Tag Archives: butcher

Glitches in System

The self ascribed ‘Lunatic Farmer’, Joel Salatin, is a gifted speaker, writer, and farmer.  He and his family operate Polyface Farms in Virginia.  His blog is a fascinating and helpful insight into the difficulties farmers and ranchers of small holdings face.  During this time of renewed interest of purchasing locally from local abattoir, I’m going to reblog those of his which address why local butcher shops and farmers do what they do and charge what they charge.  I hope the series will be helpful.  However, we are realists and know that once the huge foreign owned packers are back up and running, consumers will be back at Wal-mart buying cheap imported meat processed, in some cases, by illegal aliens.

The comments are worth reading as well, but you’ll need to click through to his blog site.

MEAT SCARCITY AND OVERTIME

            By now all of us are well aware about the glitches in the meat and poultry processing food chain in the U.S.  It’s severe enough in pork and poultry that animals are being euthanized rather than going to processing.  Beef will probably not get to that point simply because beef grows slower and therefore has more forgiveness.  A month of holding pattern for a chicken is a long time; for a beef it’s not that long.

             As a result of these industry problems, the crush on smaller community-based abattoirs like the one Teresa and I co-own here in Harrisonburg (T&E Meats) is unprecedented.  With our facilities and crew we can only handle a certain number of animals per week and when the slots are filled, they’re filled.  We’ve had a sudden surge of perhaps 30-40 percent in slot requests.  Even Polyface can’t get in with all the animals we need processed; then we’re short and customers complain.  Sheesh.

             We’ve never run Saturday work or a second shift, but we’re examining all those alternatives now to squeeze some more use out of our concrete, stainless steel, and building.

             Hang with me here, because this will no doubt infuriate you like it does me.  Our small plant of about 20 employees is located on a roughly 1.5 acre lot surrounded by other small businesses.  It’s been on that lot for some 70 years.  We’re federal inspected which means an inspector pokes and sniffs at livers and looks over paperwork each day.

             The inspector has an office in the building to keep records but he’s only there less than an hour a day.  He goes to other plants during the day.  Of course, he has the right to pop in any time he wants to and see anything he wants to.  He also has the right to immediately shut us down if he sees egregious violations of his interpretation of the voluminous subjective codes.

             The way the system works is this:  if a plant owner passes all the compliance and licensing requirements, the federal government issues an establishment number which authorizes the facility to engage in business.  The stamp is called the “Blue Buzz” and it’s the little round blue circle on all federal inspected product that carries the FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) acronym and establishment number.  That license also requires the federal government to supply, at no charge, an inspector for up to 8 hours per day.

             If you need one for more than 8 hours per day, then the business and not the government picks up the tab at a time and half rate for every hour more than 8.  What you have to appreciate is that in the case of a small plant like ours, the inspector is actually only on site an hour a day and sometimes less.  He or she is not there on location for 8 hours; not anywhere close.

             But here’s the catch.  As we begin discussing running on Saturday or operating for an extra couple of hours to try to accommodate more of these local farmers who desperately need animals processed, the government requires us to pay a time and half inspector rate for every hour we OPERATE more than 8 hours, regardless of whether an inspector is there or not.

             The inspector shows up each day, checks things, and then leaves.  Why can’t that check be good for 10 hours instead of 8?  Or for 12 hours instead of 8?  He’s not there anyway, so if the system trusts us not  to cut corners in the 6th hour of an 8 hour shift,  why would it be suddenly risky for us to operate another 15 minutes past 8 hours?  It makes no sense whatsoever, but it definitely changes our economic picture dramatically the moment we have to pay $75 an hour for someone who isn’t even there.

             This is the kind of foolishness foisted upon local abattoirs by a scale-prejudicial system that refuses to accommodate or budge in order to alleviate the desperate need of people for food and farmers to get it to them.  This is accounting by the government.

             Is it time to build an underground railroad for processing?

Thank your Kate Simon for the photo!

Leather Goods or Compost?

The self ascribed ‘Lunatic Farmer’, Joel Salatin, is a gifted speaker, writer, and farmer.  He and his family operate Polyface Farms in Virginia.  His blog is a fascinating and helpful insight into the difficulties farmers and ranchers of small holdings face.  During this time of renewed interest of purchasing locally from local abattoir, I’m going to reblog those of his which address why local butcher shops and farmers do what they do and charge what they charge.  I hope the series will be helpful.  However, we are realists and know that once the huge foreign owned packers are back up and running, consumers will be back at Wal-mart buying cheap imported meat processed, in some cases, by illegal aliens.

