Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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How to Use a Whole Cow

Since our last cow processed for beef was at the very end of our season, we had a selection of all the cuts in stock when we closed.  This means we got some of the "good stuff" for ourselves to eat over the winter.  So I treated Dan and myself to some grass fed, farm raised Porterhouse steaks for dinner last night.  For a truly gourmet cut of meat, like grass-fed Porterhouses, I wanted to let the flavor of the beef shine through without overpowering it with sauces or condiments.  Since it's snowing outside, I wasn't in the mood to grill, so I heated up my favorite cast iron skillet and melted plenty of butter.  I caramelized an onion, added another pat of butter and added the steaks.  I topped them with a splash of Worcestershire sauce and let them cook, turning once, until they were cooked to about medium. They were tender, flavorful, and truly didn't need anything else, the flavor was that good.

I've learned so much about what different cuts of meat are by being involved directly in the process.  A Porterhouse is a T-bone steak  with a bit of extra tender meat on the end.  Any Porterhouse could also be cut down to a T-Bone, but only a small percentage of T-bones (around 1/5) can be cut to be Porterhouses.  And there aren't a whole lot of either in a single cow; we have essentially a 1/4 beef in our freezer, and that meant only 1 package (containing 2 steaks) of Porterhouses and 3 or 4 packages of T-bones.   That's a good reason why they are expensive cuts of meat; not only are they tender and delicious, they are relatively rare.  In a whole cow, at the size we process, we expect approximately 4 packages of Porterhouses and maybe a dozen of T-bones. In comparison, we'll get lots more of other cuts- around 125 pounds of lean ground beef or 20 or more each of round steaks and chuck roasts. We have a standard way our beef is processed that results in 5 different cuts of steak, 5 kinds of roasts, as well as ground beef, stew meat, and soup bones.  This is the most efficient way that best utilizes the whole cow into sellable parts for us, without resulting in ground beef that is less than lean.  However, it's not uncommon for us to run out of one cut or another (especially steaks) before we have enough freezer space to process another cow, or before the next cow has reached the size we'd like it to be.  

I've learned so much about how to cook the different cuts, because before I had a freezer full of my own beef, I didn't eat a lot of it, and what I did was limited to a few different cuts.  I didn't cook roasts much at all, and I suppose that's not uncommon, because they are certainly less popular than steaks or ground meat at the stand.  I now know that chuck, R.B., and English roasts are all equally delicious when put in a crock pot all day with some potatoes & onions- a true one-pot meal!  The tip roast is my go-to when I want to make a stir fry, cheese steaks, or fajitas, as it slices thinly and cooks up beautifully with great flavor and without being tough.  Round steaks are a tougher cut of meat on any cow, but ours are great grilled after marinating or slow cooked in a skillet with some liquid.  I don't get to cook the other steaks (rib eye, sirloin, T-bone & Porterhouse) quite as often, as the farmer usually eats the cuts of beef that didn't sell as well (or the turkey with the torn skin, the chicken that didn't pluck right, the "cosmetically challenged" veggies, etc...).  Although at first it was a challenge for me to figure out how to cook cuts of beef I'd never even heard of before, there are simple ways to turn any of them into a great meal.  So if you're shopping at a farm selling cuts you aren't familiar with, don't hesitate to ask your farmer what they are best used for. Or, tell the farmer what dish you're looking to cook, and he or she can suggest the cut that will cook best using that method.  At our farm, roasts are lower priced than the steaks, and with a helpful hint on what to do with a particular cut of meat, you may find that a dinner of humanely raised, grass fed beef (or lamb, or whatever) is more affordable than you thought, and certainly better tasting than feedlot beef!


New Arrivals

Lots of excitement going on here at the farm!  We have 3 new Dexter cattle here as of yesterday afternoon.  Mark & Edlyn Muir were kind enough to loan us a few!  We met these wonderful people last fall when we purchased Fiannait from them.  This time, they brought us Finn-Bar,  one of their impressive bulls, for us to breed Finni to.  (So far, they've hit it off quite nicely!) Although Dexters are not tall, he is a beefy, solid, well-built animal, and gentle enough to follow me into the barn calmly when we put them in away from the heat of the day this morning. He gladly followed me, but it may have had something to do with the feed bucket in my hand! As the Muirs sold us Finni knowing we were hoping to milk her in the spring, they were disappointed for us that a calf never arrived.   So Lil also came with them, along with her calf.  They were kind enough to loan Lil to us for the summer so we could have a family milk cow for a time, and the calf is ours to keep as a replacement for the one Finni didn't have this past spring.  It is just amazing to deal with breeders like that!  Plus the cattle are so tame and easy to work with, even the bull, that they are a true joy to have here.  I'm excited to try my hand at milking a cow for the first time ever this evening!

