Grazing for Greener Pastures

We’re all familiar with the health benefits of grass-fed beef. Lower in overall fat and calories, higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. But what about the health benefits shared between grazing animals and their ecosystems? How do cattle improve the health of the land, and how does the land reciprocate?

Imagine a lush prairie speckled with wild grazers like bison and deer. The symbiotic relationship between flora and fauna allowed these ecosystems to prosper in their natural state for thousands of years. Animals grazed on native forages for short periods and moved (or were chased by predators) on to greener pastures. The brief time spent grazing each area stimulated root growth and increased species diversity necessary for protecting against elements like drought and flooding.

Grass-fed cattle producers understand that delicate balance and do their best to recreate a similar environment with livestock. This sustainable practice is referred to as rotational grazing and promotes both plant and animal health. Farmers set up small paddocks of pasture and move cattle often, allowing grasses to recover and grow. Moving herds frequently mimics the natural movement of animals on prairie.  Let’s take a more detailed look at the benefits of managing pastures using rotational grazing.

Soil Quality and Plant Diversity

In 2011, a devastating drought swept the southwest United States. Conventional cattle producers struggled to keep animals healthy amidst fluctuating grain prices. But one Texas grass-fed producer, Joh Taggart, managed to keep cattle on pasture, even improving soil quality in the process.

“I’m proud to say that we harvested cattle every week of the year through that entire drought,” Taggart told ABC News in a recent interview.

Taggart attributes his success to a diversified plant population. An increase in the number of species can reduce weed invasion and create strong root systems for plants. These root systems are important for surviving drought conditions. Cattle act as catalysts for increasing plant diversity by digesting and depositing seed in different paddocks. They further increase the health of forages in rotational grazing systems by leaving more plant stubble and forage residue that can be beneficial for insect and soil microbe populations.

Environmental Benefits

Grass-fed systems are also better for the environment. Studies have shown that well managed systems can increase soil carbon sequestration. The grazing process, which causes plant roots to continually die back and deposit their carbon in the soil, allows for plants to draw significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. The CO2 is then deposited in the soil as organic carbon, reducing the levels in the atmosphere.

Bringing It All to the Table

As a Kettle Range customer, we know you want the best and most responsibly raised meats for you and your family. That’s why we partner with producers who champion the highest standards of environmental stewardship and animal well-being. Thanks to your support, our producers can raise healthy protein in a sustainable manner that promotes our shared values. Thank you, Kettle Club!

Lard: The Comeback Kid

What used to be a household staple has gradually disappeared from kitchens in recent generations. But don’t worry, pork lard is making a comeback and new research shows that it may be healthier for you than its recent substitutes.

Why pork lard?

Lard is High in Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a key role in calcium absorption and keeping our bones healthy and strong. Lucky for us, we can get this essential mineral from a delicious source, lard. Lard is the second highest food source of Vitamin D, after cod liver oil. The catch? The pork lard must come from pigs raised outdoors. This allows pigs to access sunlight to synthesize considerable amounts of Vitamin D to store in their fatty tissues.

Lard is neutral flavored

Coconut oil has become a popular choice for cooking because like lard, it’s extremely heat stable. But how about the taste? Many find that although coconut oil has a mild flavor, the taste doesn’t mesh well with every meal. Lard on the other hand has a very neutral flavor and can sustain elevated temperatures needed for frying without smoking up your kitchen. It also tends to bring out amazing flavors in baked goods like pie crusts (more about that later).

Cooking with lard is sustainable

At Kettle Range we believe in sustainable utilization of the whole animal. That’s why we’re your go-to source for pasture raised pork lard. As a whole animal butcher, we use every delicious part of the animal. Especially the fat!

Lard is great for baking

The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without traditional apple pie. That’s why we’ve prepared a special treat for our Kettle Club members this month. We’ve packed each of your shares with 8 oz. of pork lard and a delicious apple pie crust recipe. We hope you enjoy this traditional classic as much as we do!

Featured Cut: Spatchcocked Chicken

Nothing makes the weekend dinner table quite as welcoming as a whole, roasted chicken. But that Sunday bird requires quite a bit of preparation and cook time. Well Kettle Club members, we’ve prepared a special treat that’s going to make that chicken an easy Monday meal! We’ve spatchcocked it!

What it is Spatchcocking?

Spatchcocking is a preparation method in which the backbone of the bird is removed. This allows the bird to lay flatter when cooking. What does that mean for you? Well for starters, it cuts down the cooking time by almost half! Approximately 35-40 minutes compared to a the traditional whole bird that takes at least an hour.

How does it taste?

Ever wished you could get a more even crisp on the whole bird? Well spatchcocking does just that. Flattening allows for the entire bird to be exposed to the heat source, creating an evenly crisped skin.  It also allows the bird to cook more consistently. Breast meat can often dry out before the dark meat is finished cooking. A spatchcocked chicken will cook more evenly, leaving all your favorite pieces tender and juicy.

How about carving that bird? That’s a breeze too. Because the bird is lying flat, it’s much easier to determine where to cut without hitting any bone or cartilage. Now that you know all about the preparation, let’s move on to the best part, dinner. To roast a spatchcocked chicken, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Line a baking dish with foil and insert a rack. Place chicken on top of the rack and rub with oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper or, your favorite chicken seasoning.  Bake skin side up for 35-40 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers at 165 degrees at the thickest part of the breast. Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before serving to seal in the juices. If you want to fire up the grill, check out this great recipe, Chicken Under a Brick.

