It’s April and although it’s an early spring, it’s a soggy one. We’ve had plenty of rain the past few weeks and mud for the past two months. Fortunately, it’s now just now warm enough that the grass and clover are beginning to wake up and creep out of the ground. We wait to graze until they have really started to grow, like waiting for our grass to be a decent size before we mow it. This helps the roots of our pasture grasses get nice and strong and keeps us from clipping it too short.
We are in the middle of an early calf season. Ideally we’d like to calve a little later in the spring, but it worked out that the calves are a bit earlier this year due to an unintended early breeding with a very, um, robust and insistent (fence-jumping) bull. We still have many calves and lambs to go, so we are up and about all the time checking on the mamas and babies. We let our animals have their babies outside, so our job is making sure they have access to clean and dry areas to go, clean water and proper nutrition. They will continue to munch on hay for another month or so while we wait for the grass to get taller, so we make sure to give them good groceries.
We got out a little bit already to seed some prairie seeds into our field where there are still some bare spots. We’ve also been focusing on logging and milling from our pine plantation in preparation for our building project this summer. It’s been a challenge with all the mud! As the ground greens up the animals get a little more restless, so we are often working on fencing for those guys keeping them in just a little longer until we really have enough forage for them to chow down. We also will be building some extra tall fences to make sure we can keep our bull contained this summer.
Peter has been busy getting everything ready to build a house this summer. He’s been logging our white pines, milling timbers, and making wood chips with the branches. It’s quite a job!
We’ve got some delicious beef roasts to hand out this month. There are a couple different types of roast: marbled pot roasts like chuck and arm, and lean muscle rump roasts. A couple of cooking suggestions for each:
Contrary to the chuck, the rump of the cow has lean muscle groups. The rolled rump roast comes from the eye of round, the middle of the cow’s rump. It is the cut of beef used to make roast beef sandwiches, and should be roasted with dry heat in an oven or a grill until medium rare or medium and sliced very thinly to serve.
Rub roast all over with 2 tablespoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Let it come to room temperature on your counter, about an hour.
Heat oven to 225. Heat your largest skillet on the stove. When hot, add 2 tablespoons tallow, lard or vegetable oil. Sear the meat on all sides until well browned, about ten minutes. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of dried rosemary or one spring fresh rosemary. Transfer the roast to a roasting pan or baking sheet, or put the entire skillet in the oven.
Roast for 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the middle of the roast reads 135. Let the roast rest on a plate 20 minutes, tented with aluminum foil.
Meanwhile, make a sauce, if desired.
In your dutch oven or skillet (not cast-iron) where you seared the roast, heat 1 tablespoon tallow or vegetable oil. When hot, add one diced shallot. Cook until softened, about two minutes. Then stir in 3/4 cup low sodium (or homemade) beef or chicken broth, 1/2 cup red wine and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Scrape the bottom of the pan and simmer until thickened. Off the heat stir in 3 tablespoons melted butter, salt, pepper and a little fresh thyme if you have it.
To serve, slice meat very thinly, sprinkle with flaky sea salt and drizzle with sauce or pass at the table. Alternatively cool the roast and slice the following day for roast beef sandwiches, salads and snacks.
2 tablespoon rendered beef tallow or other cooking oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1.5 cups dry red wine
1 cup beef broth
Preheat oven to 325˚.
Pat roast dry and rub all over with two teaspoons salt and a half teaspoon black pepper.
Heat a large skillet or enameled dutch oven over high heat. When hot, add two tablespoons tallow or vegetable oil and brown roast on all sides, about ten minutes. Transfer meat to a plate.
Add onions to skillet and a pinch of salt and saute until translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste and herbs and stir like crazy to scrape the bottom of the pan and cook, about a minute. Add wine and broth and bring to a simmer. If using a dutch oven, add beef, cover and transfer to the oven. Or transfer liquids and beef to roasting pan, cover and place in the oven. After an hour, turn the roast.
