Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Meet Yardie

Pop Quiz! Do you know what the #1 irrigated crop in the U.S. Is? It's something most of us see every day, is grown in virtually every neighborhood nationwide, and nothing eats it.

The answer is grass. More specifically, lawns. More of our nation's water supply is diverted to make the yard look pretty than to grow any other crop. Add to that the pollution from lawnmowers & riding lawnmowers, the amount of synthetic herbicides and fertilizers used, and the fact that so many of those grass clippings go not to the compost pile but to the landfill, and you'll realize that lawns aren't the “greenest” feature to many homes.

Here on the farm, we hate wasted space, and it's always seemed like the yard is pretty much that, but we do keep it mowed so it looks nice for business. We've come up with some creative ways to reduce our mowing responsibilities, though. When we debated on where to house the turkeys, we enclosed part of the front yard as their run. It was the part with the pine tree roots I hit with the mowing blade most frequently, so that was another added bonus! Little did we know that the turkeys would roost in the tree and free-range all over the place, but they do. They also do an admirable job of keeping the grass down near their run in their quest for bugs, slugs and such.

We also employ some natural lawnmowers in the back and side yards. We use bottomless pens, called tractors, to house rabbits, quail and our meat chickens. These allow the critters to dine on fresh grass and the bugs in it, and provide a fresh, clean living space when the pen is moved daily. Although we still mow these areas to maintain a uniform look (instead of looking like a patchwork quilt!), at least the grass is being used to provide nutrition to our animals, and cut down on our feed bill! Spring has arrived early this year, and with it the chore of mowing. Or, at least it seemed so until last weekend. Dan is really good at thinking outside the box, and has solved more than one problem with a single, organic solution!


 Yardie, relaxing in the spring sunshine

Our demand for meat has risen drastically in the past year, and so we needed to expand our beef herd. We've also kept a Dexter bull for our breeding program. The problem is that we have a very nice Hereford heifer we will use for beef later on this year, but she can't be turned out with the herd because she is of breeding age. While the pasture has multiple sections, it is in need of some repairs to effectively segregate the cows. Keeping her in the barn on these beautiful, summer-like days, feeding hay, seemed like a waste. The solution? Yard Cow, aka Yardie. Yep, turn her loose on the lawn! Well, not really loose, for now she is tied to a soft cotton rope attached to a stake in the ground. We put her out in the morning and take her back to the barn at night. It has worked exceptionally well so far! Yes, the downside is that there are cow pies in the yard, but truthfully, it really doesn't bother us. At least they are easy to spot, not like the doggie land mines that don't catch your attention until they are all over your shoe! We hope to get a portable electric fence set up for her soon, but for now, I just keep an eye on her to make sure she hasn't wrapped the rope around the stake or anything. I'm also amazed, it's been nearly a week and no one has called or stopped and knocked on the door to tell me there is a loose cow in the yard. (We have folks stop all the time to inform us of our goats' whereabouts when they are in the unfenced hay field.)   We're happy to have such a mild-mannered cow, who really seems to love her new job as the head of lawn management here at Pleasant Valley Farm.

 Yardie, hard at work in the back yard!


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!

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