You may have noticed that the price of meat has risen fairly dramatically over the past couple of years. The forecast is that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, due to a number of factors including prolonged drought in many parts of the country, a new and nasty pig virus, and increasing demand for meat in China and much of the rest of Asia. Here are a few links for the skeptical, from NR and the New York Times:
Even those of you who buy meat by the half animal, as I do, have probably seen major increases. When we bought our first local half-beef, some six years ago, I think we paid $1.75/lb hanging weight. Even two and a half years ago, when we last bought beef, we paid only $2.00/lb. Granted, that was from a neighbor and a friend, who was charging us quite a bit less than the going rate, which if I remember right was about $2.50.
This year, I spent quite a bit of time searching Craigslist for decently priced grass fed beef (our neighbor and friend only raised enough for his extended family) without luck. The best price I could find was $3/lb, and that only applied if you ordered six months ahead of time and didn't include cut and wrap. Figure that in, and by the time you are done you'll be paying about $5/lb for what you actually put in the freezer. It's not that $5/lb is such an outrageous price (though it is pretty high), but that to buy a half you need to get together some $2,000 all at once.
I really hate buying supermarket meat. I hate participating in the CAFO feedlot system (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation - Wikipedia, the free ...); I hate eating animals that lived in misery eating GMO soy and corn; I hate contributing to the destruction of tropical forests and the displacement of indigenous peoples. But I love eating beef. If it came down to a choice between eating CAFO meat or no meat at all, I know what I'd choose. So, to avoid slathering my burgers with guilt sauce, I decided to look further afield for my grass fed beef.
Washington State is divided between the wet west and, on the other side of the Cascade mountains, the wide open rangeland of the drier east. On the eastside, land is cheaper, hay is cheaper, and as a result, beef is cheaper. Marginally. After searching through all the Craigslist listings for beef in all the little towns of Eastern Washington, I struck gold: USDA prime grass fed black angus beef for $2.85/lb, cut and wrap included. A half weighing a little over 500 lbs was available. Problem is, it was a five hour drive, and comparatively cheap as it was, that half would still cost more than $1,500.
Social media to the rescue: on Facebook, I invited all my friends to go in on it with me. In the end, we bought a quarter for ourselves, and the other quarter was split into two eighths for two other families. I didn't charge the other families anything extra per pound, but I did ask them to contribute something toward the price of gas and dry ice. Dry ice, although pricey, is a necessity when transporting a quarter-ton of raw meat in a hot trunk for five hours. I used google maps to find the closest supplier to our destination, and lucked out: there was one in the same town. I collected cash and coolers from my co-purchasers, and Homero and I set off on a road trip.
The ranch was a lovely place, and the beeves on view were beautiful - vast, sleek, shiny black animals, moving slowly through flank-high grass or cooling themselves in a green pond, on which I saw a blue heron standing quietly among the reeds. The ranch owner, a friendly, tall, middle aged woman, was kind: There was a misunderstanding about the weight and we hadn't brought quite enough money. With no bank within a two hour drive, she simply decided to trust me to send a check when I got home.
It may seem like an awfully long way to go, but the math is convincing. On our quarter, we saved about $300 over local prices. Our diesel Jetta gets 45 miles to the gallon, so the gas cost us only about $30. The dry ice was the biggest expense, at $40, but friends kicked in on those costs. Our share of the travel expenses was about $25, which adds only a negligible amount to the price per pound.
If there's a downside, it's that the meat included an unreasonably high percentage of hamburger. At least 2/3 of the total weight was in burger, which is higher than I am used to. It seems like a shame to grind up that much of an animal that graded out to USDA prime, the very highest category. B ut I'm not complaining. The freezer is full of guilt-free meat and I am happy.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Sometimes I love the internet. Sic weeks ago I was thinking I was going to have to sell Poppy to someone who would put her to use, and it was tying me up in knots (Poppy (Making Decisions)). Then I thought of reaching out to my local Facebook community. I belong to a group of some 300 people - nominally, it's a farmer's trade network for trading work and produce, but it occurred to me that there were probably lots of horse people on there. Maybe even horse people who don't currently have access to a horse and miss it. Maybe even people who would enjoy training Poppy and be willing to accept what I could pay.
So it proved. I laid out my situation, my budget, and my hopes. I asked for teenagers looking to make a few bucks, maybe? Or people who would accept partial payment in farm goods. And I got a lot of response. I think six people wanted to help, and they weren't all teenagers. For the last several weeks, a really great young lady named J. has been coming out twice a week.
I didn't expect anything more than just spending ten or fifteen minutes riding the pony, but actually, J. has been giving the little girls lessons, as well. She taught them to bridle Poppy and to put on the riding pad (we don't have a saddle). She has taught them the basics of posture and signals. Now, Hope can take the bridle and go out to the field and catch Poppy and bridle her and ride her all by herself. Poppy still doesn't exactly go where she's told one hundred percent of the time, but that will come.