Roast four to five hours or until the meat is very tender. Then uncover the pot and let the meat rest, in sauce at least 20 minutes. Cut into chunks, and slices and serve with the gravy and noodles or potatoes, and salad. Or shred the beef and place back in the sauce. The roast will be good served the day of but makes outstanding leftovers. Simply reheat shredded or sliced meat in the onion sauce and serve on a sandwich, with potatoes, however you like…. 🙂
Spring indeed. We’re a full month ahead of schedule. The ground is thawed, nettles are emerging, and birds are returning. Normally we don’t have green grass to graze until the first week of May, but this year, we’ll be grazing by April. Although we’ve enjoyed the warmth, the crazy weather has been tough. The extended freezing and thawing of the ground prolongs “mud season.” The animals make quite a mess walking around and driving the tractor to bring hay doesn’t help. Luckily for the ruminants, we’ve been able to get them top-quality fermented alfalfa hay, which they dive into like a pile of cupcakes. It smells and tastes delicious! We feed fresh bales out in the pasture and what the cows and sheep don’t eat they trample into the ground to make little hay beds where they have a warm and dry place to lie down. Which is good because we are now in baby season!
So far we’ve had eight lambs born, including one set of triplets! We’ve had three calves, all male, and one cow in her first pregnancy lost her calf in labor. It was a sad moment for us and her, but she seems to have recovered physically and is back up and eating and hanging out with her siblings. It’s often the case that first-time mothers have difficult calving, so it’s always a risk. All of our calves this year are second-generation Mastodon Valley Farm baby! Mom and dad were both born here, too. That’s quite a proud moment for us!
We’ve welcomed a new canine to the farm family, Ada. She’s a Spanish Ranch Mastiff/Italian Maremma cross. These are European dogs bred to guard livestock. She is living in the sheep paddock and will assume the sheep flock as her pack instead of us humans.
She will live full-time protecting the sheep, and eventually have babies with our other guardian dog, Odum. She is a really sweet puppy and it’s hard to not bring her into our house to snuggle, but she’s got a job to do and we have Travis, our Australian Shepard for all the muddy dog snuggles we need.
Beef is back in our farm shares after our brief hiatus due to the closing of our primary meat processor Driftless Meats and More. This month we sent two beefs to Richland Meat Locker, a state-inspected facility about thirty minutes East of our farm. It’s an old fashioned place with good folks working there who’ve been in the business a long time. When we grazed at Mark Shepard’s farm, we used this processor. They’ve always been super nice to the animals and do a nice job cutting. You’ll notice the different packaging, but don’t worry, it’s still our beef!
One benefit of the early thaw in the ground…we are breaking ground on our new house! Apparently construction begins now. We will be pouring the basement in the next couple months and harvesting timber from an old pine stand to supply all of the wood. It’s a lot of work, but we should be moved in by the end of 2018.
Everyone loves ground beef. It embodies all of the flavor of grassfed because it’s a blend of the whole animal. We love ground beef that’s been allowed to simmer one to two hours on the stove, lending tons of flavor and texture to the dishes and really getting tender beef. Check out our Ultimate Chili Recipe – a stand-by in our house because I can prepare it earlier in the day and leave it on the stove, and with tons of garnishes it’s a fun meal. Tilia absolutely loves it.
Another great savory meal with ground beef is this Simple Meat Tomato Sauce Recipe for pasta or pizza. Sometimes we just put it on a bed of greens for a light carb-free meal.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add onion and cook until softened, 6 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute one minute. Crumble ground beef into pan as finely as possible with your hands or a fork. Cook until no longer pink. Add tomato past, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup of liquid from the diced tomatoes. Stir vigorously and let the liquid partially cook down, for about a minute. Add tomatoes, wine, and oregano. Simmer partially covered one to two hours, stirring occasionally and monitoring levels of liquid, adding more water or wine if it gets close to burning.
