours are up it’s into Mr. Fridge with ya!


As I mentioned, meat is even worse.


First: there is something called a P-L Exemption for selling meat.  The P-L Exemption (as far as I can tell) allows you to sell meat at a farmers market without getting a Mobile Retail Food Handlers Permit.  The problem is that the P-L Exemption doesn’t apply to bacon or sausage (or similar multi-ingredient products) because not every single ingredient was produced on the farm.

Why does the provenance of the salt or spices in the sausage or bacon matter?  I have no idea, but MDA says it does, so tough cookies.

Since bacon and sausage are part of the plan, a Mobile Retail Food Handlers Permit is in the cards for us.


But a P-L Exemption won’t get you around the other lovely requirements that MDA has outlined.

Selling meat out of a cooler?  Not in this state pal.

The MDA requires that meat be sold from a commercial freezer or refrigerator (depending if it’s fresh or frozen).  That appliance must be plugged in all the time, even on the road.

But the best part is:

"It is best to keep your meat items at the
licensed processing facility and pick them 
up when you go to the Farmer's Markets, 
as we do not allow folks to keep product 
at their home."

That’s right!  We can’t even be trusted to keep our own meat at home in a freezer (even a commercial one)!   So we have to drive all over the state to pick up our meat EVERY TIME we go to a farmers market.  And then, presumably, drive back to deposit what we didn’t sell before heading home.

I got a little clarification, and the MDA requires meat to be stored at an establishment with a Retail Food Handlers License (apparently mobile licenses don’t count for storing things).  So we technically could find somewhere close to home that already has a license and lease freezer space from them.

That or get our own Farm Store…


I’ll just keep reminding myself that it could be MUCH worse.

We could be trying to sell raw milk in Minnesota.


Green Cows

23 Oct

This was posted today over at the blog “What If?” and while interesting in it’s own geeky way, I though it makes quite a strong argument for eating meat.

If cows could photosynthesize, how much less food would they need?

If you saw the world’s cattle population in silhouette, they’d have an overall cross-sectional area of about two thousand square kilometers. By contrast, about 3% of the world’s surface area is cultivated, which means that (given rough estimates of geographic distribution of farmland) our crops easily intercept over a thousand times more sunlight than our cattle—which is why grazing is a good strategy.

Veganisim seems to me to be quite a first-world problem.  Sure, we could grow lots of vegetables and tofu if we cultivated all the millions of acres of pasture land that we currently graze in this country, but who’s going to do all the work?  We’re already facing a shortage of farmers. Since we don’t have enough farmers to do all the work, we use some yummy animals to help us harvest some of that solar energy.

NASCAR Chickens vs. Heritage Breeds – Butchering Day

31 Jul

We finally got all the broilers slaughtered, processed and delivered.  We only a little over 50 broilers this year, and that was pushing it, since we had to pluck them all by hand.

The Commercial Cornish-Cross chicks were just 6 weeks old when they got big enough to butcher. The roosters weighed in at just over 6lbs live weight, which put them a shade over 4lbs dressed out.  We got really lucky in that we only lost one chicken to the heat. The commercial broilers are notorious for having serious problems surviving in high heat.


This is what they look like side by side. On the left we have the “Heritage” cornish-cross rooster (Dark Cornish x White Orpington) at 2.85lbs dressed weight. On the right is the Commercial cornish-cross weighing in at 4.45lbs.

Our largest Commercial broiler was 4.66lbs dressed, and the smallest was around 3.4lbs. They averaged about 4.1lbs.


The largest Heritage broiler was 2.85lbs and the smallest was a diminutive 1.75lbs. The Heritage birds averaged about 2.0lbs.


The Commercial Broilers were super easy to pluck. We were joking that they were already half-plucked because they just don’t have half the number of feathers that a normal chicken does. The white feathers (and shafts) make it even easier.

The Heritage Broilers were quite a bit more work to pluck. Their feathers were more grown in at 13 weeks old, and despite having pure white mothers, they all had very dark plumage. This meant that it took quite a bit more work to make sure that the carcasses looked clean, as most people aren’t used to seeing little flecks of pigment under the chickens skin where their feathers used to be.
Skin color varied from yellow to white, with yellow, white and green-tinted feet. All of the heritage birds (especially the pullets) had that deep-yellow fat that you hardly ever see in a Commercial Broiler.

