What is a Kickstarter? Some use it for fundraising, some use it for pre-orders. I am using it for both! My goal is to get a reefer trailer for Star Brand Beef deliveries. I am offering some great rewards – special edition products I have never had in my shop before and will likely not have again. The Kickstarter lasts for one month. Then, poof!
I put my heart and soul into this. I really hope you enjoy the video and will help me spread the word. I don’t consider this Kickstarter to be just about me and Star Brand Beef – I hope it will help spread the message and mission of humanely-raised meat and continue to “kickstart” that conversation. Har har. I launched the Kickstarter yesterday to the Star Brand Beef mailing list, and we’ve already met my goal! And we made it to the “What’s Popular” food page on the Kickstarter site! This is really thrilling. Anything and everything the Kickstarter brings, above and beyond the goal amount, will go straight into improving and expanding Star Brand Beef.
I apologize in advance for the Kickstarter pimping I’ll be doing for the next month – as I said, I put my heart and soul into this and I want to see it fly. If you’re not on the Star Brand Beef delivery route, or if you don’t eat meat but want to help change the status quo of the industry, please consider checking out my Kickstarter, backing it if you see something you like, and sharing the link. I’m hoping the the Kickstarter will be a catalyst for discussion and contribute to the expanding awareness of the conventional meat industry, of feedlots, of the treatment of the animals that produce and become our food, and how all of that needs to change. I want people – consumers and ranchers alike – to see that there are other options, really great options that support the autonomy of ranchers and the welfare of animals and the environment.
And just in case I haven’t offered enough links, click HERE to visit my Kickstarter!
If you’re interested in ordering Star Brand Beef and missed the email blast yesterday, here’s the latest and greatest:
★ 2016 DELIVERY ROUTES ★
The 2016 delivery routes are posted HERE. Chicago, I’m coming back! Phoenix, I’m coming back! California, I’ll always love you! With a successful Kickstarter, I hope to be able to do SO MUCH MORE in coming years, including more routes and smaller FedEx orders.
★ BUTCHERY APPRENTICESHIP ★
This winter, I spent a few weeks apprenticing with my butcher. What an education. I learned so much! I’ve made some changes to the standard mini and quarter order cut lists based on my new knowledge. You can see the cut lists for mini and quarter orders HERE. As always, half and whole beef orders may be fully customized by the customer, and I am happy to answer any questions or give suggestions if needed/desired.
★ 2016 ORDERING ★
My early bird beef specials on the Kickstarter sold out almost instantaneously – but my exceptional, humanely-raised beef and lamb is still available through my Star Brand Beef website and Shop. If you gather a few “partners in dine” and split a whole or half together, you will get the same discounted pricing as the early bird specials!
Pricing on smaller orders went up this year. It had to happen; I’ve been staving it off as long as I could. I really like the pricing situation I came up with: larger orders come with larger savings. You can still get my original, heavily discounted pricing when ordering a whole beef, and darn close to it when ordering a half.
If you are on a budget: Gather everyone you know and go in on a whole or half together! It’s so do-able. Cooperation is my new obsession and motto – it makes the impossible possible! I am happy to cut whole beef orders the same way I cut minis to make it super easy to split up amongst a big group once you get it. Eight people at $690 each = the same amount of beef as a mini, per person, at a huge discount. With a half beef, you only need three other people.
And lamb is back for the second year! And it is already almost sold out…. so, please act quickly if you’d like lamb.
Thank you all, so much – none of this would be possible without your support and enthusiasm and encouragement and your trust in me.
★ THE KICKSTARTER ★
It’s that time of year again! I’m thrilled to announce that Star Brand Beef is back, and ordering has opened for August delivery. The 2015 delivery route will be: Bozeman, Seattle, Poulsbo, Portland, Sacramento, Alameda, San Jose, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles, with quick stops on I-5 in Olympia, Eugene, Redding, and Paso Robles. I’m also working on a possible mid-August delivery to Southern WY and Denver. All details, including delivery dates and ordering info, can be found on the Star Brand Beef website, HERE.
