☆ May 12, 2015
☆ May 7, 2015
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
☆ April 23, 2015
Look at this bull! Sir Baby is now six years old and weighs over a ton. I’d guess he’s about 2200 pounds. His hooves are the size of salad plates. He stepped on my foot once, accidentally, and luckily the ground was soft and my foot sank into the earth and I was left with just a bruise. The hard part was getting him to move off my foot, because he was expecting a scratch between his shoulder blades.
Tinkerbell is a miracle baby – though she’s not a baby anymore, despite her tiny size. She’s nearly a year old and was born unexpectedly on the mountain last summer. Back in 2011, one beautiful young cow contracted a disease called lumpy jaw. A bacteria enters the jaw bone and causes the bone to grow, which severely deforms the jaw of the cow and makes it hard for her to chew. There’s no cure. The options are to sell the cow (which I was totally against, as she would be considered ‘garbage’ and treated even worse than other cows that enter The System), shoot the cow, or keep the cow and help her as much as possible (good grass, supplements in the winter, etc). We chose option 3. Though she became a very skinny cow, too thin to ever have calves, she was perky and an active part of the herd (sick and injured cows are “droopy” and will separate themselves from the rest of the herd).
Fast-forward to last October – this skinny, lumpy jaw cow came off the mountain with a baby! We couldn’t believe it – she didn’t even look pregnant when we trailed up, and we had missed all evidence of this event each time we went up to check on the cows (with 1000 acre leases, we never see every cow on these day trips). The baby was lively, frolicking and bucking, but miniscule, and already eating grass, as her mother wasn’t producing milk. I tried to get the calf to nurse on Daisy, but the calf had already been conditioned out of the instinct to nurse – she completely ignored Daisy’s udder and, instead, went for Daisy’s special high-protein pellets. So, we put the cow and her calf in the barn when we trailed the rest of the herd to fall pasture, and planned to spend the fall and winter giving them extra-special treatment and hopefully fattening both of them up.
November began with highs in the 60s, then, halfway through the month, the temperature suddenly plummeted to -21°F. It fell to -28°F the next night. And the next morning, we found mama had died in the night. She didn’t have enough body fat to keep her alive in that extreme cold, even in the barn with a sleeping bag tied on like a horse blanket and unlimited food. It was too cold, too fast. Her calf (who looks so much like she did, before the disease set in, with a long and delicate face) made it through the cold snap, as did the rest of the herd. I named the calf Tinkerbell, and I moved Sir Baby into the barn (he fights too much with the other bulls for his own good, which is why his left ear is deformed).
Tinkerbell and Sir Baby immediately became BFFs. They sleep side by side. Sir Baby grooms Tinkerbell throughout the day, licking her neck and back just like a mama cow would. He’s taught her not to fear people, and when I climb onto his back and brush his massive neck, she nibbles the toe of my boot. Tinkerbell gets a daily bucket of Daisy’s special pellets, and she’s actually grown quite a few inches in all directions. They are the biggest and the littlest members of the Farmily, an odd couple and unlikely friendship, a happy consequence of a sad story.
☆ April 14, 2015
Hi All ~ As of this past weekend, I am *finally* feeling like myself again and capable of more than just napping…. hallelujah! Blooming with the spring and so glad of it. For those wondering, I’m taking NP Thyroid by Acella. It’s a dessicated thyroid prescription and I’m feeling great with it. I’m on a course of steroids at the moment because my voice is still MIA and I have a speech coming up. My doctor believes the issue is residual inflammation and perfectly natural considering my thyroid was the biggest and funkiest he’s seen in the U.S. over the course of his career. I can talk, just not very loudly. Hopefully, that part of me will be a bit stronger by the end of the week.
Items of note – I’m loving Instagram…. I joined in a fit of frustration at feeling trapped in/by my body and am SO glad I did. I look at the pictures of everyone who’s joined me there and it’s just awesome to get a glimpse into your lives and eyes! You can find my pictures here.
I have a long post half-written and I hope to get back into the blogging groove again soon……
Charlie is eight years old!
☆ March 31, 2015
March was tough. I cannot lie, working my way through the aftermath of a thyroidectomy has been hard. Yet I would not trade everything I’ve gone through, and what I still have ahead, if it meant going back to being the person I was January 1. The growth and shifts this has inspired and required have made it worthwhile… I’ve said similar before: about being stalked; about living through my oldest, greatest fear of having my home burn down; about the terrifying downward spiral of my health due to undiagnosed celiac disease nearly fifteen years ago.
