I’m ending my lil’ blogging hiatus to share with you a unique experience I had a few weeks ago – a behind the scenes tour of Masonic Village’s Farm with some of the Central PA Bloggers. The other bloggers in the group, except for one, was NOT from a farm and did not have a farm background.
Keep in mind I told myself I wouldn’t ask too many questions and wouldn’t steer the conversation in one direction over another using knowledge I had from either the farm or marketing our beef at the farmers’ market.
What makes Masonic Village’s Beef Different than ours? A few things!
They raise their own calves. The breeds of cattle they raise are purebred Shorthorns, or crossbred, commercial cattle. They are traditionally a beef breed of cattle.
They raise their cows on pasture year round. They have LOTS and lots of grass pasture. They make hay off of what they don’t graze, but utilize all of that green space they have for pasture. The cows pretty much feed off the grass their whole lives.
Their feeders (the calves -steers or heifers – that are going to be used for beef and are about 9 months old) are fed a mix of feed that includes silage – a fermented feed typically made of the whole stalk of corn from stalk to ear.
A pretty cool thing that happened while we were there – Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Matthew Meals presented a citation to Masonic Village acknowledging their help in celebrating May as National Beef Month, and for their contributions to the beef industry and their work in conservation of the Lancaster County landscape. Here Secretary Meals is reading the citation with Frank Stoltzfus, farm manager, and Dr. Gerald Tracy, Masonic Village’s Land Management Director.
I have to admit, I was pretty jealous of their rolling hills and grassy pastures. At our farm, we’re limited on pasture space, so we have to manage it wisely. When it gets hot and the grass slows down its growth in the summer, sometimes we have to feed hay to make sure the steers don’t totally eat the grass to the ground, which stresses out the plant (yep, plants have stress, too!), and makes it take FOREVER to grow back (and by forever, I mean months to maybe not until next spring!).
We don’t make silage on our farm anymore (since the dairy cows were sold 7 years ago), so our steers get fed the grain that we raise, and hay that we raise (or grass from the pasture), and get PLENTY of water so they can wash it all down. We just don’t have the equipment right now to make silage, and honestly, we think the beef has a great taste because it’s not fed a fermented feed! (I don’t know if that’s scientifically true, but I don’t want to try it right now either. Our beef is pretty delish the way it is right now, and the steers are HAPPY as can be with their current meals).
Our steers go into a barn bedded with straw in the winter, and before they go meet our butcher friends. The straw is refreshed often, and provides a comfy bed for the steers. The barn has windows on both sides, and fans in the summer, to keep air moving through so they have fresh air.
Thank you to Masonic Village for “opening the barn doors” and showing our local bloggers how their beef is really produced. It was a great day with fun people exploring a tasty industry.
I stress, management decisions on one farm DO NOT mean it’s the best choice for every farm! Every farmer I know is just trying to do the best they can for their animals, their land, their business, and their livelihood with the resources they have available to them! We’re all working together to make sure your plates are able to be filled with safe, wholesome, nutritious food! 🙂