Also coming ’round this time of year are comments from those who are confused by the seeming contradiction of how much I love cows and how I provide beef for those who choose to eat it. And I would like to continue to explain why this is actually not a contradiction, and how one informs the other. (Previous posts on this topic can be found here, here, here, and here.)
I did not set out to be a rancher. But when I moved to Wyoming, which is cattle country, I saw thousands of calves being shipped off to feedlots every year when they were about nine months old. I heard the bawling of the calves and their mothers when they were separated – the sound travels for miles. And I knew feedlots to be cow concentration camps – the truth about feedlots should be common knowledge by now. Why, oh why, if I loved cows, would I stand by and do nothing? How, being that I was in a position to keep some of those calves from going to feedlots, could I not act, not do something?
When I buy calves from Mike, I keep those calves from entering The System: from going to feedlots, from being contained in pens filled with their own waste, from feed that is unnatural and makes them sick, from alleged abuse from workers, from an existence that is unequivocally and undeniably horrendous.
I do not keep them from transitioning to food. I don’t have the land, the money, nor the arrogance to do this – I believe that people who choose to eat meat deserve an option that is healthy and humane. I eat meat, about one meal a week, but I would continue to do this work even if I were 100% vegetarian. As long as I am able, and as long as people and/or their pets eat meat, I will humanely raise free-ranging, grass-finished beef.
Since they do transition to food, the lives of my beef cattle are short, this is true. But those lives are so completely free – free from stress, free from worry, free from hardship of any kind. For the entire course of their lives, they remain in a family unit, a family herd. They are given hundred- to thousand-acre pastures to roam and graze (land, I might add, that can’t raise other crops due to location and lack of irrigation). They drink water that is cleaner and purer than what most people have access to. They never go hungry, they never have to search for food. And they are treated gently and respectfully.
Mike and I prioritize calm and gentle behavior with our animals. We practice low-stress weaning, separating the cows from their calves but keeping them adjacent, separated by only a fence, so that they may smell, see, and hear one another while the calves transition to grass and hay and the cows dry off. There is no bawling, and the calves do not get sick from stress. When we sort or trail our cattle, we work with them on their time frame, not ours. We allow them to sniff the horse trailer or the squeeze chute and make the decision to enter on their own, rather than hitting them or using a hot shot to force them forward. Mike and I do not use, or even own, hot shots. Hot shots are cattle prods, like a taser for cows, and you would be shocked (no pun intended) by how often they are used.
This is why it’s so important to establish relationships with the people who raise the food you eat – whenever and wherever it’s possible – whether it’s eggs, dairy, or meat. It’s important to go deeper than the label, and find producers who practice a philosophy that aligns with yours. Buying grass-finished meat at Whole Foods is a great start. It is so much better for you, for the animals, and for the environment than conventional feedlot meat. But if the humane treatment of animals is important to you, it takes more work, more diligence. A lot of ranchers love and respect their stock. But not all of them do. Humane treatment is not a given, not yet.
Not everyone can drive down the road and chat with the person who raises the chickens that lay the eggs they eat, but there are other steps that can be taken. Just talking about the humane treatment of animals is a huge and essential step! Change begins with a conversation. And as consumers change their habits, markets change in response.
These market shifts are happening already. In the last five years, there has been an increase in calf buyers who are taking calves to giant grass pastures, and not straight into feedlots, because they see consumers choosing pastured beef. The more conversations we have, and the more choices we make that honor the humane treatment of the animals that become our food, the more change we can inspire industry-wide. We have a long way to go, but we are making strides with every choice we make about what we eat, what we buy, how we buy, and how we think and talk about food.