This is a smoky, complex, mild chilly, thick enough to almost be a called a stew, but a beautiful showcase of our ground beef. If you desire more heat add canned chipotles in adobo sauce. We like it without beans but those can be added as well. Be generous with the simmer. A simmer of at least an hour really allows the flavors to meld. If you don’t want to do this stove top, the stew can also be placed in a slow cooker as well.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons lard, beef tallow or other cooking oil 2 onions, diced 6 cloves garlic, minced 2 pounds ground beef 1 teaspoon allspice 2 teaspoons oregano 2 tablespoons chili powder 2 tablespoons cumin 2 tablespoons cocoa powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 can tomato paste 1 dried chipotle pepper (or 1 tsp. diced canned chipotle in adobo..or more, to taste) 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes 2 cups beef bone broth (or other meat broth) 1 cup water optional: 1 can drained beans garnish: avocado slices, onion, sour cream, tortilla strips, lime wedges, lime juice Method: Heat oil in a heavy pot over medium flame. Add onions and a pinch of salt and saute until soft, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add ground beef and crumble with a spoon or fork. Cook until no longer pink, around six minutes. Add tomato paste, spices, cocoa, and salt and stir vigorously to coat meat. Add pepper, tomatoes, broth, and water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for one and a half to two hours. Towards the end of cooking, add the can of beans and canned chipotles if using. Remove chipotle pepper. Adjust seasoning. Serve with avocado slices, lime wedges, sour cream and fresh onions or scallions. Make your own tortilla chips by frying in lard or use the store-bought variety. Tuck in! Recipe adapted from Mel Jouwan’s My Favourite Chili from Well-Fed Paleo
Our soup bones are slices from the cows’ shins. They come with a nice cross-section of marrow bone and contain a decent amount of meat. This meat requires a very long and slow cook to tenderize it, but the bones will create a delicious and nourishing bone broth along the way…
To prepare the broth, first season the bones with salt and pepper. Then place in a roasting pan in a hot oven (around 425) and roast, until they are good and browned but not burned, about fifteen minutes. Then place in a dutch oven or stew pot with six cups of water and a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Add any herbs that you like, we often add rosemary, half an onion, celery and a carrot. Cook on high for two hours, then on low 6 to 8 hours or overnight, or simmer on your stove all day or overnight. In the morning you should have a nice broth and tender meat. Taste the meat, is it as tender as you’d like it? If so, remove the meat from the bones and chop into small pieces. If not, keep it cooking. You can, however, cook the soup bones so long that the meat loses flavor. That’s ok, the flavor will be in your broth! If the meat becomes tasteless, it is still safe and good to use with barbecue sauce for sloppy joes or in shepherds pie. If cooking is stopped while the meat retains some flavor, I like to add it to a soup that I make with the broth.
You will notice a bit of fat on the top of the broth. We often just use the broth with this fat right in the soup, but you can chill the broth in the refrigerator for a few hours and remove the fat once it has solidified if you wish.
In a sense this year has been relatively laid back, as we’ve gotten into the groove of off-grid homesteading and regenerative farming. In another sense, it’s been intensively chaotic, with lots of surprises!
We have continued to grow our farm share CSA and feel proud to have produced so much food for so many people. In 2016 we handed out over 5000 lbs of beef, pork, and lamb to more than 50 customers. Much thanks to all of you that have been supporting us and enjoying the fruits of our labor and landscape!
We had a healthy crop of calves in the spring and our cattle herd is continuing to grow! We are super pleased with our Red Devon and Red Angus cows and impressed with their hardiness, easy calving, and how quickly they produce such high quality meats. It takes 18-22 months for us to raise a bull calf up to slaughter weight on an all-forage diet.
Odum, our Karakachan livestock guardian dog who we got as a puppy last winter, is now one year old, a giant puppy, and a formidable guardian. He’s been in two fights with coyotes this year and came out on top both times. He patrols our farm all night long and keeps all our animals safe.
We are super happy with him and impressed with his instincts. Not only is a smart and diligent guardian, but he’s also super helpful around the sheep and goats. If/when they get out of their paddock, he’s always right there to help guide them back in. Tilia loves running and grabbing ahold of his fur and getting drug around the farm. We’re super excited to get him a girlfriend and have a big, happy, fluffy pack of super tough guardians. We had a scare when our 15 year old dog Tehya, came down with Lyme. After 8 days of not eating, she bounced back and still enjoys her daily jog around the farm.
