Questions for a Beef Farmer

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with food and our food supply. I spent many years vegan (I recommend that to NO ONE) and many more than that vegetarian (it’s a less awful existence). I’ve personally reconciled my carnivorous ethical dilemmas by eating only organic and humanely farmed meat and dairy products whenever possible and by not wasting meat that an animal died for. With that being said, any time a farmer is willing to talk with me I have a zillion questions. I hope you enjoy this interview with Mike Haley who seems to be a really nice guy. 

Pink Slime: Everyone’s obsessed with pink slime these days. What is it? (besides a catchy name?)

Pink Slime is the phrase that is used by many to describe (in my opinion incorrectly) the meat product Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). What is LFTB? When beef is butchered there are several fatty cuts that contain small amounts of valuable meat. Traditionally these cuts would be mixed into a fatty blend of hamburger but with the increased demand for lean beef a process was developed to remove the fat from the beef resulting in a lean and finely textured beef product.

What sort of ammonia is used in beef processing? Is it the stuff you find under the kitchen sink? How long has it been used?

Its a food grade ammonia gas, so it is different than the cleaner found under the kitchen sink. Ammonia has been used as a processing aid in several types of foods and was approved in 1974 by the USDA. It’s use is as an intervention to help prevent accidental spread of food borne illnesses just as many use salad rinses or sprays at home. Safety interventions are made in many steps, for beef there are several different interventions that are common like citric acid.

I’ve seen cattle graze and only because of that I know that they are supposed to eat grass and hay. I’m a total city slicker. Is beef better tasting when it’s grass fed?

We raise beef cows (different than dairy) and their calves on our farm. Like almost all beef cattlemen our cows graze on grass and hay the majority of the time as its too easy for them to get to fat on grain. Normally about 205 days after birth calves are weaned from their mom, the cow, and they normally remain on a grass pasture until they reach a point where it’s hard for them to continue gaining weight from grass alone. Some producers do leave their steers on grass all the way to their finish weight, but on our farm this would take more time, money, water and other resources so instead we move them to a feeding pen where they eat a richer diet of grain and hay. As far as taste, there is a difference in both taste and texture and I prefer meat finished on corn, but that’s a personal preference that is best left up to each individual.

Why are antibiotics used in cattle feed?

Antibiotics are very expensive to use, on our farm we use antibiotics to treat an animal when they are sick. It is important to detect and treat sick animals appropriately as their health can decline quickly and even spread disease to other animals in the pasture or barn. Occasionally during times that calves may be experiencing extra stress (during extreme shifts in the weather or at weaning) and an individual calf becomes ill we will make the decision to subtherapeutically treat other calves they are in contact with to prevent disease from spreading rampantly through our herd.

Contrary to popular belief antibiotic use in beef is limited to prevent or control disease, cattlemen have a set of quality assurance guidelines that they are expected to adhere to that state antibiotic use should not be used if the primary intent is to improve performance.

Do you farm organic beef? If so why or why not?

No we do not feed organic beef on our farm as it’s not a good fit for us nor does it seem to be a priority of our beef customers. We have several neighbors that do raise organic or grass finished beef. Their farms are different than mine and their customers are looking for something different than mine. I often find conversations with my neighbors fascinating as we both learn from each other’s operations and at times find ways to implement changes on our farms that would have never have been thought about if it were not for diversification within agriculture and our individual farms.

How do you feel when you send the cattle to slaughter? Do they ever become like pets to you? (I know you’re going to laugh at that one but I’m from LA and we watch a lot of movies)

It’s always neat to watch each group of steers grow up, and yes it can be hard at times when they head to slaughter. However I am able to do this knowing that I provided the best care I could for each animal in my care while on our farm.

What size is a serving of beef?

3 ounces, that’s about the size of a deck of cards.

 

Mike Haley farms alongside his father Steve and wife Pam in Ohio, where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle. He is passionate about sharing information about agriculture with others. He is active in online conversations and can be found at http://haley-farms.comhttp://justfarmers.biz and on Twitter @farmerhaley.

Cow photo with permission from Ray-Lin Dairy (tons of great photos here)

 

Facebook Comments

  • Allen Livingston

    Very nice article, good questions and answers. It’s nice to hear dialogue and questions coming from folks who aren’t familar with farming and ranching, but want to know more. Mike does a really good job of explaing how agriculture works, and everyone can and should try to open up discussions with consumers more often. If we did this more often we would all be better off in the long run. Thanks Jessica and Mike, keep up the good work!

  • dairycarrie

    I appreciate that you took the time to ask a farmer about his operation, even though it differs from your own preferred method. If you would ever like to talk about dairy let me know.

  • http://twitter.com/AndChristenson Andrea Christenson

    Good Questions Jessica. And as Always Great Job Mike answering questions and explaining what you do on your farm. I love to see this type of dialogue happening.

  • The Dairy Mom

    I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for talking with Mike to get a farmer’s perspective. It’s great to see dialogue between farmer and consumer. I’m a mother, consumer and dairy producer who takes pride in caring for animals and producing a quality product. I think we all have a lot more in common then we sometimes think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Casa-Rosa-Farms/100001362737992 Casa Rosa Farms

    The reasons to go with red meat are endless, but the one I find the most important is that, at least with your regular old commercially available meats (beef, sheep, goat), is that herbivores are the most efficient use of marginal land. Try making a living growing food for those folks who do things other than farm for a living, on shallow soiled, hilly ground (and that is MOST agricultural ground in the world). And, try finding enough affordable sources of NPK and micro-minerals to do it that aren’t animal based or chem based. Then you’ll understand why red meat is so important to a sustainable farm economy, that can continue to feed people who decide to do the good work of doing other things for a living.

    • http://jessicagottlieb.com JessicaGottlieb

      What is NPK?

      Also people should eat red meat because it’s delicious. Isn’t THAT reason enough?

      • Eric

        N=Nitrogen
        P=Phosphorus
        K=Potassium

  • http://www.facebook.com/darrell.rubel Darrell Rubel

    Great interview! Loved it!

  • http://twitter.com/armsofasister Monique Burkes

    Thanks for the article. We get our beef from a local farmer as well. It makes me feel better about it. And I’m still not convinced about the pink slime or the ammonia.

  • http://twitter.com/KristiBug Kristi Davis

    Thanks for the interview, even though it differs from what I believe to be right. Very thought provoking.

    • http://JessicaGottlieb.com Jessica Gottlieb

      Sometimes a discussion is good in that it will cement views you already had.