Working Animals & Heritage Breeds
Welcome to Tracy Lee's farm. We're here to ask a bunch of questions and to put in an order for some of Tracy's beef for our first farm-to-doorstep shipments. This is Mashona-Angus beef raised on 200+ acres of native Florida pasture using "beyond organic" farming methods. When the words "free range" are thrown around, these are the images that the mind conjures up. Sadly, it's not often the case in the real world, but that's why we're here - because we know that Tracy does things the right way. We know that because she's transparent in how she operates.
The last time we were on Tracy's farm we learned about her donkeys acting as coyote control. We're happy to report that the donkeys are all doing fine (and multiplying). We shared some interesting stories that we learned about coyotes from wildlife historian and coyote expert, Dan Flores. To paraphrase part of Dan's book, Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History, it is a popular misconception that coyotes are hunting when they howl at night.
Those howls are a sort of roll call, and if the female coyotes don't hear the right amount of howls, it drives them to mate. They will not only make more coyotes, but have larger litters. In short, if there's a coyote on your farm chasing down chickens, shooting or trapping that coyote just makes more coyotes. So you need a Plan B. In Tracy's case, that Plan B is the donkey, natural nemesis of the coyote. It's a symbiotic relationship that works in harmony with Tracy's organic philosophy. The donkeys provide protection against predators in exchange for an otherwise easy life relaxing on the farm.
Since Tracy's chickens are also raised outdoors, other predators that she has to mind are birds of prey- like falcons, eagles, and hawks. She's found an organic and symbiotic approach again with her farm dogs, Thelma and Louise. Thelma and Louise are hardwired through genetics to bark and chase predatory birds. Tracy says that they instinctively knew the difference between a chicken and a hawk. They would hang out with the chickens, but somehow knew to bark and chase raptors that posed a threat to them.
So now that we know that the farm is safe under the watchful eye of the animal police, let's get into the things that make Tracy's farm so special...
We learned today that Tracy has some Mashona-Angus cattle that are almost ready to harvest. We were already familiar with the Angus breed, or Aberdeen Angus, as it's called throughout most of the world. Angus cattle are native to Scotland and have been bred in the United States since the late 1800's. They're a hardy breed of cattle and come to maturation faster than Herefords, another major competitor in the U.S. market.
We hadn't heard much about the Mashona breed of cattle though. Tracy tells us that Mashona are a breed native to Zimbabwe. They are a breed of cattle that hold up very well to the harsh semi-arid climate of the African plains, which makes them an ideal breed for pasturing in under the hot Florida sun. Mashona have been bred for hundreds of years by Africans who selectively bred the animals to be both docile and a high-quality, well-marbled meat. Mashona cattle do well in the Florida climate because of their history of living in harsh conditions. We selected the Mashona-Angus breed as the first of Tracy's animals that we'll be using in the shop. It will wet age for about 3 weeks before we start processing it.
We also spotted a Florida Cracker cow on the farm (pictured below). Florida Cracker cattle are a critically endangered species appearing in The Livestock Conservancy and on the Slow Foods Ark of Taste. The Florida Cracker cow is one of the oldest breeds in the United States. They are descendents of Spanish cattle that were brought to the New World in the 1500's. In an environment that is generally hostile to cattle, the Florida Cracker breed was shaped by natural selection. These cattle are a living part of Florida history. The cattle are relatively small framed, with cows weighing only 600-800 pounds and bulls around 800-1200. By comparison, some Angus bulls will reach over 1800 pounds. For these reasons, the Florida Cracker cattle don't line up well with the industrialized agriculture model which sometimes promotes growth above all else. By bringing attention to the plight of this heritage breed, we can help to save the species. The more demand we can create for Florida Cracker cattle, the more our farmers will produce. We've placed dibs on this Florida Cracker cow, and we'll make an announcement via email as soon as it's available. So be sure you're signed up.
We also got to hang out with the lovely Berkshires today. The Berkshire is a magnificent beast of English descent that is part of the Rare Breed Survival Trust, a UK-based organization similar to Ark of Taste and The Livestock Conservancy. Berkshires are the oldest pedigree in England with references dating back to the 17th Century. In the United States, the American Berkshire Association, gives pedigrees only to pigs whose lineage can be traced back to English origin. This special breed of pig is also prized by the Japanese and is raised in the Japanese prefecture of Kagoshima under the trademarked name of Kagoshima Kurabuta. You'll even see kurabuta pork in the US at high-end Japanese restaurants.
If you are looking for lean cuts of "the other white meat", you will not find it in Berkshire pork. The meat is well marbled, full-flavored, and often bright pink in color. We'll be using Berkshire pork for limited runs in our Bacon-of-the-Month Club and a few other applications. Like the Florida Cracker cattle, these are a rare breed of animal that deserves our attention.
Everytime we visit the farms we learn new stuff. We're so grateful to work with farmers who open their doors to us. Having a connection to our food is important. We've got a couple more farms to visit before we ramp up production again. Continue to follow along on our journey to create a more transparent food system that rewards farmers for doing things the right way.