The comments are worth reading as well, but you’ll need to click through to his blog site.

HIDES AND LEATHER

HIDES AND LEATHER

            Teresa and I co-own a small abattoir (slaughterhouse) in Harrisonburg that employs 20 people and is our closest federal inspected facility.  We get our beef, pork and lamb processed there; it’s about 40 miles away.

             The buy-in occurred about 10 years ago when the couple who owned it were in their 80s and in declining health.  Without a succession plan, the facility was in danger of closing when they finally couldn’t do it anymore, so I spent several years actively searching for a buyer.  The eventual partner wouldn’t buy it without us putting in a big stake to ensure Polyface’s continued patronage.

             I’ve learned a lot in this experience and one of the things that’s most disconcerting is how the world of hides has changed.  Lest I lose anybody in this discussion, let me remind everyone that leather–yes, leather that’s on car seats, purses, shoes, luggage, belts–comes from animal hides.  The most common is from cows.

             Back 20 years ago, abattoirs received about $40 a hide.  Salted down on site, hides would be piled up and brokers would pick them up once a month and send them down the value chain toward tanning into leather.  As tanneries left the U.S. (like so much manufacturing) due to over-regulation, China became the new destination for these hides.

             As consolidation accelerated in the industry, larger and larger processing plants enjoyed preferential service from the brokers.  If a broker could pick up a tractor trailer of hides at one stop, that of course was far more efficient than stopping at half a dozen small community abattoirs in order to get a load.  Over time, the prices paid to small abattoirs began dropping.

             At massive processing plants where 1,000 beeves are processed in a day, shipping containers sit on site to receive the hides and head straight for a port and the trip over to China.  In a few short years, what used to be a $50,000 income stream for a small abattoir dried up.  Literally.

             At our small facility in Harrisonburg (T&E Meats) we process between 2,000 and 3,000 beeves (plural of beef) a year.  But none of those hides makes it into leather.  Nobody will come and pick them up.  Guess what happens to them?  They go to the landfill, where we pay a tipping fee.  Yet another compostable item the ecology grew and needs to replenish the earth, thrown away.

             Guess who pays that?  The facility has to pass that cost back to the farmer who’s getting the animals processed.  But as a small plant operator, realize the shift in economics.  What used to generate a substantial income has now become a substantial liability.  This $100-$200,000 swing between income and expense is economically devastating to a small community facility.

             When people accuse farmers like me of being elitists because our prices are higher than Wal-Mart, much of the higher price issue has nothing to do with efficiency or production costs.  Rather, our higher prices have more to do with these kinds of scale discriminations within the system.  We’re literally squeezed out.

             To add insult to injury, though, consider the disrespect this places on the animals who have dutifully served us and given themselves for our nutrition to summarily throw such a useful component of their lives in the landfill.  It’s unconscionable that as a society we’ve let ourselves fall to this level.  Of course, a complicating factor is that the world uses less leather today with faux fiber everywhere you turn.  So buying genuine leather products is yet another way to honor the lives of the animals who adorn our dinner.

             Last week, we launched a new trial here at Polyface.  We brought back 12 beautiful hides and have found an outfit in Florida that will tan them.  Hopefully we’ll be able to offer them in the next few months.  They make great (and beautiful) rugs, bed coverings and wall hangings.  At least we honored those 12.  These are striped and gorgeous hides.

             What leather product have you bought lately?

JOEL SALATIN

Philadelphia Scrapple – My Version

Philadelphia Scrapple

Philadelphia Scrapple

Cooking time: about 4 hours   Servings: 12-24 servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2-3 lbs stewing hen (you’ll need about 6 cups of ground meat)
  • 2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Slow cook stewing hen until tender.  Remove meat from skin and bones and cut meat into pieces.  Place meat back into cooking water with sage and cayenne pepper and simmer 2 to 3 hours.  Drain and reserve stock.

Chop meat with a knife or food processor, being careful not to grind it too fine. Set aside.

(Note that i had already done all the above and just froze ground meat separately from plain chicken stock – i only add spices when ready to make this recipe)

Measure 5 cups of stock and return to pot.  Bring to a simmer, add meat, cornmeal, salt, and peppers, then stir constantly until thick and smooth – about 15 to 30 minutes.