We’ll see how they taste here in a few days. We’ll have to cook two of them up and do a side-by-side comparison.

All in all, I’d say that the first year of chicken breeding has been a learning experience. Is that euphemistic enough for ya?
We really missed the mark on growth rate and carcass weight; I was prepared for that. The plumage color was all wrong, and that’s the first thing on the list to fix, the low-hanging fruit as it were.

If we’re going to make the heritage broilers work, they have to be easier to process, and they have to grow a bit faster.

We’ll see how we do next year.

*Edit* – We’re making a few changes to our homegrown broilers for 2013.

Consumer Reports – Meat on Drugs

25 Jun

Looks like Consumer Reports is the latest organization to throw its weight behind the antibiotic-free meat. Full story here.  In their report “Meat on Drugs” they have gone so far as to label the widespread use of agricultural antibiotics a “major national health crisis.”

It’s nice to see a big well-respected consumer advocacy group like this come to bat against routine sub-therapeutic antibiotic use.
I don’t have any problem using antibiotics to treat an animal if it has an actual infection.

The problem is that most antibiotics used on farms is mixed in the animal’s feed. When antibiotics are mixed in with animal feed it’s no longer being targeted to sick animals.  Instead, it’s going to the entire population, where it will treat the sick animals, but it will also “treat” otherwise healthy animals who’s immune systems are capable of defeating an infection on their own.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria don’t come from sick (clinically infected) animals; those animals get treated with more than enough antibiotics to kill the threatening bacteria.  Antibiotic-resistance is bred in those animals who get a constant low-dose of antibiotics.  The low (sub-therapeutic) dose is enough to kill most (but not all) bacteria.  Those bacteria that aren’t killed are the basis for a new antibiotic-resistant generation.

The most infuriating thing about this whole deal is that the FDA has known about it for decades without doing anything.

FDA issued (a notice of hearing) in 1977 on proposals to withdraw approval of all subtherapeutic uses of penicillin in animal feed   and nearly all subtherapeutic uses of tetracyclines (oxytetracycline and chlortetracycline) in animal feed because of a threat to human health.

Several non-profit groups sued the FDA in 2011 to get them to finally do something about the problem they noticed way back in 1977.  A few weeks after the ruling they announced a voluntary phase-out of antibiotics in animal feed.  Don’t worry, they’ve got this totally under control.

So what can we do about all of this?

Choose meat raised without antibiotics.  Buy from a local farmer who you trust.  If you buy meat from the store, look for “no antibiotics” or “organic” labels.  Ask your favorite restaurant where they get their meat, and if it was raised without antibiotics.

We’ll all be better off for it.


Getting to the bottom of Greenhouse Gasses: Part 2

7 Apr

If you didn’t catch Part I, you might want to go get caught up. Don’t worry, I’ll just wait here.

So, About that UN report. You remember, that scary one called Livestocks Long Shadow, the one that said meat is ruining the environment? Well it has some unpleasant things to say about today’s meat industry, namely, that it is a big emitter of greenhouse gasses, and a big contributor to environmental degradation.

The environmental degradation caused by large confinement operations is pretty well known.  You’ve got some pretty unpleasant problems with runoff and water quality, as well as problems with odor and air pollution.

But the UN report has some criticisms for pasture-based livestock as well.  In fact, the single biggest source of greenhouse gasses in animal production is from “Land Use and Land Use Change.”

To make matters worse, there is even an Australian study that claims that grassfed beef emits more greenhouse gas than lot-fed (confinement) beef does.

lot-fed beef in Australia is favorable, since this production system generates lower total GHG emissions than grass-fed production.”

Oh No!

To get to the bottom of the issue, I tracked down a copy of the article from the journal Environmental Science & Technology.   I wanted to see exactly what their methodology was; how they were coming up with their numbers.

I’ll save you all of the boring academic writing and summarize what they did.