Ask the Butcher: Are Your Cows 100% Grass-Fed?

This month’s Ask the Butcher questions wants to know, “If your cows are 100% grass-fed, what do they eat in the winter when there’s no fresh grass available?”

Great question! This is another question we receive quite frequently. We love our Wisconsin summers, and so do our cows. During the spring, summer and fall months, our cows graze on the luscious rolling hills that make our state so beautiful. But winters can be rough. That’s why our producers work hard during harvest season to ensure cows are meeting their nutritional requirements in colder months without supplementing grains. This is done by producing hay and haylage. Let’s take a deeper look at some of these feeds and how they’re produced.

Hay

Hay is a great way to preserve fresh grasses and keep cows healthy in winter months. In Wisconsin, farmers typically seed with a mix of clover, ryegrass, alfalfa and fescue. When forages are at their peak nutritional value, they’re mowed and dried in the field for 3-5 days. Ever heard the adage, “If the sun is shining, make hay?” The sun is an important part of drying the freshly cut forages for storage. Hay typically has a moisture content of 15-20 percent. This ensures that it is dry enough to keep from producing harmful bacteria, but wet enough to avoid combustion. The dried grass is raked in the field and formed into bales for winter storage.

Haylage

Haylage is made much in the same way hay is, but dried for a shorter period. It typically has twice the moisture content of hay, about 40-60 percent. After the grasses are cut and baled, they are wrapped to eliminate exposure to air. The high moisture levels and airtight environment results in a fermentation process. The fermented forages produce natural acids that preserve the feed throughout the winter. The entire preservation process results in a high-quality feed that provides more nutritional supplementation for cattle.

Thanks for this month’s question regarding winter feeds! Keep those questions coming, Kettle Club Members!

Farmer Spotlight: The Schlimgen Family

We like to think of our Kettle Club members as family. Which is why we would like to introduce you to some of our extended family, the Midwestern producers who work tirelessly to ensure you have access to the healthiest, most sustainably raised meats. Meet the Schlimgen family!

Walk through the lush pastures of Dreamy 280 and you can see why Lisa and Dennis Schlimgen chose the name. The picturesque rolling hills speckled with content cattle roaming and ruminating on the nutrient rich forages are what makes Wisconsin farms so special.

“We feel that it is our responsibility to be good stewards of the land and implement sustainable beef raising practices,” Lisa explains. “The beef we produce is humanely raised without animal by-products and is hormone and antibiotic free.”

Raised on farms only miles away from where they currently reside, Lisa and Dennis shared a passion for agriculture and continued to make farming a family affair. They purchased Dreamy 280 near Blue Mounds in 1989, and began raising a few head of cattle along with a family.

Their three children, Julie, Patrick and Hope took an interest in showing off their superior cattle and have been stacking the family’s trophy room with ribbons and plaques for years. Though now grown, they are still actively involved in the family business. Patrick takes a special interest in genetics, sourcing the best cows for their herd which is comprised of angus and a few shorthorn.

The Schlimgens are the epitome of responsible husbandry and environmental stewardship. We thank them for not only what they do for Kettle Range and our customers, but for the sustainable agriculture community.

Heritage Breeds: What’s in a Name?

Our patrons often ask us about the breeds of swine we source for our delicious pork products. The simple answer, heritage breeds. But what are heritage breeds, and why are they important for genetic preservation of the swine species?

What is a Heritage Breed?

While there is currently no set definition for the phrase, heritage livestock breeds are the breeds that flourished in the agrarian societies of our ancestors. Long before the modernization of agriculture when pigs were raised primarily on pasture, it was important that these animals possessed the necessary skills needed to thrive in specific environmental conditions. Genetically speaking, we refer to these skills as traits, and keeping these traits intact ensured that our forefathers could produce a bountiful supply of meat to feed their communities.

Why are Heritage Breeds Important?

But modern agriculture has moved away from raising pigs on pasture, and hardiness, sturdiness and adaptability are no longer desirable attributes. Instead, commodity pork producers seek faster-growing animals that reach market weights in record time. The shift in genetic selection has led to an overall decrease in the swine breeds of the past. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 20% of the world’s cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry are currently at risk of extinction. A consequence of this potential extinction would be the loss of unique traits that could help these animals thrive in any future, harsh conditions.

What Kinds of Breeds Do We Source at Kettle Range Meat Company?

Here at Kettle Range Meats we work to source these important heritage breeds. We source these breeds not only because they’re great tasting when compared with commodity pork, but we also want to support the farmers who work hard to keep these breeds intact for the future success of our agriculture systems. Let’s look at just a few of the breeds we serve up:

Duroc

Originating in the United States, the Duroc is one of the fastest-growing heritage breeds. They tend to put on a lot of intramuscular fat making them knows for the tender shoulder roasts.

Red Wattle

Characterized by a fleshy wattle on either side of their neck, these breeds are best known for their rich textured and delicious hams.

Hereford

Developed in the United States, this breed was named for its shared coloring with Hereford cattle. Their pork is tenderly delicious due to a high proportion of intramuscular fat.

Berkshire

This breed is sometimes referred to as kurobuta, which is Japanese for black pork due to their hair color. They are known for their savory, umami flavor.