Grass or Grain? Chef Noah Sheetz visits with two farms in the Hudson Valley to discuss grass vs. grain fed issue.

Punsit Valley Farm, Spencertown

Punsit Valley Farm is a 200 acre farm in Spencertown that is home to a herd of grain fed and finished Angus cows, and flocks of hormone and antibiotic free pheasants and chickens. During the summer the cows “strip graze” on sections of pastures that are partitioned with electric fencing. The farm grows bails and stores all of the silage needed to feed the cows during the winter months.

Farm owners Mark and Karolyn take immaculate care of their farm animals. The cows are brushed twice daily. “I especially enjoy the birthing process” says Karolyn. “I’ll stay up at night to make sure a mother cow’s delivery is safe.” While Karolyn enjoys tending the cows, Mark is responsible for the pheasants. The pheasants enjoy meandering through a customized forest of mammoth-sized lamb’s quarters. “They like weaving in and out of the stalks. I used to grow corn but when the stalks got too tall they would poke holes in the mesh covering over the pen” says Mark.

For the future Mark and Karolyn hope to make the farm profitable enough to cover the farm’s expenses and to pay for the land taxes that come with owning 200 acres of farm land.

Punsit Valley Farm, SpencertownCows BathingNoah and KarolynChickens

Kinderhook Farm, Valatie

Complete with a quaint 1800’s farmhouse, a victory garden and neatly painted wooden barns, Kinderhook Farm is perhaps one of the most picturesque farms in Columbia County.  Lee and Georgia Ranney, Virginia transplants and cattle experts that know the art of managed grazing techniques, raise grass-fed beef on several hundred acres of lush rolling pastures that are studded with orchard and rye grasses, clover and flowers.  Lee has gained regional notoriety as a “grass master” and is perhaps the leading authority in upstate New York on growing grass and grazing cattle.  Most of the cattle at Kinderhook Farm retain a high percentage of Devon, a cattle breed that is known for producing great tasting beef.

Raising entirely grass-fed cattle to slaughter weight is a timely and costly process; taking up to two years and costing as much as one third more than grain fed and finished beef.  Lee and Georgia promote the nutritional advantages of omega rich grass-fed beef and believe in raising their product as naturally as possible, seeing it as one that is represented by the “terroire”, (a wine term used to describe the unique flavor characteristics of a particular region or area) that is unique to the grasses and forages that grow in their farm’s pastures.

The quality of Kinderhook beef is truly amazing.  Tender cuts like porterhouse and rib-eye are well-marbled and tender, with a bold, slightly gamey flavor that is undeniably grass-fed.

Kinderhook beef is managed naturally and carefully over a long growth period and, while the cost is significantly more than grain-fed and store-bought beef, it is worth every dollar, and should be appreciated for everything that it is – an extremely high quality product and culinary indulgence that should be savored in conservative amounts.

Kinderhook Farm is designated as an Animal Welfare Approved farm, abiding by strict audits
that certify high animal welfare standards for the beef, chickens and lamb that are raised on the farm.

Kinderhook FarmKinderhook Farm, ValatieKinderhook Farm, Valatie

A note on grain feeding and grass feeding

There are two common feeding systems for cattle that are used nationally and in New York State – grain feeding/finishing and grass feeding. Supplementing grain in the diet of cattle, and more intensively during the last three months of life (also known as the finishing period), produces less expensive, mature and market-ready beef faster than grass-feeding, where cattle are raised entirely on grass and silage.  With both approaches, taste is a matter of preference.  Some consumers prefer the flavor of grain-fed beef because of the higher degree of marbling (intra-muscular fat) that is produced, while others prefer the grassy flavor and leaner texture of grass-fed beef.

There is some controversy associated with the practice of grain-feeding and finishing. Because cattle are biologically predisposed to living on a forage diet of grasses and legumes, a high concentration of grain in the diet can lead to health issues, including an abscess in the liver of the animals.

In New York State most grain-fed beef producers rarely push the percentage of grain during the life and finishing period (typically above 60 percent) to the degree that health issues become a concern (some people theorize that intensive grain feeding is not common in New York because New York beef is not graded and there is not as much pressure for producers to achieve a high degree of marbling).
While cattle seem to naturally thrive on a grass-fed diet, and many consumers prefer the fattier flavor of grain-fed beef, the grass-fed and grain finished approach (or the supplementing of grain in the primary diet of silage), of raising beef may be a respectable solution to satisfying ethical issues surrounding the production of beef and consumer taste preferences. Also worth considering in the fat and flavor of grass-fed beef is the role that managed grazing techniques and genetics might play in the finished product. Some self-subscribed beef experts believe that cattle breeds like the British White and the Belted Galloway are genetically disposed to being leaner than other breeds like Angus and Hereford, both of which display a high degree of marbling even when the breeds are grass-fed.

Articles courtesy of: Chef Noah Sheetz

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To see Full video:Bannerman Island Dinner