One big huge excitement came as Maureen’s parents, Leif and Marcia, decided to purchase the 120 acre parcel next door. We were already leasing and grazing the 40 acres of pasture there, but the big excitement is the 40 acre crop field also on that property. Our mission is landscape regeneration and no landscape needs more regeneration than these perennially poisoned fields. This next spring we’re excited to establish perennial prairie pastures, utilizing native grasses and flowers to utilize as a hayfield and for grazing. It shouldn’t be a surprise that we’ll also be planting out thousands of hazelnuts and oak trees there!
This year we purchased new breeding stock for our sheep flock. We had previously been working with Katahdin, a hair-sheep breed that sheds its wool each spring making it a lower maintenance breed than other wooly sheep, which need to be sheared annually. The wool market is incredibly depressed, and it is generally more expensive to get a sheep sheered than the wool is worth on the market. We love wool, however. It is the perfect winter fiber for clothing, and it’s what we wear everyday. Maureen is also a knitter, and is constantly crafting sweaters, pants, hats, and mittens for our family. The deciding factor came when a local sheep producer and yarn store owner decided to invest in the equipment to locally process wool into yarn. She is opening up a wool mill just about 5 miles from our farm! So we bought Rambouillet ewes and a ram – a breed closely related to Merino that produces premium wool and also known for excellent meat. We’re super excited to produce our own wool and have our own wool yarn that Maureen can knit into warm winter clothing for us all!
ne new farm purchase that’s radically improved our day-to-day lives is our new electric utility vehicle. Peter can zip up and down the steep hills around our 220 acres quickly, carrying all the tools and equipment he needs to get the job done. He’s getting 5x more accomplished in a day. It’s hard to believe he used to carry all our fencing around by hand, setting up paddocks on our steep hillsides. It’s perfectly quiet, so when a calf is lost, we can quietly cover lots of distance and we still hear the calf rustling in the weeds. Since it’s electric it’s super heavy, carrying 8 deep cycle batteries. The power of the motor plus the weight means that the machine never gets stuck. It can cruise straight up a hill through mud or ice without even slipping. We’re super impressed.
The 5 acre prairie we planted two years ago is really starting to thrive. What used to be a crop field consisting of one species of plant is now a thriving grassland ecosystem. Peter counted over 100 plant species here in the height of the summer, many that we planted but many that came on their own. This is where we’ve been running our broiler chickens the past two seasons, and the impact on fertility is amazing. We’ve been moving them through the thinnest, most compact soils in the field which are now producing the greenest, most lush swards of grasses and clovers. It is really amazing to see the difference that a few hundred chickens can make in just two months.
In August we got hit with a 7’’ rain event that struck already saturated soils. This caused massive flooding in our region with several counties actually receiving federal disaster funds. As the rains fell through the night we watched from the window in our loft which looks over the valley. It was pitch black, but in the occasional lightning strike, we could catch a split-second glimpse of the farm. “Wait, was the chicken coop underwater? Where are the fences?” The ravines filled with water that spilled out and gushed down our valley. 3’ of water flowed over our coop, which was 6’ higher than the ravine. They gathered speed and height as they moved down the valley washing out massive cuts of soil and leaving giant rocks, boulders, and debris. Fortunately, all our animals were up on the hills and were safe from the rushing waters. The roosts for our chickens are 4’ off the ground so they were safe from the waters that got up to 3’ through the coop. I’m sure they were a little freaked out though! The flood waters carried away any farm equipment in its path including fence energizers, fencing spools, and our water pump. Lots of our stuff our now sunk at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Whoah! It also washed out any fence it encountered. Hundreds of feet of barb wire and woven wire fencing were destroyed in 15 different sections that took Peter over a month to get fully repaired. We are grateful that the damage wasn’t worse and that we were able to recover. It was also informative to see the paths of extreme flood water movement across the landscape. It will help inform future decisions both for the placement of fences and infrastructure, but also ponds and earthworks to help mitigate future events.
