Bastrop Cattle Company

  (Bastrop, Texas)
Bastrop Cattle Company
[ Member listing ]

Growing a Grass Fed Beef Business

A couple of days ago, I posted that we are moving forward with building one of the few "on the ranch" meat processing plants in Texas.  It is going to sit in the far back corner of my front hay field.  Right now, we're rushing to get the "first" cutting of the year - in October!

You heard me right.  The drought has been so bad, that I had to resort to using the hay field for much needed grazing all summer to keep the cows going.  Then we got rain in September.  I pulled them off and prayed it would stay warm enough to grow grass for hay.  It did.  It's done way better than anyone else's fields mainly because I haven't used any herbicides, pesticides, petrolium based chemicals, etc on it in over seven years.  This past spring I did a heavy dose of organics with the help of Red Fox Organics our of Cedar Creek.  The long and short is the grass has been holding up because the soil is in good shape.

But we still need water.  Hence the reason for the processing plant situated next to the field.  We just finished drilling a water well for the water needed in the processing plant.  All the water used in the plant and in the wash down of the outside pens, and the water for the cattle (but not including the water used in the restrooms which go into a separate septic system) will be treated and recyled to be used in irrigation.

This may be the only way farming and ranching operations in Texas can survive - finding creative ways of using water over and over. 

Tags:
 
 

Building Processing Plant on Ranch

I know that y'all haven't heard from me in a while.  I apologize.  I have been plugging along, growing the business, running a ranch and just coping with day-to-day life. 

However, there is one thing that is now all consuming.  We are getting ready to build a small processing plant on the ranch.  It will allow me to do so much more, both with the ranch and with the grass-fed business.  For one thing, I will be able to harvest so much more of the carcassess.  That means almost no waste.  For another - and you know how important this is in drought struck Texas! - all the water we use in the processing plant will be recycled for irrigation on the ranch.

I would love to have a forum to talk about the whole movement back to small regional processing plants and what that could mean for the rural community that I live in, but I don't want to post if y'all find that too self-promoting.  Just let me know.  Thanks.

Tags:
 
 

Too Big NOT to Fail

On Sunday morning a good friend and fellow farmers market vendor sent me an alert to a front page article in the New York Times.  The article is entitles, "Trail of E.Coli Shows Flaws in Inspection of Ground Beef".  The link is 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/health/04meat.html?_r=2&ref=todayspaper

If there was ever an arguement for local and sustainable processing of meat, this is it.  I strongly recommend that we as producers show this to all our friends, relatives and neighbors -- especially those who are on the fence about where they source their food.

I think that this is especially important because the government answer to this problem is more inspection and more testing.  Bastrop Cattle Company has every single one of our calves inspected before, during and after all steps of processing.  I don't have any problem with testing.

However, more inspection and testing won't take care of this problem.  These slaughterhouses are just too big.  They are processing too many animals.  AND there is no way that these guys will ever let the government put more inspectors in (and the USDA or FDA doesn't want to pay for the real number of inspectors it would take to really police these places).

We need to get people back to buying local and sustainable where we can re-develop the local community processing plants that use to exist.

 
 

The Big Boys Push Back

Well, this has been an interesting month! Much of the news is good. Here in Central Texas, we have started the ritual of spring with food festivals all over the place and with the various local farmers markets starting to hit their stride with more produce, eats, flowers, spices and artisan works. Nationally, even as we all feel rather glum about the economy, many of us are discovering the joys (and good nutrition and economics!) of cooking at home. The local movement is again gathering steam - it certainly didn't hurt to have the First Lady put in a garden. More grocery stores and restaurants are offering locally raised produce and meats, and as more venues develop, more farms and ranches are realizing that they don't have to be economically tied to a system that treats them as a commodity.

But, of course, there is always a fly in the ointment! Right after Michelle Obama put in the garden, one of the large agroindustrial companies issued a press release bemoaning how commercial agriculture had not been given its due. It seems that we should all be in awe of the wonderful things that the big boys have done for us - they've fed the nation and the world with their wonderful technological innovations - more fertilizer, more hybrid seeds, more herbicides, more pesticides - and more water use - have produced bigger and bigger yields on less and less land with less and less labor. Wow!

Along with reminding us that we would all be starving if it weren't for them and their Green Revolution, they also have launched another front. This summer you will begin hearing from the first academic round to counter the Michael Pollen argument. James McWilliams, a professor at Texas State University launched the first salvo in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times this month. He maintained that pork raised on small farms was more dangerous to your health than the pork raised on concrete (and in its own waste) by the big industrial pig farms. It seems that since family farmers don't have the little porkers up off the ground, heavily dosed with antibiotics, and eating pumped up feeds 24/7, you just don't know what they might be into! - a lack of knowledge my pig farmer friends don't seem to suffer from!