The study’s authors found that cattle in feedlots eat a higher-energy diet than cattle eating grass.  Higher-energy equals higher weight-gain.  So the cattle gain weight faster which means that the feedlot cows are slaughtered at a younger age, and have less time to burp up methane.  Their grain diet also contributes to slightly fewer burps per day than a cow that’s eating grass.

So even though the feedlot cattle require more energy to grow the grain and transport it to the cows, their reduced methane emissions (burps) and shortened lifespan are enough to put them ahead of grassfed cattle.

Sadly the Australians are not alone.  There are other studies that back them up.

“Total CH4 emission (enteric + manure) was least for the [Grain] diet, whereas N2O and CO2 emissions were greatest for the [Grain] diet. Total greenhouse gas emissions were least for the [Grain] diet when [Carbon] sequestration by grasslands was not taken into account.”

Wow, this looks bad for grassfed beef doesn’t it?  I mean, who would have thought that cows eating grass are worse for climate change than feedlot cattle?  It kinda sets you back on your heels a bit when the more natural option is calculated out to be worse for the environment.

But don’t run screaming for the exits just yet.

Did you catch the last line from that quote?

“Total greenhouse gas emissions were least for the [Grain] diet when [Carbon] sequestration by grasslands was not taken into account.”

Hmm, that sure sounds odd.  So the scientists in this study know that the grass pastures that cattle graze on take carbon out of the air and sequester it underground, cancelling out some of the greenhouse gasses that the cattle emit, but they don’t count them in their study.  The Australian study is the same way. It does not subtract the carbon sequestration of the pasture from the emissions of the grassfed cattle.  So is this some big conspiracy to make grassfed beef look bad?  Well, I’m no big believer in conspiracy theories, so there is probably a better explanation.

If we dig into the UN report, we get a hint about why that may be.

The full potential for terrestrial soil carbon sequestration is uncertain, because of insufficient data and understanding of SOC dynamics at all levels, including molecular, landscape, regional and global scales (Metting et al., 1999). According to the IPCC (2000) improved practices typically allow soil carbon to increase at a rate of about 0.3 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year.

So the science about grassland carbon sequestration is far from thorough, but they can safely agree that “improved practices” can sequester 1/8 ton of carbon per acre per year.

The USDA has a different estimate of carbon sequestration by grasslands:

[USDA scientists] estimate that these 36 million acres of CRP lands can store 7 to 13 million metric tons of carbon a year for the next 25 years.

So that leave us an estimated 0.19 – 0.36 tons/acre/year!  That’s quite a big number.  That means a 50 acre farm could put away up to 18 tons of carbon per year.  And keep in mind that that estimate is for CRP fields, which are essentially unmanaged, with no animals on them.  With actively managed mob-grazed pastures there is no telling how much carbon they could sequester.

One of the goals of mob-grazing is to make the cattle trample carbon into the soil in the form of dead leaves, grass stems, and hay.  When a herd of cattle is actively made to bring carbon-containing dry matter into contact with the soil carbon sequestration is bound to happen at a higher rate.

It looks like there is currently a gap in the scientific data.  A gap between current cutting-edge grazing practices (mob-grazing) and the data on pasture carbon sequestration.  But while the knowledge gap exists, the scientists are still excited about the potential, proclaiming that better grazing could lead to: “substantial increases in carbon pools.”

And from the UN report:

Improved grassland management is another major area where soil carbon losses can be reversed leading to net sequestration, by the use of trees, improved species, fertilization and other measures. Since pasture is the largest anthropogenic land use, improved pasture management could potentially sequester more carbon than any other practice.

So this is the state of our science today.  We know that our grasslands and pastures sequester carbon, but we don’t really can’t say how much.  If we knew how much, we could factor that into the equation and I have a feeling that grassfed beef would look a lot better in the comparison.

My back-of-the-napkin calculations put grassfed beef’s carbon footprint equal to that of US feedlot beef when using numbers from the USDA’s CRP study and the Australian study.  I can find no studies that examine the carbon sequestration of mob-grazed pastures, but I suspect that when those studies are done, the results are going to blow people away (in the good way).


Stick around for Part 3, in which we discuss ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our cattle.

Goodbye Pink Slime, Hello Arsenic.