On the plus side, this summer, Maureen’s dad Leif shored up the slowly collapsing 150 year old dairy barn at the front of our property. One of the foundation corners had collapsed and one wall was literally just hanging there in suspension. The only reason the barn hadn’t collapsed decades ago is due to the tension of the timber frame structure made of rock solid old-growth oak and joined together with oak pegs. The roof also had lots of holes in it and many of the structural timbers were starting to rot. So Leif jacked up the barn, rebuilt that corner of the foundation, and put on a new roof. It still needs a lot of work, but its now ready to weather another 150 years! We look forward to eventually transforming this space into a kitchen, classroom, and event space with a beautiful veranda overlooking our pond and the Kickapoo valley.
Our annual Permaculture Design Course was a huge success where we hosted an amazing group of people from all over the country and learned together about the design and management of regenerative agricultural systems. It’s always the highlight of our year where we get to spend lots of quality time with lots of new and old friends.
A major home improvement occurred when we purchased a Waterford Stanley wood cookstove to replace our tiny Jotul 602. It’s got a baking oven and a large cooking surface that produces wonderful even heat. It is solid cast iron, and provides a ton of thermal mass. The stove stays warm long after the fire dies and we’ve been waking up to much warmer mornings thanks to all that thermal mass. Pretty much everyday in the winter we’re able to simultaneously cook down bone broth, cook winter veggie soup, render lard and heat our water. Oh, and it keeps us warm!
We got a Kitten! Clements is a quickly growing feline with impressive athleticism and obsession with the mice that scamper around the cabin. He’s Tilia’s new very best friend and handles himself with dignity against the onslaught of big dogs and little kid.
Maureen has always been a good cook, but she’s constantly improving and taking her creations to the next level. Everyday she cooks us 3 amazing meals. She’s constantly trying new recipes and experimenting. We’ve been posting our favorite recipes. Do yourself a favor and get some high quality meat, fat, and veggies (like ours) and try them out.
Tilia is growing fast and learning even faster. Everyday she surprises us. She’s strong, smart and already capable of so much. Her first word was “chicken,” and her second was “hey cows.” She greets everything on the farm when she sees them – “Hey cows, hey sheep, hey maple, hey Odum, hey moon, hey papa.” Her favorite activities include helping with dishes, helping sweep the floor, and hugging travis. Her favorite books are Sibley’s Bird Guide, and the Illustrated Guide to Pleistocene Mammals. Her favorite foods are sauerkraut, hazelnuts, and ground beef. Go figure.
We have lots of big plans for 2017. The biggest project is building a new house. We’ve got our designs pretty much finalized and Peter will start this winter logging and milling the lumber that we’ll use to build a timber frame house, inspired by our newly shored up barn. We’ll be using mostly pine from the plantation while incorporating some hardwoods like ironwood, oak, and hickory, in the framing and flooring. It’ll be a huge project and we’re blessed to have Maureen’s dad Leif to help us in the summer.
Another big project is planting the new 40 acre field with perennial forages and trees. We’ll also be laying out pipeline and building new fences around the farm as we continue to develop our infrastructure to allow rotational grazing with lots of different species of stock.
We’ll be shearing our sheep in the spring and getting our yarn back in the summer. We’ll be teaching our Permaculture Design Course here from June 17-25, and we’ll be teaching Tilia how to help out with projects around the house and around the construction site of our new house. It’ll be a busy year! We’re now enjoying the long nights and resting up from a busy 2016 and preparing for an even busier 2017. We’ve also opened up applications for internships for 2017.
We feel so blessed to have such amazing and supporting families, friends, students, teachers, and customers.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Peter, Mo, Tilia, and the packs, flocks, and herds of Mastodon Valley!
A chuck roast is a beautiful thing. We cooked a twist on a traditional pot roast and followed this traditional Sri Lankan recipe. The only real difficult thing about it is having the whole spices on hand. We buy ours in the bulk section at the local food coop. We enjoyed ours with a fresh carrot and apple salad and some rice.