J. says that for a pony who has never been formally trained, we have done a really good job with her. She has basically no bad habits, and she's willing, sweet tempered, and smart. She isn't spooky about anything, and she seems to enjoy being ridden. J. thinks she'll make a fine pony for informal riding around our property with very little work, and with only a little more real training can become a trail pony, which is what I want.
Summer is about over. At the beginning of the season, I had a list of goals, and deciding what to do about Poppy was on it. Check mark - goal completed. We're keeping her.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Yesterday, our neighbor with the hotel-sized-house (the HSH) called to tell us our goats were eating his garden. Luckily, we were home, and we ran right over and herded them back in before they did any major damage. It wasn't immediately obvious where they had jumped the fence, but we definitely saw a few saggy spots, so we hitched up the trailer and hurried down to the farm store before they closed to buy cattle panels.
Twelve cattle panels, a couple of hours, and $450 later, we thought we had taken care of the problem. Not so. As the sun was setting, we got another call. The goats were in the garden again.
This time, we rounded them up and put them in the more secure sacrifice area. We know this small area is secure against adult goats because we have been keeping the buck in there, separated from the does, and he tries mightily but fails to escape. The babies, however, might still be able to squeeze through the space been the gate and the hinges. I didn't think they would wander far without their mother, however, and so it proved. In the morning, all goats were still contained.
Perhaps foolishly, we let the goats back into the big pasture to graze. There's absolutely nothing to eat in the sacrifice area except poisonous tansy, and I was afraid they would all eat it and die. We carefully walked the fence line on the HSH's side of the pasture, and finding one more potential low-spot, dragged another cattle panel out and tacked it up. The morning went by; the afternoon was well advanced and still - the goats were causing zero havoc. It looked as though we had solved the problem. Homero left to go to the junkyard and I took the kids and went to my sister's house for dinner.
An hour later, when each of us were an hour away from the house in opposite directions, Homero got the call. The goats were in HSH's garden yet again, for a third time.
Let me pause here to describe the garden a little bit. HSH is a retired Indian gentleman, and his garden is his main occupation and evidently his pride and joy. HSH spends at least two hours a day and often more out in the garden, which is something like 60' x 80' and laid out in beautiful rows, each straight as an arrow and meticulously free of weeds. He grows onions and garlic, collards and spinach and lettuce. He grows potatoes and squash and cilantro and carrots. He grows tomatoes and chickpeas. He has a lovely little hoop house wherein he grows all sorts of colorful chiles. He has a tall stand of corn, just coming into tassel. His family really eats out of the garden, and he is generous with his substantial surplus. It amazes me no end that one elderly gentleman can maintain a garden of such size and splendor, while I, a full twenty years younger, struggle to raise anything that can outcompete the weeds. Anyone would be annoyed to find his neighbor's goats had devastated his garden, but HSH has more to lose than most.
Homero sped home at a breakneck pace, no doubt roundly cursing goats the entire way. When he arrived, HSH had already put our goats back in the pasture. HSH was nowhere to be seen. Most likely, he had retreated into his home so as to avoid the temptation to punch Homero in the face. Taking no chances, Homero decided to hobble the goats. He used twine to tie their front feet together, so each goat could only take tiny little steps and could not possibly jump. He then walked the fence line, searching in vain for any place the goats might have done a Houdini.
When I got home, I decided to do my own perimeter patrol. I had been thinking, and I had come to the conclusion that the goats were not jumping over the fence at all. My does don't jump much, especially Flopsy, who is hugely obese and spends most of her time on her knees. Yet, Flopsy had been out with the others. It seemed to me most likely that the goats were escaping under the fence rather than over.
But when I walked the perimeter, I saw that there was no way they were going under, either. The grass in the pasture does not get mowed or cut, ever, and so it has grown up in a thick mat over the bottom of the fences and more effectively tacked them to the ground than we could ever do. I was pretty much at a loss. Nothing looked mashed down anywhere. Hell if I knew how they were getting out.
But on my second time around, I found it. I can't blame Homero for not seeing it - it was pretty invisible. Along the bottom of the pasture, not on the side facing HSH, right about in the middle, there was a breach. The goats had gone neither over the top nor under the bottom of the fence. They had gone straight through. Right alongside one t-post, the welded field fencing had come unwelded vertically and had a slash in it like a curtain. The top wire was intact, as was the bottom, and so it was not obvious at all. There was simply a slit through which the goats had slipped, single file, and then gone marauding.
I found the breach just after sunset. I only had time to grab some baling twine and tie it closed. Tomorrow we will patch it with a new section of fence or with yet another cattle panel. In the meantime, the goats remain hobbled. Let this be a lesson to me that I must resume perimeter patrol. I used to be in the habit of walking all the fence lines every month or so, but I have slacked off shamefully. This isn't the first time I have found breaches in the fence: they are a pretty regular occurrence. Fences must be constantly maintained, or else periodically repaired.
Just like neighborly relations. I have no idea what to offer HSH, beyond my abject apologies and, come fall, a nice fat leg of goat. I'm thinking a real, handwritten letter with a gift certificate to the farmer's market.
Monday, August 4, 2014
Posted by Aimee at 11:33 AM