Pour mixture into 2 loaf pans and refrigerate until completely chilled.  Un-mold scrapple.  Slice and fry until golden brown and crispy on both sides.

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Whilst stirring, you may need to break up clumps of corn meal
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Whilst stirring, you may need to break up any clumps of corn meal.
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The mixture needs to be thick to hold together once you’ve removed from pan.
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Refrigerate or cool outside like i did here since it’s colder outside than in the frig anyway!

 

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No need to grease or butter the loaf pan, but definitely sliding a knife around the edge to loosen really helps it ease out of the pan.
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I’m using beef fat here for frying, but butter or olive oil works just as well.

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Fry on low-medium heat, then carefully flip to reveal this crispy brown side, fry the other side, then ready to serve.
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Philadelphia Scrapple with egg – this is just a terrible photo, but you get the idea.  Notice the pale yolk on our farm egg – that’s a winter egg.  No green grass out there now.
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Despite the savory aspect of scrapple, you may enjoy just a smidgen of syrup on this.  Try it on just a corner.  We are so fortunate to buy pure maple syrup from our neighbor – Coyote Orchard, Purdin, Missouri.
Scrapple with egg
Almost all gone! Yum!

Beef Cuts – Lots to Learn!

This guy cuts and talks fast, but you can always back it up to listen again.  Now, remember, your local butcher may not be familiar with all these cuts.  Names for various pieces can vary from region to region and country to country as well.  Also, this guy doesn’t mention ground beef.  Some of that stuff he set aside will likely be ground, but also you can choose any or all of the beef to be ground.  That will make expensive ground beef, but it will also be the highest quality ever!  For more information about buying from your neighbor, read my earlier post.

 

Here are charts from the Beef It’s What’s For Dinner website.  You can even download for printing or magnifying.

 

Beef Retail Cuts Chart 2018
Beef Retail Cuts Chart pdf
BIWFD Foodservice Cuts Poster_FINAL
Beef Foodservice Cut Poster pdf

Buying Beef or Lamb From the Farmer

There are many articles out there addressing this and to be sure, each producer may do things just a bit different, so please don’t take this article as the end all for ‘how to purchase beef from a farmer.’  This is what we do.

Step by step.

  1. If it is important to you, ask questions or visit the producer’s website (if they have one – many don’t) about how the animals are handled and raised.

Sample Question:

  1. Are the beeves you sell fully grass finished or grain finished (feedlot) do they receive grain on pasture? If so, is the grain non-GMO?
  2. Do you vaccinate your animals?  Are the animals you sell to me treated with antibiotics, synthetic dewormers, hormonal implants,
  3. Is your farm and animals raised organically?  certified organic (3rd party certification)?, (Certified organic animals/meat must be processed in a certified organic abattoir, all this adds tremendously to the cost of certified organic but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than your local producer.)  For example, many of us raise fully grass-fed and finished from conception to consumption, no implants, no synthetic dewormers, no antibiotics, etc, etc.  But, we might treat some brush in the next paddock with weed killer, so no way can that animal be certified organic.  Also, even if our farm and animals could be certified organic, if there isn’t a certified organic butcher shop, the meat cannot be certified organic.  I would have to make a 4 hour one way drive to a certified organic butcher.  Not going to happen.
  4. Why can’t i just ring up and you have a beef available?  Don’t you keep cattle year round?  Yes, we keep cattle year round, but most of us are cow/calf producers and will only finish enough animals to fill orders placed six months or more in advance.  Once an animal is finished, it needs to go to slaughter – every day that it is still on pasture, it is losing money.   Most of our animals are sold as calves through traditional markets, so if you haven’t ordered a beef well in advance, we won’t have saved back enough beeves to finish one for you.  Also, sometimes the weather plays havoc with finishing times as well.  If you want finished feedlot beef, you’ll have to go the store.

You may want to visit the farm before making a purchase, but remember, we are producers, not salesmen – if you aren’t serious about making a purchase, please don’t take up too much time.  Be prepared ahead of time with questions.  You may decide after you meet with the farmer and see how he operates, not to purchase, but don’t take up a lot time just out of curiosity.

