Ponderings of a Rancher

One thing about farming is that you have a tremendous amount of time to think while driving tractor, checking cows or walking the fields. Lately I find myself pondering people’s perception of agriculture and what truly should matter to the consumer and whether or not it is the same as what they’ve been told should matter. Nowadays you hear so many different terms used to label and categorize farming practices for better or worse. Terms like industrial ag, modern ag, chemical ag, sustainable ag, all natural, chemical free, pastured pork, free range chicken, grass fed, organic, no till, humanely raised, biodynamic and many more that don’t come to mind at the moment. These labels have meaning but not nearly as much as people often think and have become more of a marketing strategy or label of convenience rather then a fundamental belief in what you do and why you do it.

I have spent my entire life on the farm. During this time we have sold through conventional markets, to other farms or finishing operations and direct to the consumer. Quickly I learned it was better to listen more and talk less and through this I came to a few realizations:

1) People know what they know. This knowledge is too often obtained from short articles or advertisement that only focus on a small part of a big picture.

2) The loudest person in the room spreads the most information and generally has the least knowledge.

3) When financial gain is the driving motivation for someone, morals and conviction leave quickly. These people will slap lipstick on a pig and tell you it’s some rare royal line out of Imperial Japan.

4) You can avoid most arguments if you just smile and nod. As this is often the easiest approach, it is rarely the right one. By being silent we allow the “loudest person in the room” to be the only voice of influence.

Trying to place agriculture into tidy categories with catchy labels allow for confusion and manipulation. These labels mean different things to different people and can lead to misunderstanding or can be used to deliberately deceive customers. Organic means chemicals are not used, it does not mean animals are raised humanely, or the food contains much for nutrition or even that other farming practices are environmentally friendly. No till farming claims to be environmentally friendly due to reduced tillage and carbon sequestration, but this leads to greater application rates of herbicides and fertilizers. How many hours a day do chickens have to run loose for you to consider them “free range”? Can they live in a mobile coop that gets moved to new locations daily? Can “pastured pork” be fed a steady diet of processed feeds as long as they eat it on pasture?

The idea here is we need to have more of a conversation with the people raising our food. Farmers should be proud of the choices they have made and ready to explain them. I can respect someone who believes in what they do, even if I don’t agree with their choices. When farms offer both organic and conventional crops or grass fed and grain fed beef, I start looking for the pig with the lipstick on. They are focused on sales and profits and tend to avoid real conversations.

Now that I have rambled on, I would like to return to the original question, “What should matter to the consumer”. I believe the answer is “trust”. You can trust them to have an open and honest conversation with you and trust that their belief in raising the food is similar to your belief of what your family should eat.

Remember the question is always more important than the answer.

The right answer to the wrong question will rarely deliver the desired result.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my thoughts. Let us know if you like this. If we have enough interest, we might discuss other ag related issue in the future. We would love to hear your questions, comments or suggestions for topics. Remember, this is a conversation, if anyone is looking for an argument I will be happy to point you in the direction of a fence post you can yell at all day.

Ron Ensor

Nutrition Month

March is nutrition month. That’s where Four E Farms shines!

Here at Four E Farms, we start raising nutritious beef by building healthy soils. It all started about 20 year ago when my husband decided he wanted to pass down a thriving farm with healthy soils and nutrient rich pastures and hay fields to our children.

During the summer, when our cows are eating nutrient rich pasture grasses and herbs, we spend all day raising hay for our cattle. Since we raise our own hay for our cattle, we know exactly what is in our hay, how it’s raised, and make sure to put up a quality product. There’s more to grass fed beef then throwing them on a patch of grass. There are a large variety of different grasses, all with different nutrition levels. And there are also a large variety of soil types, all with different types of nutrient levels. We have spend many years picking the right grasses and building richer soils and are continuously working on making it better. The many years of research and work are paying off and provides you with a healthy, nutrient dense steak on your plate.

 

Chickens

Last summer we finally adopted some chickens. I had wanted chickens for many year, and though these are older girls, I was so excited. We only have 7, so it’s just for family use, but it’s made breakfast just so full of flavor. My kids want eggs for breakfast daily now. Visiting the chickens has also become valuable part of our routine. The girls love collecting eggs and helping feed and water the chickens. Here are a few awesome pictures 🙂 .

Step by Step guide on Locker Beef

This incredible step by step guide on locker beef written by Katia is a must read if you are buying locker beef for the first time.

In Lesson One, which you can find here, she explains the differences between USDA Inspected meat and custom processed meat. Some of the great points she makes is just because USDA Inspected meat is inspected, that doesn’t always mean it is better quality and often the animal has to be hauled many miles to this state butchering plant because USDA Inspected meat has to arrive live to the plant which exposes the animal to stress. We prefer to sell shares of our cows so we can have the meat custom processed and the butcher comes to our place and the animal is processed right here on the farm.

Lesson two is explains the difference between live weight vs hanging weight vs the cut and wrap yield and how to calculate the amount of weight you get back. The pro with our lean meat, there is a lot less scraps taken off because our animals have nice, healthy muscling and do not a thick layer of yellow corn fat the butcher cuts away and tosses. So your cut and wrap yield is actually better from our grass fed beef.

Next is Lesson three which gives a breakdown on how to calculate how much your beef will cost. We also have a breakdown of the costs on our pricing page , but lesson three is a very good explanation of how and why the costs are the way they are.

Our most frequently asked question is definitely about the cuts you get from a 1/4. Lesson four is definitely a good one to read if you still feel confused after reading about the different cuts on our frequently asked questions page. 

It can be rather daunting to call up the butcher and give him your custom cutting instructions. Lesson five might help you understand better how to do this. We currently use Northwest Farm to Table in Post Falls.

In Lesson six Katia goes over what to expect the day you pick up your custom ordered meat from the butcher. The meat stays frozen very well, even when it is pretty warm outside, so don’t stress out. She also goes over the freezer space needed, which is usually one cubic feet per 35-40 lbs of frozen packages of meat. Her blog goes into a bit more detail so this lesson is a good read too.

Lesson seven is a summary of the first six lessons and also includes a frequently asked questions sections (but after such detailed lessons, who needs them? I greatly appreciate her the work she did writing these lessons. I’m going to send her a personal thank you right now!)

I’m sure all of you appreciate these lessons too, but if you have any more questions, do not hesitate to give me a call!

Honey Bees

We all love honey bees, especially since they make one of our favorite foods, honey! One of the many benefits to using no chemicals on our hay is that we have a lot of visitors to our farms that are sensitive to chemicals. Our neighbor that lives about 4 miles away has a few boxes of bees and I think it is her bees travel all the way to our farm to enjoy the sweet nectar from the alfalfa flowers in our hayfields. bee alfalfa