This is to soften us up for his bigger argument - a whole book - Just Food - that will be out this summer. In it he will make the argument that the locavore movement is actually a delusion created more to bash globalization than to offer any real solution to feeding the growing world population. Mr. McWilliams seems to think that the local sustainable movement not only cannot be applied on a worldwide scale, but that it is not even sufficient to feed the population of this country. In other words, the US does not have either the land, manpower or know how to subsist off of local sustainable agricultural enterprises.

This argument is being carried even further by some in the agribusiness field that maintain that the local movement is worse than a delusion. It is actually a threat to the food distribution system in this country and to the on-going development of the food system in the world as a whole. After all, by encouraging you to buy that locally grown tomato at the farmers market, you are depriving someone working overseas from selling you a more efficiently (read cheaper) grown tomato there and shipping it here. That means ultimately the loss of jobs overseas, and a starving (no pun intended) of a burgeoning global industry to supply food to the world. Further, locally raised or grown food is neither efficient, nor cost effective and it certainly isn't the best use of high priced land that could be better used developed into subdivisions, commercial parks or shopping malls.

Well, um this is food for thought (pun intended!). The Punjab region of India was limping along on subsistence farming thirty years ago. Then the Green Revolution arrived. Western agricultural methods were introduced along with hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, and herbicides. Initially yields per acre skyrocketed and the Punjab became the breadbasket of India which went from importing food to being able to feed itself. Unfortunately, the miracle had a termination date. To make the hybrid seeds grow in the region, large amounts of water had to be pumped out of the underlying aquifer. Thirty years later, the aquifer is dropping at 3 feet a year. Three times as much fertilizer is now required to get the same yields, and the bugs have become desensitized to the herbicides. The farmers in the Punjab are going into bankruptcy drilling deeper wells every year and buying more fertilizer. The Punjab ecosystem is on the verge of collapse and the suicide rate among farmers is the highest in India.

If this is the system that I am personally responsible for destroying every time I sell a piece of grass fed, free range locally produced beef --- well, good.

Maybe instead of thinking that we should get higher and higher yields out of mother earth by ladling on more chemicals and using up limited water resources, we should be looking at sustainable methods that match the environment. Let's also decide whether we want to commit 'high value' land to agriculture or to more subdivisions -- you can't eat a subdivision. Let's also decide if we want a viable, economically healthy agricultural sector in this country that can feed us, employ people and add to the overall well being of our society and the environment. Or if we really just want to let someone else with cheap labor and arable land (and their own resources to deplete!) raise produce and animals like commodities for us and ship it here when they are finished (wait, doesn't that sound like a national security issue!).

Bashing the local sustainable movement is not the answer to feeding the world, though it will probably sell lots of books! Instead, I suggest we concentrate on a grass roots movement that puts more land back into agricultural use with the idea that each region - whether in Central Texas or southern Spain or northern Nigeria - can and should develop an agricultural model that can nutritionally support the surrounding population of that region.

 
 

Promoting Grass Fed Beef in the Current Market

I play this little game with myself - every Monday, I tally the sales for the past week to see how we've done.  I have a specific goal - posted in red on my side board - for weekly sales.  Monday is my day to see if I met my goal.  Every month, I add more to the figure for what I need to bring in per week.

The good news is that every month since we started selling our sales have gone up.  And my accountant tells me that our growth is impressive.  However, my little demons are telling me its not enough, and that I have to "sell more beef!!".  So says my banker, and all those loans I have out!

 I think I'm doing all the right things.  Farmers Market twice a week (though the market has been really down over the last couple of months), website to promote our product with a shopping cart for people to buy direct (we just made it possible for people to use their credit cards), direct mailings every month to regular customers, enewsletter to regular customers, and advertising strategically placed to reach the customers most likely to buy our meat (believe me I've done my research).

I've also lined up wholesalers (groceries, restaurants, etc.) in our main market, Austin.  And every Monday I'm on the phone - not waiting for them to order, but asking if they need anything and when do they want delivery.

So, here's my question to y'all out there.  Am I doing everything I should?  Am I missing anything?

I follow up on leads.  I take samples to potential new wholesalers.  I call in networking connections to see if they know anybody else I can talk to.

Still, I've noticed shifts in the market.  For one, the Farmers Market sales have fallen off.  I figure this is for two reasons; we sell out in Bastrop and I'm sure that people have been hit by the downturn out here faster than say in Austin.  I'm committed to this Farmers Market.  We're really trying to grow it.  However, I'm being told to shift to Austin and go to those Farmers Markets instead.

