Hearst Ranch Beef Article In HopeDance Magazine
Grassfed Beef from Hearst Ranch
by Cathe Olson
In the wake of the biggest beef recall in history, many people are wondering if it’s safe to eat beef at all anymore. Reports of animal mistreatment, sick dairy cows being processed as food, and recurrent E. coli outbreaks show that confinement feedlots and the factory farming model are not working. Environmentalists have problems with the meat industry as well – both with the energy used to produce grain for feed and the pollution generated from the animal waste.
So what is the conscientious omnivore to do? Grassfed beef may be the answer. Not only is grassfed beef healthier for the consumer, it is better for the cattle and the environment.
Virtually all cattle start out eating grass. Once they are weaned at about six months, conventionally-raised cattle are sold into feedlots where they are given growth hormones and fed a diet of grain (and often chicken litter which includes fecal matter and dead birds). Although this diet quickly fattens up cattle, it is not good for them. Ruminant animals like cows have digestive systems designed to break down grass. If they don’t get enough roughage, lactic acid builds up in their rumens, which creates gas and causes “feedlot bloat,” a condition so severe they can suffocate from it. To keep the animals alive until slaughter – usually at about 14 months – they are given antibiotics on a regular basis.
True grassfed cattle, on the other hand, have free access to natural forages, fresh air, and clean water throughout their entire lives. They are healthy because they are eating the food that cows were meant to eat. Raising animals on pasture benefits the environment because the only energy required to raise their food comes from the sun and rain. Feedlots are typically barren of vegetation and not much more than mud and manure, while well-managed grassfed ranches host a complex variety of vegetation. Rotating cattle through pastures during the seasons supports the biodiversity of the plant life, improves soil fertility, and eliminates the need for the overwhelming waste management associated with confinement feedlots.
Right here on the Central Coast, Hearst Ranch in San Simeon raises cattle in the pastures surrounding Hearst Castle. The ranch was started by George Hearst in 1865 and continued by his son William Randolph Hearst. Today the ranch comprises 80,000 acres and is one of the largest working cattle ranches on the California coast. The 73,000-acre Jack Ranch in Cholame, California, was acquired in 1966 to complement the Hearst Ranch cattle operations. Together, they support about 1,000 head of cattle per year.
According to Division Manager Brian Kenny, Hearst Ranch is serious about being responsible land stewards and producing quality beef. The cattle are 100% grass fed and finished and are never given antibiotics or growth hormones. Their practices far exceed the current USDA standards which allow animals confined to feedlots and given antibiotics and growth hormones to be labeled “grassfed” as long as they were fed a forage diet. According to the American Grassfed Association, however, those standards will soon be changed. They are working to put together comprehensive standards that will specify: a total forage diet, no confinement, no antibiotics, and no added hormones.
Although conditions for grassfed cattle are ideal while they are alive, one wonders what care is taking during processing to make sure the animals are treated humanely and the meat is uncontaminated. Anyone who’s read “Fast Food Nation” or watched the recent video footage taken at Westland/Hallmark Meat Company knows that humane treatment of the animals and cleanliness are not always the priority at slaughterhouses. Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface, the pasture-fed animal farm featured in the bestseller “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” laments the fact that he cannot process his own beef. In his book “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal,” Salatin claims he can dress his beef “more cleanly, responsibly, humanely, efficiently, and environmentally” on his own farm – but according to the law, all beef that will be sold must be processed in a federally inspected (or in some cases a state inspected) facility.
According to Kenny, Hearst Ranch takes the processing of their beef as seriously as the raising of their cattle. They are extremely selective about where the cattle are slaughtered. Kenny personally inspects and chooses the facilities that process Hearst Ranch beef.
“I look for cleanliness, excellent processing standards, and adherence to humane farm animal care guidelines,” Kenny explained. “I’m currently working with all of our processors to ensure they become “humane certified” And somebody from Hearst Ranch is always on site while our cattle are processed to ensure that our standards are met.”
Hearst Ranch is certified by Humane Farm Animal Care, which mandates that animals be fed a nutritious diet without hormones or antibiotics, raised with shelter, and have sufficient space to engage in natural behaviors. The ranch is also certified by Food Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable agriculture by recognizing farmers who produce food in environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways. They operate the most comprehensive third-party certification program in North America for sustainably produced food.
“Food Alliance certification proves to our customers that we really walk the walk. We’ve had an independent inspector on our properties to verify the claims we’re making,” Vice President Steve Hearst claims on the Hearst Ranch Web site.
Eating grassfed beef is good for the consumer. It is significantly higher in beta carotene (Vitamin A), conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and other diseases. Grassfed beef is also lower in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories than conventionally raised beef. In addition, the risk of infection by E. coli and mad cow disease are drastically reduced.
As for the taste of grassfed beef – it is slightly different than conventionally-raised beef. Kenny describes it as a “heartier flavor.” But even more than that, he says Hearst Ranch beef has terroir, a term usually associated with wines to describe the taste unique to certain region. He claims that Hearst Ranch has its own terroir which comes from the specific grasses native to this area. Grassfed beef must also be cooked differently than conventionally-raised beef. In general, grassfed beef cooks about 30% faster because it is leaner and richer in healthy fats which melt at a lower temperature than fats in conventional beef.
One of the main challenges for the consumer wanting to eat grassfed beef is finding it and – until there is a meaningful standard – ensuring that the beef is completely grassfed and finished. That’s why it’s important to know your supplier and to look for the Food Alliance certification. Hearst Ranch beef is only available at a handful of stores, although it is served at quite a few Central Coast restaurants. When you do find it, the cost is quite a bit more than conventionally-raised beef. Pasture-fed cattle take longer to mature and don’t reach market weight until they are 18 to 28 months old. Because of the longer growth period and the space needed to raise the cattle, grassfed beef is costly to produce. Given all the benefits to the environment, the cattle, local farmers, and your health, however, it’s well worth the extra time and expense.
For more information:
Humane Farm Animal Care
American Grassfed Association
Grassfed food, facts, books, and directories
Where to find Hearst Ranch beef:
Hearst Castle Visitor Center
San Luis Obispo:
New Frontiers Market
Village Modern Foods
Artisan, Villa Creek
San Luis Obispo:
Cavalier, El Chorlito
Inn at Morro Bay,
Windows on the Water
Linn’s, Mustache Pete’s
Cathe Olson is a freelance writer and the author of Simply Natural Baby Food and The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook. Visit her web site at www.simplynaturalbooks.com . For more information on local, organic food and help making food choices, check out Cathe’s blog at http://catheolson.blogspot.com .