More information & resources:
@Defending Beef twitter feed: The case for sustainable meat – the manifesto of an environmental lawyer & vegetarian turned cattle rancher, a great link and info round-up
Consumer Guide for Boycotting Factory Farms: via Organic Consumers Association
Feedlot/Grass-based beef comparison & terms: via The Cornucopia Institute
Star Brand Beef: Humanely-raised grass-finished beef
Star Brand Beef is back for a third year, and exciting things are happening! This summer, I will be delivering both West and East, and I have another rancher on board supplying beef. This is a big leap forward.
Honestly, after losing Frisco, it was really hard for me to get back into “work mode.” I spent most of February and March living at the barn caring for him, and much of April in bed mourning him. I didn’t feel I had the drive to organize and coordinate sales and delivery of not only my beef, but an enthusiastic neighboring rancher’s as well. But thinking about the current meat industry (you know I despise it) and my desire to keep these steers away from feedlots and commercial packers ignited some inner reserve. And you did, too: your support of Star Brand Beef for the past two years and your desire for healthy, humanely-raised beef gave me the mental push I needed.
MINI BEEF: I have another local rancher on board. I’ve know him for years; I taught his daughter in my classes when I subbed at the school, and Mike and I buy hay from him each year. He primarily raises sheep, but has a small herd of cows – quite literally! They are mini black Angus, and are about half the size of my steers. This makes it easier for him to raise among his sheep (they eat less grass and hay than my full-sized steers) and is a boon for you, as customers: a quarter mini-beef is just over half the size of a quarter of my beef. Perfect for individuals who eat meat less frequently or those with less freezer space.
Over the past two years, I have shared with him the standards and practices that both you and I expect: no GMO feed, humane treatment, and open pasture for his cattle. He has the means and the temperament to comply with these terms. What excites me, about bringing him on board and offering his beef to you, is that this is the next essential step in shifting the industry. He saw the success I’ve had in bucking the traditional system, and already held the belief that this new method is better for the animals, the environment, the rancher, and the customer. As others in our community see him making this shift (a local! a man born into the Wyoming ranching life!), I know they will begin to consider their place on this road, as well. You, out there, have paved the way for us out here, through your support of individual farmers and ranchers over the industrial model of Big Ag and your respect for the lives of these animals. And I thank you.
This year, I decided to deliver Star Brand Beef myself. I wanted to do this for a few reasons. On the technical and business end, I wanted to experience the delivery/pickup process first hand so that I would know what it entails and could therefore speak with real knowledge when I hire drivers in the future, and to see what should or could be improved about the process.
And on the pure pleasure end, I was way overdue for a road trip. I was thrilled to have the chance to finally meet customers and readers face to face. And my delivery route landed me at my grandmother’s house in the Bay Area for a most wonderful visit with Svensto.
I drove 3500 miles in a rented reefer truck. I drove that truck into LA and across the Golden Gate Bridge, through the desert and through the night. It was SO MUCH FUN. And the best part was getting to hang out with people whose comment handles I recognized or who I’ve known only through email. Digital is never as real as real life.
Windmills and Joshua trees in Mojave, CA, where I spent an afternoon in a rocketship hangar and touched something that’s going into space.
Driving into LA. I figured traffic would be mellowest early on a Sunday morning, and it was, hooray! The roads down there are terrible though. Sections of the 405 made the washboard gravel roads around here seem downright luxurious.
Leaving LA, Sunday midday. I took this photo for Mike. He’s more comfortable spending the night alone in the wilderness in a blizzard than driving for five minutes in the light traffic of Billings. He’s never even seen traffic like this.
The ocean. Part of me will forever be a California girl.
Pretty wood at China Camp in Marin, which is where the photo of the boat house and dock from my last post is also from.
Door handle of the Boxster convertible I got to ride around in for a few days after my deliveries were done. Pure art.
Driving home, the Utah salt flats. This photo is way better bigger, click it to see it large. I was like a barn spoiled horse headed home ~ I could not wait to see the Farmily. Mike took great care of everyone while I was away; I couldn’t have made this trip without him holding down the fort and making sure everyone had food and love. He even carried his cell phone around so that I could talk to the animals every few days via speakerphone while I was gone.
