Raising, Growing, and Finishing 100% Grass Fed Beef.
For the first time you can buy directly from the pioneer of the 100% grass-fed industry in Minnesota.
Anyone can raise grass fed beef. It’s simple – just don’t feed grain, right? But hardly anyone can raise 100% grass fed beef that is tasty and tender and leaves you feeling deeply nourished in body, mind, and spirit.
There are many farms and ranches that raise grass-fed beef and genuinely believe theirs is the best. However, what consumers (or farmers and ranchers) don’t realize is that there is so much more to raising really great grass fed beef than just not feeding grain. When we started Thousand Hills we thought it would be easy, but we soon found out differently.
My personal mission every day since 2003 has been to deliver the most incredible eating experience possible when I serve you beef. I found over 20 variables that had to be managed correctly to produce premium beef, and I discovered this principle: It’s not about what isn’t done. It’s about what IS done. All reputable 100% grass fed beef -- and much of what is labelled as such isn’t -- is raised without antibiotics, growth hormones, or grain. That’s simple. That makes the beef healthful, but it’s not enough to make you say, “WOW – that was an incredible meal!”
To get that done takes two things: a system and a relentless focus on all the details.
Churchill Reserve has perfected that system, and we are continuously focused on the details. You won't find anything better.
Choosing the right calves
This is where the process begins. Prior to 1950, all cattle were expected to fatten on grass. If they couldn’t, they were culled out and removed from the gene pool. Since 1950, all cattle ranchers have done the opposite, selecting animals that perform well on a high grain diet. This means there are relatively few cattle available that have been selected over generations for their ability to thrive without grain. I’ve spent the last 15 years finding these cattle and creating the markets necessary to ensure their survival into the future. The cattle at Churchill Reserve are genetically selected for a grass-fed model, which supplies the most fundamental element for optimal meat and nutritional products.
Raising to Finish
By 18 – 24 months of age, cattle are done growing, and they should start to convert their food into fat rather than muscle and bone. What makes grain fed beef tasty -- and what is so often missing in grass fed beef -- is the fat created from what us cattle people call the “finish”. Just like with humans, sugars and grains convert to fat, so it’s much harder to achieve this “finish” without grain. Most farmers and ranchers simply can’t get it done with grass alone, so they harvest their animals without any finish at all. This disappoints their customers and gives grass fed beef a reputation for bad flavor. But you don’t need to compromise flavor for nutrition.
Animal scientists and nutritionists know what kind of grasses, clovers, and herbs (as well as soil biology) are required to get “finish”, and that is the heart of our system. We grow more quantity and better quality forage without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides just by managing the way our cattle eat the grass.
It’s amazing, and this is how we do it: We monitor the grass and soil on the ranch to make sure it's healthy and contains the right nutritional values. Most importantly, we utilize pasture rotation, putting all the cattle on a small area for a short time and then giving that area a long rest so the plants can fully regrow before the next grazing. Not only does this maximize the health and weight gain in our cattle, it sequesters water and carbon in the soil. Carefully managed rotational grazing increases wildlife habitat and biodiversity, improves soil quality and microbiology, and increases air quality, all while improving the health and finish of the cattle in the system.
Cattle are prey animals, so their minds, emotions, and sources of stress are quite different than us humans. We at Churchill Reserve have spent years studying cattle and being mentored by experts in the field of animal welfare and low stress handling. We understand what causes stress to cattle, so we actively manage everything from their diet, to our fences, to the way we sort animals out of the herd, to the way we transport and move them.
Low stress handling is the key to not using antibiotics. Conventional feedlot cattle operators often challenge me about the humane-ness of not treating sick animals. My reply is always the same: I can’t eliminate antibiotics unless I’ve eliminated the root causes of sick cattle. I don’t use antibiotics because I don’t have sick cattle. I haven’t eliminated antibiotics, I’ve eliminated the NEED for antibiotics.” This is nearly impossible to do with a high stress, high grain diet in a feedlot environment.
The Science and Art of Harvest and Processing
Let’s face it: In order for you and me to enjoy the goodness and deeply nourishing nutrition in our beef, someone has to take this beautiful animal and kill it.
Wendell Berry wrote it best:
"We can not live harmlessly at our own expense; we depend on other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration... in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want."
I have known and worked with Rob and Mike Lorentz, co-owners of Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls, since 1999. The only reason I started in the grass fed beef business was that I knew they were there to do the harvest exactly as Mr. Berry states – knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, and reverently. Lorentz Meats is an industry leading expert in all facets of specialty meat production: harvest, the cutting of steaks and roasts, dry and wet aging, packaging, and smokehouse products like our Churchill Reserve hotdogs. Their processes ensure that none of that incredible “goodness” in our cattle that we have worked so carefully to raise well is lost as they turn it into packaged beef for all of us to enjoy.
Remember the “finish”? If you buy beef that isn’t finished, it’s nearly impossible to prepare it without overcooking it. The lack of fat makes it very unforgiving, which is another reason all Churchill Reserve beef is fully finished. We carefully examine each and every carcass in the cooler. Any that don’t meet our standards for steaks are ground for burgers and hot dogs.
Because of this, our beef is pretty forgiving and VERY easy to prepare. Just follow these simple steps:
- Thaw it out. Don’t ever take frozen beef, not even hot dogs, directly to the grill, pan or oven. It you plan far enough ahead, put it in the fridge for a day. If (like me and my family) you need to be ready to cook in five minutes, put it in the sink with lukewarm water. This will thaw in minutes everything but a larger roast or brisket.
- Let it breathe. Open the vacuum sealed package and let the meat “breathe” for a few minutes and absorb oxygen. You should see the beef turn red, which is due to the way oxygen affects the myoglobin in the meat.
- Season/marinade appropriately. Really good grass fed beef has a rich robust flavor and doesn’t need a lot of seasoning. I’m partial to just salt and pepper.
- Cook it. There is something primal about that place where healthy meat and fire/heat come together - even if it’s in a non-stick pan on an electric stove.
- Take it off the heat quicker than you think. If you want until YOU think it’s done, it will be overdone. Exact time will depend on the type of heat and temperature, the thickness of the meat, etc. IT’s not hard and you don’t need to stress – just err on the side of less cooking time and more resting time.
- Rest it. No matter the cut, set it on a cutting board or plate, put some foil over the top, and DON’T TOUCH IT for at least 5 minutes. This gives the muscle time to absorb all the meat juices that will otherwise be lost if you cut into it right away. Use this time to get everything else ready for the meal, as you can’t live on beef alone!
- Gratitude. Take a moment to be thankful that this animal died so that you could live and celebrate the fact that it mattered to all of us how this animal lived. Celebrate the fact that your choice created a better future for the health of your family and the environment.
Thank you. Thank you for supporting the kind treatment of cattle. Thank you for supporting the environment and our world ecology. Thank you for making healthy food choices for your family and friends, choices that reduce antibiotic use and increase the best odds for our children. Without our customers, Churchill Reserve would not exist. Thank you for supporting our family business.