One beef chuck roast (about 3 lbs) (or arm, or rump roasts, or 2-3 lbs stew meat)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
4 tablespoons lard (or other frying oil)
One 2-inch cinnamon stick
1 large onion, finely chopped
One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups beef or chicken stock
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup coconut milk from a well shaken can
Make sure meat is dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Set a small cast-iron or other heavy frying pan over medium heat. When very hot, sprinkle in the coriander, cumin, fennel, and fenugreek seeds. Stir for 30 seconds or so until the spices just start to emit a roasted aroma. Empty onto a piece of paper towel, and, when cooled off a bit, grind the spices in a clean coffee grinder or crush in a mortar.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Heat an oven-proof heavy pan (we like enameled cast iron) over medium high heat and add lard or other oil. When hot, put in the meat and brown on all sides. Remove to a plate. Add the cinnamon, onions, ginger, and garlic. Stir and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Add ground spices and cook 30 seconds or so. Add the vinegar, stock, cayenne, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and the beef as well as its accumulated juices. Bring to a boil, stirring the sauce. Cover and place in oven. Cook, basting and turning every 20 minutes or so, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until meat is tender. Remove pan from oven. Add the coconut milk, stir, and bring to a simmer before serving.
We are currently experimenting with easy and sustainable ways to grow grain crops to help supplement pasture forage for our pigs and poultry. Currently, we purchase locally grown organic, non-GMO corn and beans from nearby farms. However, it’s expensive, and even though it’s organic, it’s still grown using conventional tillage that leads to soil degradation and erosion. Farmers have been tilling the soil for 10,000 years in order to destroy existing vegetation and provide an open substrate for their preferred grain seeds to germinate and grow. This strategy works great for growing grain crops, but has the unintended consequences of soil erosion, compaction, and oxidizing carbon into the atmosphere, depleting soil fertility. There’s got to be a better way.In order to smother vegetation and prevent the growth of grass and weeds in the spot we wanted to grow grain, we fed out bales of hay to the cattle in the winter. Instead of feeding round bales in a feeder, we simply put them on the ground and let the cattle waste some hay. We fed the bales in sequence along the valley floor in a grid with bales about 20′ apart. Just far apart to cover all the ground with hay and manure, without much overlap.
In late May when the ground warmed up and frost was no longer a concern, I went back to the bale feeding area and broadcasted seed over an area about 30′ squared. I just mixed corn and soybean seed in a five gallon bucket and tossed it out so that the seeds were spread out between 3-6” apart. Then I put out a few feed troughs, filled them with alfalfa pellets, and yelled out “Hey Cows!” We have a herd of around 50 cows, calves, and yearlings that came running, crowded around the troughs, and scarfed down the alfalfa. In doing so, they pressed those seeds down through the hay pack and into the soil.
Every day for a week or two, I broadcasted seed and gave the cows their treats, and ended up planting about an acre of corn and beans.
The experiment was a huge success. The corn and beans both came up strong and flourished. There were a few spots where the seeds germinated, but did not flourish. Growth stagnated, their leaves turned yellow, and they ended up outcompeted by weeds. I think these spots had too
much hay packed down, and either nitrogen was limited from microbial feeding on the hay pack, or else the roots weren’t able to get through the top of the soil. When I do it next year, I’ll make extra sure the hay bales are far enough apart and I don’t feed two bales in the same spot. The soybeans did great around the edges of the corn, but the corn was so thick, the beans didn’t produce much in the shade of the corn. Next year, I’ll probably just plant corn.
So what are we doing with all our corn? First, we’re harvesting a bunch for ourselves. We enjoy making our own corn tortillas and frying them in our pastured lard. Basically the best food ever. So we’re harvesting and drying the corn in order to grind and eat. Then we’re bringing the pigs in to hog down all the rest of the corn and beans, and the poultry to clean up after the pigs. That way we’re feeding less bought feed, which is why we did this experiment in the first place. We’ll definitely be dedicating an acre or two of land to this type of planting in the future for sustainable, no-till, no-fuel, no-work grain crops.