They are certainly bigger markets, but there is also additional costs and paperwork required if we do that.

Also, what do y'all think about promotionals?  Any ideas.

What about partnerships with other producers - like chicken or pork or veggies?

I'd appreciate any ideas!!

Thanks




 
 

Carbon footprint production and transportation measurements

Yesterday I wrote about hearing Mark Bitman speak on NPR and how he was encouraging people to change their diets to help the environment.  After writing, I went out on the web and did some more searching -- especially in regard to my statement that it seems that everybody's carbon footprint would be decreased if they bought local.

OK, so there is a study out by Carnagie-Mellon that has actually tried to measure food's carbon footprint.  They have figured out that 85% of the carbon footprint is made up of how the food is produced or raised.  WOW!

They then figure that transporation of the food only accounts for 11% and the transportation between seller and buyer is a mere 4%.

Now, I didn't see the report -- I would like to -- I just read what one person was quoting from another person who did see the report. 

What was interesting (and this is why we should all see the information as close to the source as possible!), the guy who was writing the article - went on to state that since transporation is such a small part of the footprint it could be argued that sunny, poor countries may actually be a better place to raise food than developed countries ----

Stick with me here!

ie if you live in Iceland and you use lots of energy to raise greenhouse tomatoes you are creating more of a carbon footprint than if you raise the tomatoes in the field in Mexico and air frieght them to Iceland.

I kid you not! 

Now I can see where the industrial way of producing crops and raising meat would leave a big footprint -- lots of petrochemical based fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, but what if you're not using all that stuff?

Now, wouldn't the transportation carbon costs become proportationally bigger?

Again, I'd really like to see the research and report. 

The article I saw was at:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/release/2008/04/080421161338.htm

 
 

Reducing the Carbon Footprint by Buying Local

Between throwing hay to the cows and delivering meat in Austin, I try to keep up with the food trends in the country.  This past week I listened to Mark Bitman being interviewed on NPR.  He was promoting his new book, Food Matters, which maintains that all of us can have a positive impact on the environment just by altering our eating habits.  Now since part of his suggestion was that we all eat less meat, I was a bit "vexed" to say the least!  So this weekend, I surfed on over to the NPR website and looked up some more on the interview.  I wanted to see if Mr. Bitman had differentiated the carbon footprints between grass fed meat and feedlot or industrial meat.  I also wanted to see if he talked at all about local, and sustaninable agriculture as part of the solution to reducing carbon dioxide.

No, he hadn't; at least not in the interview.  Maybe he does in his book.  I can hope!

Obviously, I have a self-interest in promoting grass fed beef.  And I do think that the grass fed movement for meat - be it chicken, beef or pork - does have a very important place in reducing our individual and collective carbon footprint.

 On my website blog, I talk about all the difference in how grass fed meat is raised versus industrial meat, and how that substantially reduces the carbon footprint of both the producer and the consumer.

However, what I think is of concern to all of us producers here on Local Harvest is getting the word out about how local, sustainable agriculture and local purchase of the produce, meats and products coming from local farms, ranches and artisans substantially reduces the carbon footprint of all of us -- as a nation.

Mr. Bitman talks a lot about reducing the intake of animal products and increasing the intake of veggies and fruits as a primary way of reducing each person's carbon footprint.  Now, I think (even though I raise and sell grass fed beef) that everyone would be better health wise to eat smaller portions of meat and substantially increase their vegetable and fruit intake.

However, here is my question; if you are giving up meat but sourcing your vegetables from across the country or out of the country, just how much have you really reduced your carbon footprint?

I think it is important that the word get out -- if people really care about the environment, then buy local, sustainable produce and meats. 

As the bumper sticker goes "Eat Local, its Thousands of Miles Better".

 
 

So where do we go from here?

I've received several comments and emails about my last post.  Thank you!  One comment was about how do we get farmers and ranchers back on the land when real estate is so high in price that no one who wants to farm or ranch can afford to buy in?

Well, that comes down to our whole society making a radical shift!

I saw a funny comment in the paper.  A Frenchmen said "It's (the US) the country where people are the best informed about food and enjoy it the least."

Maybe if we enjoyed our food more, we would value it more and be prepared to pay more so that people who produce it could make a living on the land.

I listened to NPR this morning and there was this segment on a family farmer in Illinois that was selling his herd of cattle because it was just no longer financially feasible to keep them.  He was trying not to cry.

I do hold out some hope.  I think the whole food system is changing -- just like Michael Pollan suggested.  I do think that there is a growing group of people who do enjoy food and are learning how to cook again - and they tend to buy local. 