7 Apr

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Wow did the pink slime story ever blow up or what?  The story circulated for several weeks on farm and food blogs, and then went mainstream.  Now BPI (the makers of pink slime) are closing 3 of their 4 pink slime factories.

Predictably, the big-ag proponents were behind the curve, finally pulling out all the stops with the “Dude it’s Beef.” campaign.  They are proving what we’ve suspected all along, that they’re reactive, and alarmingly tone-deaf to the public’s growing concerns about where their food comes from.

So with the demise of pink slime one more fake-food foe is vanquished.  What now?

Nicholas Kristof has the answer, reporting Monday on what I suspect will be the next big food controversy.

Yes, as it turns out, most of the chicken you see in the store contains small amounts of Arsenic, caffeine, anti-histamines, acitomenophen and banned antibiotics.  This is by far a worse state of affairs than pink slime ever was.  Pink slime, for all of it’s stomach-turning qualities was never a genuine threat to the health of consumers.  Pink slime was offensive because consumers did not want to buy a product (ground beef) that contained 15% of a re-processed waste product without being labeled as such.

The drugs that are currently being fed to chickens are an entirely different matter.  This is not a matter of processing.  We know these drugs are being used to feed the animals we eat.  We know that small amounts of these drugs wind up in the animals body, in the food that we eat.   The FDA insists that chicken is safe to eat, and that consumers will not be subject to harmful levels of arsenic or any other drug through the consumption of chicken.

The public has a right to be a wee bit skeptical of the FDA’s claims.  After all, there have been an alarming number of recalls for FDA approved drugs in the past decade, epitomized by the Vioxx scandal.  And the Union of Concerned Scientists has consistently found that FDA scientists are subject to political and industry pressure in their studies.

So there is admittedly uncertainty in the results of current arsenic and drug studies.  The FDA’s studies suggest that the levels of drugs found in chicken (and pork) are safe, but there are few other independent studies out there to verify those claims.

If only there were a tool that could help us make a decision even in the face of uncertainty.  Luckily for us, this tool exists and it’s called the Precautionary Principle.  The precautionary principle is essentially a decision-making tool that allows us to make the best decision even when we do not know what the outcomes will be with any certianty.
Precautionary Principle

For example, lets say that you went to work and you think you might not have any more milk at home.  Either you are out of milk, or you are not.   You can choose to buy milk on your way home, or you can choose to not buy milk.

  • If you buy milk, and you have some left at home, then just bought an unnecessary carton of milk.
  • If you buy milk and you are indeed out of milk at home, then you have just averted a breakfast disaster.
  • If you don’t buy milk and you have some left at home, then there really isn’t any problem either.
  • But, if you don’t buy milk, and you really don’t have any left at home, well, that’s just a disaster.  Now you’ve stuck eating a bowl full of dry cereal.

With all of the options laid out before us, it’s probably better for us to go ahead and pick up a carton of milk on our way home.  The worst that could happen is that we’re out a few bucks.


The stakes are raised a bit higher when we replace milk with arsenic and other pharmaceuticals.  Now instead of not getting a good breakfast, we’re possibly ingesting carcinogens and drugs which could have major effects on our health.  It makes sense to pay a few cents more for chicken that is not fed any arsenic or drugs even if it turns out to be perfectly safe.  The truth is that for now, we just don’t know, and it’s too big a gamble to take with our lives.


Antibiotics in animal feed: Part of the problem.

23 Feb

It’s nice to be right every once in a while.  Unfortunately, I’d rather not be right about this:  “MRSA appears to have originated in humans, but acquired antibiotic resistance in animals”

Yep, turns out that if 60% or so of the antibiotics in this country are used for animals (mostly in feed) that’s where you’re going to find the antibiotic-resitant bacteria.

So with the BBC, 60 Minutes, Time magazine, and a plethora of scientific and medical journals claiming that we’re in an “Antibiotic Crisis” Why are we still giving so many antibiotics of it to farm animals?

The big agri-businesses would tell you that they need the antibiotics to keep their animals healthy.  The real truth is that they need them to keep their businesses profitable.  Regular antibiotic use allows producers to get away with keeping their animals in unnatural and unsanitary conditions, which are more profitable.