If you decide to purchase, already have it in your mind how much you want to buy.  For example, a typically grass-finished carcass will weigh 600-700 lbs.  Be sure to ask the producer, his might be bigger or smaller, but armed with that information, you can quickly determine whether you need a whole, half, or quarter (split side) carcass AND you can budget for it.  Be prepared that the carcass may be larger than the producer says – we cannot guarantee an exact hanging weight.  We are just not that good.  We can usually get within 50 lbs more or less.  Quarter carcasses are more likely sold as a split side rather than a hind or fore quarter, but ask; some producers sell both ways.  Half and quarter (split side) will be more expensive – Why?  because we have to find another buyer(s).

So, figure out  how much  meat your family will eat in a year or 6 months.  Most of us only offer beeves once or twice a year since it is time consuming to sell directly to the consumer, however, we are happy to do so if you are serious about quality meat for your family – we share that vision with you.

For a rough figuring, say your family eats 2 lbs of beef per day.  A whole beef of 600 lbs carcass will yield about 360 lbs of packaged meat.  If you want enough for a year – buy two beeves.  You must let the producer know at least 3-4 months in advance so he can keep the animal for you on pasture plus have it booked in at the butcher.  Many local butchers shut down butchering anything except deer during deer season, which means all domestic animals have to be butchered, hung, and out by 1 October.  They won’t take more in until the first of December, so it is critical to let the producer know well in advance if you want any.  Spring time purchases can be just as critical because so many people want to get animals in.

Once you’ve settled on a price (this will vary a LOT), then you may be expected to make a down payment to hold your beef.  This is reasonable.  Kind of like making a down payment on a vacation trip or anything else you’ve spoken for to do in the future.  Most of the time, you will pay the producer for the beef and the butcher for the processing.  Our processor charges 44 cents per pound hanging weight for basic processing and $30 as a kill fee.  But, i will tell you, that he charges less than most places and certainly less than a USDA inspected plant.  If you want extras like burger patties, extra tenderizing, excessive deboning, or other specialties, these will be an additional cost.  Work that out with the butcher.  Your producer will give you the contact information.

Retail Beef Cuts – most butchers are glad to help you with your custom order, but do a bit of study ahead to make best choices.  Also, remember, local butchers aren’t going to be into fancy, exotic cuts, so ask about special cuts, but you may not get exactly what you want.  You’ll also be asked how thick you want steaks cut and how many to a package, what size roasts and what kind.  Deboned or bone-in.  (i personally like a lot of bone – makes a ton of soup stock or treats for your dog, however, i always get my rump roasts deboned because i make corned beef with them).  How many lbs of burger in a package (1 or 2)?  Organ meats?, Suet?  These are just a sampling.

The butcher will tell you when the animal will be taken in to the butcher and it will likely be killed that day.  If you want organ meats, you MUST notify the butcher in advance!  Don’t forget this.  It is not the producers responsibility to tell the butcher how you want your animal custom processed.  If you don’t notify him, it will probably be thrown away, after which it cannot be salvaged.  If you wait until after the calf is delivered to call the butcher, do so as soon as possible.  Don’t make the butcher track you down and keep them waiting on how to process your calf.  This is not polite.

The producer will likely notify you within a day of the weight of the animal and what you own him.  The animal is yours now and has your name on it, pay him promptly!

Once the butcher calls you that the beef (or lamb) is ready for pickup, GO GET IT!  Some butchers may start charging storage if you leave it for long.  Just go get it and pay him for goodness sake.

How Much Freezer Space?  Allow 20 lb per cubic foot.  That’s packing it in there, though, and won’t be handy for sorting and finding what you need.  It will keep better in a chest type freezer kept near 0ºF versus your frig freezer or even a stand up freezer.  A stand up freezer certainly takes less floor space, but the chest type is typically more energy efficient as well.

What breed?  Some breeds are naturally more lean than others, but if it’s in the feedlot on a high grain diet, it’s gonna be fat regardless if it’s Corriente or Angus.  On grass, the genetics of the animal will be more expressed, but by and large, the producer will take the animal to a determined end point.  Grass finished will generally have less cover and internal fat that grain finished.

Hope this helps!  Do some online googling and research – there are loads of info out there.  Don’t assume the producer is producing in such manner that is important to you.  Don’t complain about the price or the lack of availability.  If you think a producer is too expensive, just shop elsewhere – don’t complain about it.

Faith, Family, Farm

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