Just a quick farm update! There wasn’t a newsletter last month, but things are moving right along at Alden Hills. Summer is nearly over, but we’ll stay pretty busy for another 5 weeks or so. We have 2 batches of chickens and turkeys left so we aren’t quite done with the poultry… the day the last batch of chickens go to butcher is probably my favorite day of the year. We still have another hay cutting to get in, and once that’s finished we’ll stay busy with getting cattle to butcher until winter.
I want to tell you about a frustrating conversation I had with a passerby at market a few weeks ago. He was not too impressed with our meat selection and asked why it couldn’t be fresh and in a specific steak cut like he could get at Whole Foods. This conversation stayed with me for a while-- I think I take for granted how challenging raising local meats is, as a consumer I am very used to being able to purchase just about whatever I need conveniently. Logistically, raising local meats is very difficult… here is a synopsis of what it entails for us:
· We breed and raise our own beef. All steers take 24-30 months to finish on grass so that means that my production needs to be anticipated at least 2 years out. Poultry is about a year out as well; we must stockpile enough inventory each year to last until next summer.
· For beef, all my butcher dates are set over a year in advance. A local producer usually can’t get animals in at the last second so it’s important that I have harvest dates set and ready to go. This requires a lot of flexibility to walk the line of not running out of inventory and yet maximizing weight gain before butcher.
· Once at butcher I only have a few options for different cuts. For example, I can choose tenderloin or I can choose porterhouses, but not both. I try to mix and match as much as possible to keep the variety up, but unique cuts aren’t available to me (think tomahawk steaks or tri-tip roast). On a side note, if I’m able to get a customer a certain preferred cut, I will. It never hurts to ask, and I will try!
· There are some cuts that end up in high demand because there will only be a few per animal. For example, flank steak is hard to keep in stock because I only get 2 per animal. Brisket is another example of a low quantity cut like that as well.
· From there we have our meat packaged frozen. The shelf life on fresh meat is about 5 days before it goes bad. Because I am stockpiling to last the next 12 months, you can see how this would be a challenge to offer fresh!
All of these variables add up to make a lengthy, complicated process of getting a calf from birth to finished to butcher to your dinner table… it can be very challenging to keep inventory levels up to meet demand! We had a great conversation with a regular customer last week about how he appreciated that we didn’t have a full assortment of cuts because that meant that we were more likely to be genuine with our products. A small farm simply cannot provide vast array of cuts that I sometimes see at farmers markets, and I always am very wary of the integrity of those farms. Your support means a lot to us, and we will continue to work to raise local, pastured meats for you!