But here's the problem -- at least as far is beef is concerned -- the price of cattle on the hoof is falling faster than oil!  Summer of 2007, you could sell a steer and manage $1.42/lb.  Now its down to .84/lb.  and my neighbor just came by to tell me she had heard it had dropped to .60/lb.  Of course everyone is selling because of the drought.  People are getting rid of whole herds.

We're hanging on, but all I seem to get is wind and no rain.

So if anyone has some suggestions . . . .

 
 

The disconnect between the producer and the consumer!

I posted my concern over the future of my land a few days ago.  Several other farmers and ranchers commented -- some with even more dire situations than mine!

It made me realize that so many of us producers are aware of the value (not $$) of our land, but that we're still not getting that realization out to the other half of the equation -- the consumer.

Yes, there are plenty of people out there who are concerned about their food, what it is raised with and where it comes from -- BUT, and its a big BUT -- many still can't take the leap from the what to the who.

Certainly, I am happy that people are starting to ask those questions about the quality of their food and the integrity of the food system -- we can all give Michael Pollen a thank you for that.  Still, there is a level of abstract that separates the public from where the food comes from -- and the need to keep open land available for agriculture.

Even my environmentalist friends can put on the "caught in the headlights" look when I mention that individuals need help in holding onto their way of life raising cattle or growing produce.  I live next to Austin, and I'm still having the argument that compares apples to oranges -- like this.

How can someone afford to stay on the land when they can sell it for $10,000 (or $20,000) an acre.  It's just worth so much more sold than keeping agriculture on it!

Yes, but you can only sell it once.  You can make a living off of agriculture year after year.

There may be all kinds of arguments one can make (I can grow olives and make $,5000 per acre, ergo why should I sell my means of production for less than I can make over a five year period or my cattle net me a sizeble return on investment and I must have land to raise cattle). 

But lets face it the real problem is that agriculture is the only industry where the land we labor on is in the end considered more valuable to our customers than the product we produce. 

Until we alter that perception on their part, valuable agricultural land will continue to rapidly be turned into roads and subdivisions.

 
 

Tthe value of ranch land and attitudes

I had a very unnerving event this past weekend.  It happened at the local farmers market that we sell our beef at every Friday and Saturday. It went  something like this.  Another vendor stepped up to me and said; "Don't you live on such and such a road just outside Bastrop?"

"Yes".

"Wow, I bet that land of your's is really worth a lot of money."

"Yes, but we're not interested in selling.  We ranch and want to keep it that way."

"Well, but when the developers come around and offer you all that money, how are you going to say no?"

"We'll say no if we can avoid being squeezed out by the escalating property taxes and don't have eminent domain used on us (there is also talk of a loop around Bastrop and it could very easily go through our land)"

At that point another vendor piped in, "But a road wouldn't take that much land and just think of how much more the land will be worth at that point!"

At this piont, my stomach is starting to turn.  All I can see is a road going over all my live oaks and my cattle staring at each other separated by a four-lane.  What just happened here?  I just want to stay on my land. 

And I guess my questions are; "Isn't what I do valuable to society?  And doesn't my land have a lot of value just because of what I do?  Would it really be worth more to society with loads of houses and cars on it?

Finally why does everybody think that what I do as a rancher is so expendable?

 

 

 

 
 

Grass-fed, free-range beef in a drought

I haven't heard from many people and decided that I probably needed to be more proactive.

If you live in Central Texas, you know that we are now in a two-year drought.   For those of you outside of the area, we are!  What does this mean to a rancher?  Well, not anything good.  I'm looking outside my window at a lawn that is all sand, and I can hear my well going off again as the herd comes in to drink from the concrete trough that we now keep full 24 hours a day.  So far, the cows are looking pretty good considering.

With some foresight last spring, we had our back pasture treated with compost tea and it stood the grass well.  Everything is brown now, but at least we still have grass on most of the pastures -- abate with only limited protein.  We make that up with natureal mineral suppliments.  So far, the weather has been warm and with as much cover (native and coastal) as we have, we've avoided having to put out hay.  If it turns really cold, though, that will change.

Still, it can be tough on the cows.  All the cows on the place are young, and expecting their first calf.  While they look good, they are still undergoing some stress -- cows don't like dust either.  I see a lot of runny noses out there.  We're keeping a close eye on everyone to make sure its nothing more than sinus irritation!

I just wish it would rain.


 
 

Information about us.

This is just a short blog to let everyone know that I am always happy to answer any questions about our beef, how we raise the animals, how we handle the meat and how we sell it.  I appreciate any serious questions, comments and suggestions.  Thank you.
 
 
RSS feed for Bastrop Cattle Company blog. Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader

Calendar


Search


Navigation


Topics


Feeds


BlogRoll