So much of this traverse reminds me of that time – celiac and gluten intolerance were virtually unheard of back then, and I dove into researching, recovering, getting healthier than I’d ever been before, and writing my first book. That foundation, that history is serving me now. Back then, pre-packaged gluten-free food did not exist. If I told someone I was gluten intolerant, I’d get the response, ‘You’re allergic to sugar?’ Glucose was a more familiar term. So I’d say, ‘I’m allergic to wheat,’ and the reply to that was always, ‘Don’t worry, this is made with white flour!’ Such exchanges are hilarious now, and it’s thrilling how far things have come. I can go out for gluten-free pizza in the miniscule towns of Wyoming, “gluten-free” is an ubiquitous marketing catch-phrase, and while people may still roll their eyes or think it trendy nonsense, it is so freaking easy for people to make the transition now, and to get healthy without feeling like their entire life is being dismantled while they are floating in a sea of question marks.
Ten years ago, when Eating Gluten Free was published, I dreamed of things looking like this – of such awareness, understanding, and convenience for those dealing with gluten intolerance and those suffering undiagnosed (when I went to a gastroenterologist at UCSF and told him my symptoms, he offered me Xanax, and when I declined it, the door). And it’s here! It’s reality! And it happened so much faster than I expected back then. Ten years is a long time, but not when you consider the transformation that has occurred in the lexicon, in marketing, and in medical care. It is so awesome. And this probably seems like one very large tangent – I started this post on the topic of thyroids – but I needed to write this all down for me because once again, I have dove into research, and the state of affairs regarding thyroid issues and the number of people suffering and the dated (dare I say dangerous) “conventional wisdom” is very reminiscent of how it once went with gluten. What I have read and what I have been told makes my blood boil, but the shifts I have seen (and been privileged to be part of) with celiac and gluten intolerance give me hope.
All this to say, despite a bumpy month, I cannot call this a Bad Thing, even though I haven’t yet found the sweet spot with my meds and it’s been scary and expensive and there have been a few days where I just plain haven’t gotten out of bed. I had an epiphany in the shower a couple weeks after surgery; I was sobbing – like hysterically crying – about all the things I wasn’t getting done and POOF! Epiphany. I suddenly realized just how much of my self worth was wrapped up in what I accomplished (and, of course, the inverse – how much self loathing appeared when I wasn’t accomplishing All The Things). And I have spent much of this month letting that go. Practicing patience and practicing grace – two traits that do not come naturally to me – with myself and with others. Patience is another form of will. And grace is a gift.
One of the big themes of this year has been cooperation, and, for a loner like me, it has been new and scary and enlightening and uplifting. Surgery itself was cooperation, and a massive trust exercise. As was posting the donate button here – that was so difficult for me to do, not because I felt it was wrong but because it was new. And vulnerable. And the first day it was up, I felt very uncomfortable. Remember growing pains, in your ankles and knees? It was like that, in my psyche. When leaving a donation, there is a place to leave a message, but I didn’t see these notes until the next day (I saw the donations, but not the messages), and the blog post itself received very few comments that first day. So I had to spend that day determining my feelings about what I’d done and what I was being given, in a vacuum, without being comforted or influenced by the opinions of others. This was such a blessing. I had to reconcile it within myself, and after the period of uncomfortable newness, my overwhelming sense was of holding hands. The connection of holding hands with people out there, of holding hands with you. And then when I finally discovered and read the notes, that feeling intensified exponentially.
It was so intimate. Regardless of dollar amount, with each donation I saw this: ‘Here is a part of me that I am giving to you because I can and because I want to. You don’t have to do anything to deserve it; by being, you deserve it.’ I think getting that message from outside, from you, opened me enough to be able to get the message from within, from the shower epiphany. I don’t think too many of us are where we want to be – by which I mean, we have goals. But to have that kind of acceptance – of ourselves and of those around us – before we reach our goals, is profound. It takes patience and grace. And we all deserve it.
. . .
PS: I finally joined instagram. I take so many photos that never end up here, on the blog and now, they will have a home. If you don’t have instagram and don’t want to join, you can still see all the photos by clicking HERE and bookmarking the page.« go back — KEEP LOOKING »