In my last post, I got this comment: I do not understand how someone who has such love and respect for cattle can advocate their slaughter. I’ve received versions of this comment/question many times since I launched Star Brand Beef and, to be completely honest, I’ve never really understood the question. I started Star Brand Beef because I love and respect cows.
I eat meat – here is my post about why I’m not vegan or vegetarian. I don’t feel guilt about eating meat (I feel respect and gratitude) but I would feel guilt, and feel like a hypocrite, if I didn’t do everything in my power to keep cattle from going to feedlots. The fact that I can offer other people healthy, humanely-raised, affordable, antibiotic-free, GMO-free meat is a bonus.
Even if I became vegan tomorrow, I would still do this work, because other people still eat meat. And, any vegan who has a dog or a cat is buying animal products in the form of dog or cat food – and it’s not karma-exempt just because it’s for your pet. Unless it is explicitly labeled grass-finished and pasture-raised, the beef on the market (or at the taco stand or in the dog food can) comes from cattle that spent time – in most cases half their lives – on a feedlot. Feedlots are cow concentration camps. Commercially raised pigs and chickens have their own versions of this, too. Anyone who has not seen a commercial feedlot, please google, or watch Food Inc.
Backing up: How and why do cattle end up on feedlots? Family ranches make up the majority of the source of all beef sold in the US.* These ranchers run the breeding stock – the cows and the bulls – and every year, they sell the calves to feedlots. So, the cows stay on the ranch, and the rancher’s income comes from selling calves each year. This system has succeeded because ranchers spend 14-hour days working the land and tending the animals – they don’t have the time (and, often, the inclination) to be salesmen and women on top of that. And pre-internet, selling beef directly to the consumer would have been virtually impossible for most ranchers. So, the ranchers have a simple, dependable manner in which to sell their calves: to the feedlots and packers (though it is not without disadvantages, which I will get to later). Calves enter the feedlot system at around six months old to 1.5 years old and are fed corn and soy and heaven knows what else, and are injected with Zilmax and antibiotics and heaven knows what else, and then become beef for the consumer market at around two years old. The animals are big enough, by then, but there’s another reason – they will die from liver failure after two years in a feedlot, because what they are fed is so contrary to their physiology.
Mike’s oldest cow, fed only grass, is 21 years old. Cattle fed in a feedlot will die within two years. There’s something terribly, terribly wrong with this picture. Combine that with the horrific physical conditions of a feedlot – no area to move or run, no shade from the sun, nothing but layers of their own shit to stand in – and one can see why there is rampant use of antibiotics on cattle in feedlots. (More than half of all antibiotics and antacids used in this country are given to cattle on feedlots.) And then the people and cats and dogs who eat this meat are eating extremely unhealthy meat – they’re eating meat that was sick, and that is filled with antibiotics and other drugs, and this in turn contributes to the health problems we see today in our society (red meat is not inherently unhealthy; corn-fed red meat that is pumped with antibiotics and other drugs, is).
Mark Bittman did this TED talk that discusses the enormous amount of beef consumed in America today. It’s a great talk, though not without flaws: the cattle industry statistics at the beginning are in relation to feedlots – no one is blaming global warming on elk or reindeer (bad Santa!). And his solution is personal choice – changing our collective eating habits to “knock down” industrial ag.
This is important, yes. But it’s not the most viable solution. Because, first and foremost, ranchers (under the current system) will sell their calves to feedlots and feedlots will market all that beef. The statistics in the second half of Bittman’s talk confirm that.
I see another possible solution. Right now, most ranchers run “carrying capacity” with breeding stock, as mentioned before, and sell calves when they are weaned (or yearlings). However, if ranchers transitioned from cow/calf operations to cow/calf/grass-finished beef operations and were able to sell this grass-finished beef directly (realistically, through a cooperative) without going through the feedlots, some very remarkable things would happen.