I was also thrilled to check the incubator this morning and find three newly hatched peachicks!  We set every egg the peahens laid this year, but being that these were the very first eggs they had ever produced, I wasn't expecting a great hatch.  Sometimes it takes a few tries before a bird will produce a hatchable egg.   So, I'm just tickled pink with 3 out of 5 hatching!  That's probably all for our first round, but there are more eggs in the incubator, and I'm confident that there are more chicks on the way.

The garden is looking amazing. Saturday we were able to have the first of our green peppers for sale, and more are on the way this week.  I spy some jalapeƱos and other hot peppers as well.   I see tiny zucchini, yellow zucchini, and crookneck squash, as well as cucumbers, that should be ready for this weekend.  The new crop of lettuce, spinach & other salad greens are going strong, although I may give them another week before I start cutting.  I have green tomatoes appearing on more plants every day. I should have green beans by now, but the deer have been munching on them and the peas, so we'll see if there are enough to pick by the weekend. We often don't have enough hot weather to grow melons properly, but these past couple weeks have been ideal.  Even the seedlings that didn't look so hot at first are thriving. This year, I'm trying 3 varieties of watermelon (2 heirlooms), a honeydew, a cantaloupe, and an exotic French heirloom melon (Delice de la Table) that I didn't have success with last year, but sounded so intriguing I had to give it another shot.   I have herbs sprouting and otherwise just going crazy in those beds as well.  I'm headed back outside to do some more weeding, so among the weeds that took over some of the earlier plantings, I'm hoping to see kohlrabi, pac choi, beets and Swiss chard, hopefully of picking size. 

It's hot and humid here, but the chance of rain looks fairly low for the next few days, so Dan is out mowing hay.  He mowed some a few days ago, so hopefully it will dry out enough later today or tomorrow to get it into the barn.  We had hay in by the beginning of June last summer, but this year it's so far been next to impossible as we need 3 rain-free days in a row, and June hasn't cooperated much!  I like to help with the horse drawn equipment, so I'll probably be raking hay, as well as driving the haywagon again when we load it.  

Another pig left us this morning, so we'll be making sausage by the end of the week to have fresh sausage to sell this weekend.  I'll also need to make a seperate trip to Hirsch's to pick up our beef, which will be available for the first time since last fall.  Plus I have more vinegar to bottle, and more bottles should be delivered tomorrow.   These is so much ripening and coming in that I may need to get another table to the stand before the weekend to have a place for all of it!  What a great time to be home on the farm!


Cow Madness

We're getting ready to have beef for sale again.  We've been planning on offering it for sale for the 4th of July weekend, so that means Happy and Louie will be leaving us in a matter of days.  Although we'll still have Fiannait and Baby Buzz (who's not really a baby anymore except in personality!) it's always sad to see half the herd leave, so we've been looking for new cows.  There is always so much going on at the farm that we just weren't able to get them in the spring when there are plenty for sale, but we saw an ad in a local paper offering feeders.  We contacted the owner and took a ride after we closed the stand on Saturday to check out the calves- one Angus and one Hereford/Angus.  Both are heifers, and black, with the cross also having a white face and small horns.  We were able to have them delivered on Sunday, and after being chased by Ponyboy and Louie for a few minutes upon arrival, they seem to have settled in nicely.  I'm told they are tame enough that they would come up to be scratched or petted at their previous home, so I'm sure our two new girls will be eating cookies or a stale bagel from my hand in no time.

Speaking of cows, those of you who have been following this blog know we got a Dexter heifer last fall in hopes of having a milk cow.  Although the sellers thought she was bred, either she didn't take or something happened, because w didn't get a calf this spring.  However, we're still so glad to have Finni, as she's just full of life and personality.  You just don't get that with the average Angus or Holstein in our experience.   Dan and I had just begun to discuss what to do when I got an unexpected email from the couple we bought her stating that they have a gentle bull for us to use.  They had offered to loan us one when we bought her, so I'm anxious to see how this will work out.  A bit on the nervous side too.  

Breeding animals means being around large, powerful males.  Working around boar hogs or bulls is actually considered a hazardous job in PA which means the farm worker must be over 16 to do so.  Even male horses (stallions) or sheep (rams) can and have killed people.  So it's best to use caution.  On the other hand, I truly believe that the way animals are raised and treated makes a huge difference.  I like to think that my boys are trained by friendship and respect, not fear. My boar, Wilbur, gladly lets me scratch his head.  My ram, Rambo, has charged at me at a full run many times, but always stops.  I'm never scared because I can see by the look in his eye that he just wants to beat the ewes to the cookies in my pocket.  Of the four horses, Ponyboy is the shyest and least aggressive.  (It probably doesn't hurt that he's a mini among big girls.)  But these are my animals and I work with them daily.  However, when we went to look at Finni and the other cows for sale, we walked among the whole herd, including bulls.  All were calm as could be, even in close quarters.  It also helps that Dexters are small and even I could see easily over all of their backs.  And we're dealing with reputable breeders, so I believe it to be a gentle bull, which should lead to an adorable, gentle baby calf!    

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