Have you ever been out to Whidbey Island? If you have, you’ve probably been to Ebey’s Landing, the national landmark that brushes up against the Puget Sound. The super-lush area is where Bob Engle and his family lease pastures to raise their 100% grass-fed Angus-Hereford herd.
The Engle family sailed into Whidbey Island more than 150 years ago with the namesake of their future town, Captain Thomas Coupe. (They started before even before the town was christened Coupeville.) Five generations later, it’s one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the state, and is the perfect environment for raising grass-fed, grass-finished cattle.
Rancher Bob Engle produces some of the best grass-fed beef you’ll ever try. He follows all-natural practices to raise his Angus-Hereford cattle, allowing them plenty of room to graze, never using any growth hormones, and standing firm by his cows' 100% grass diet.
Engle Family Farms has the benefit of a special protection: Land rights. It means the Engles and their descendants will never have to worry about the threat of commercial development, and can keep going on ranching as long as they’d like.
Part of what’s so great about raising grass-fed cattle on Whidbey Island is the constant moisture, which makes for a year-round supply of bright, nutrient-rich grasses that the cows love. And thanks to their responsible ranchers, those rains and cold weather -- so good for the grasses -- never bother the cows.
During the winter, the Engles move their herd into a covered open area so the cows can keep warm, dry, and comfortable. Their beef ultimately reaps the benefit of the Engles’ care and generations-old expertise -- the stuff is tender and completely delicious.
Grass-fed, grass-finished beef is delicious, make no mistake about it. Speaking of mistakes, many people who write-off grass-fed beef make the mistake of preparing it the same as the grain-finished beef that they're so used to. At Crowd Cow, we've found more often than not, that the difference between a great grass-fed steak and a sub-par one all comes down to knowing how to cook it correctly.
At Crowd Cow, we've had the good fortune to taste a lot of grass-fed, grass-finished beef -- from different cuts and different producers. We've found that grass fed beef usually takes 25-30% less time to cook. You might be used to cooking your rib steaks 4 minutes per side, but for grass-fed beef, you'll want to only give it 3 minutes. Better yet, try sous-viding your grass-fed steaks or preparing them with a reverse-sear.
Lastly, consider a marinade or rub. These can often overwhelm more-mellow grain-finished beef, but are perfect for rounding out the flavor of grass-fed beef, and marinades in particular are helpful in keeping the meat moist, preventing it from overcooking and drying out.
A cow's natural diet is grass -- not grain. They are ruminant animals, meaning they have an entire stomach devoted to breaking down foraged grasses.
Their physiology is poorly adapted to eating grain. Yet almost all the beef you can buy in America is grain fed, because that's the cheapest and fastest way to increase the size of the animal.
Grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat than grain-fed, but higher in healthy omega-3 fats. These crucial healthy fats are most plentiful in flaxseeds and fish, and are also found in walnuts, soybeans and in meat from animals that have grazed on omega-3 rich grass. Grass-fed beef also has higher levels of beta-carotene, Vitamin E, and other healthy nutrients.
Author Michael Pollan wrote in the New York Times about what happens to cows that move from the pasture to the feedlot and fed grain:
"Perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn is feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal's lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal's esophagus), the cow suffocates.
A corn diet can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike that in our own highly acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn makes it unnaturally acidic, however, causing a kind of bovine heartburn, which in some cases can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick. Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio."
Whew. What's more, to prevent their cows from getting sick, feedlots pump them full of antibiotics which lead to more resistant strains of bacteria which inevitably leap over to affect humans as well.
Factory farming is a ruthless, repulsive practice, and is unfortunately the norm when it comes to grain-fed beef. You are what you eat and poorly treated cows are bad for all of us.