The land can only run so many cattle. There is a finite amount of grass and hay. So, if a rancher switched from selling calves to raising these calves for grass-finished beef, they would have to restructure their herd, and run less breeding cows because they would also be feeding the beef-to-be. This would cut a rancher’s workload by about 25%, because some of the hardest work in ranching is calving, tending and working calves, and trailing cow/calf pairs. My little beef herd is extremely low maintenance compared to cow/calf pairs. I trailed them down the mountain on foot, they’re that easy. There still remains the ranch work of trailing and irrigating and putting up hay and tending to the (smaller) cow/calf herd, but overall, the workload is decreased by about 25%.
If these ranchers were able to sell their grass-finished beef directly to the consumer (or restaurant or school or cooperative owned-and-operated meat market), even after subtracting a commission to a manager/admin/organizer (someone who coordinates sales as I have done with Star Brand Beef), they would earn about 25% more selling finished beef than they currently do selling a higher number of calves. For those of you with office jobs, imagine being offered a four day work week along with a 25% raise. The rancher would also be in greater control of the market, rather than being at the mercy of the feeders and packers who drastically fluctuate beef and calf prices, over which the family rancher has no control. And feedlots would die.
OK, feedlots wouldn’t necessarily die, at least not immediately. This is because corporations, which make up only 4% of all cattle operations in the US, account for 35% of sales.* I’m guessing they would try to keep the feedlot system alive. But if feedlots lose more than half their inventory, they’re going to feel the hurt. No business can run in the same manner with less than half the inventory – just ask the newspaper and magazine companies. McDonald’s hamburgers would cost $15. Two birds with one stone.
Family ranchers may be land-rich, but I don’t know any who are rich-rich. Some decide this life is too hard for too little pay and sell their ranch to multi-millionaires, or are forced out because of financial reasons. This has happened here. One such multimillionaire who bought out a family ranch has put in a private airstrip, a tennis court, a fake climbing wall, has built – among other things – a multi-thousand-square-foot hunting lodge in the middle of elk habitat (and then wonders why the elk no longer congregate in that area), and is planning a subdivision. Now we’re no longer talking about cattle but the diminishing habitat of other animals – rabbit, coyote, bobcat, fox, elk, deer, antelope, beaver, hawk, eagle, magpie, on and on.
When I spent the summer of 2011 camping on our mountain pasture lease, I noticed a sad phenomenon. Our pasture lease is 1000 +/- acres of private land owned by the rancher we lease from, and which is surrounded on all sides by other 1000-acre tracts of private land owned by other ranchers. But to get there, you must drive through the National Forest. I saw hardly any wildlife during my trips through the National Forest. I did see everyone and their mother zooming around on 4-wheelers. (Hint: there’s a correlation.) Once I crossed through a few gates and was deep into private land, I saw wildlife everywhere. Deer, coyote families, sign of bear, dozens upon dozens of birds. The US Forest Service biologists have noted compromised wildlife habitat in public land, even in areas with leave-no-trace / hike-in-only access. One could argue that private ranch land is one of the last refuges of wildlife. (Because a ranching family checking cows on horseback, or even me camping in the mountain pasture all summer, has far less impact on wildlife than the influx of thousands of hikers or campers entering wildlife habitat in public wilderness areas over the course of each season.)
Right now, 85% of the consumer beef market is controlled by four corporations, and they are making the decisions for ranchers and consumers. And this is through the feedlot system, which is downright horrible for the animals, for the earth, and for anyone who eats that beef. Change has to start somewhere, and it is starting, all over the country with small ranchers raising grass-finished beef. I have two ranchers on board with me after just one year of Star Brand Beef sales, and a number of others who are intrigued. Is this easy? No! None of this is easy. I’m not doing it for “easy.” But I’m good with cattle, and I think the current system is awful, and I think I would be a worse person if I didn’t work to change it. And I think it’s better for those who eat meat, to eat meat that was loved.
* data from the USDA Census of Agriculture« go back — keep looking »