What are Pineywoods Cattle?
Heritage plants or animals represent plants and animals with a wide gene pool hat have evolved over the centuries largely without human interference. These plants and animals are adapted for survival. They are very hardy, disease resistant, and can survive on a wide variety of food. By contrast, most commercial plants and animals have been selectively bred over the past decades to select for traits that maximize profit. They gain weight quickly, are large, and fat. These traits often require human intervention in order to keep them healthy and to reproduce. These traits may lead to larger profits and a uniform product (think tomatoes all the same size but with no taste!) but come at the expense of a very narrow gene pool. That means a single disease could potentially wipe out all animals of a specific breed. Our animals are of a wide gene pool and are disease resistant. If the worst were to happen, some of our animals would survive. Because of the wide gene pool it would be possible, through selective breeding, to recreate most modern breeds of domestic cattle.
That is why we have the slogan: “Heritage Cattle: Preserving Yesterday’s Genes for Tomorrow.”
To really understand the unique significance of the Pineywoods (also called woods cattle and Raikstraw), Florida Crackers, Coriente, and Texas Longhorns (all descended from the same Spanish stock). You need to imagine yourself a Spanish explorer in 1493 landing on a strange coast, an area different from anything you have seen before, new animals, new vegetation. You don’t even know what is safe to eat!< Fortunately, you have thought ahead and the hold of your sailing ship contains breeding stock of small hardy cattle. You release some knowing that their strong survival instincts will probably allow them to survive and reproduce. When you return a few months or years later you will have a ready food source.
These hardy animals not only did survive, but they adapted to their new home. Most have lived in wild herds until recent time (much like the wild Spanish ponies on the barrier island of Maryland and Virginia). The ones moving west into Texas evolved to survive on wide-open plains and have developed wide sets of horns characteristic of the longhorn breeds. The ones remaining in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi had to survive in thick woods and brushy areas. They are small, nimble, and have narrow slender horns allowing passage through narrow brushy trails. They have adapted to resist insects and common diseases of the region. >They require no assistance with calving and can ward off most dogs and predators with their sharp horns. They can also eat just about anything that grows in the region. They graze grass like domestic cattle. However, they also browse on brush and tree leaves and twigs just like goats. This makes much more efficient use of the land than domestic cattle who will graze only on choice non-native grass. Because cattlemen are really in the business of growing grass to convert into protein we think that it just makes good sense to grow wild natural vegetation and use a machine that can convert it all into protein.
For the first 350 years that these animals were in the new world they truly lived in the wild. Since the mid 1800’s they have live in semi-wild conditions on very large family ranches along the Gulf Coast. The various races or sub-breeds are named after the families who owed the land (Carter, Holt, Barnes, Hickman, Bayliss). All are Pineywoods but the animals on each farm evolved under slightly different conditions and can be recognized by differences in color, shape, and size. The Carter family, for example, can document that from 1810 to recently no cattle have been allowed in or out of their farm. During this time the agricultural programs of the land grant universities were promoting highly bred domestic cattle and saw these as inferior “scrub” animals. Programs were in place to completely eliminate them as a breed.
Fortunately, a group of conservation-minded cattlemen formed the PCRBA to save this unique resource. They acted just in time, as some estimates were that the herd had shrunk to fewer than 200 breeding animals. At Hudson River Landing Farm we are dedicated to preserving this endangered breed and national resource and to keeping them in a natural of conditions as is possible.
“Preserving Yesterday’s Genes for Tomorrow”
How do I cook Natural Forage Beef?
Be careful not to overcook and be careful not to undercook! Lean natural forage beef cooks faster than meat that is marbled with fat but is chewy if too rare.
Basically, you use natural forage-fed beef as any other beef. However, there are some important differences to keep in mind.
Our beef is very lean, low-calorie, and healthy. The biggest mistake most people make is overcooking and the second biggest mistake is not cooking long enough (rare).
Domestic beef has been fattened though force feeding of corn on a feedlot. The animals gain weight very fast and the fat is marbled into the meat. Fat makes the meat tender and also makes it take longer to cook and makes it stay moist.
Lean meat cooks faster and dries out quickly. If you use the same cooking time as regular beef it may be overdone and dry. We find that steaks cook in less than the normal time. Try for medium temperatures; if you are used to well-done cook a little rarer than you are used to. If you like rare steaks—cook a little longer than normal. On the other hand the lean beef takes some cooking as very rare steaks can also be chewy. We find that there is a sweet spot around medium rare to medium that makes them about as tender as what you are used to.
The meat has more flavor so you may want to use less sauce and spices. Expect the meat to have more texture and taste than you are used to. However, if you don’t overcook or undercook and cut small bites with a steak knife you can enjoy as any steak. You will be eating a very low calorie healthful meal free from fat, steroids, antibiotics, and a host of other chemicals found in commercial meat.
I have been experimenting with cooking lean grass fed and natural forage beef for some time and have arrived at the following tips to help you enjoy the product.
1. Hamburger. Hamburger is always a great way to enjoy the product. It allows you to enjoy the flavor without worrying about tenderness. Cook as with any burger.
2. Steaks. I enjoy very rare steaks but not when they are natural forage or grass fed! Lean meats need to be cooked a little to make them tender—but not too much or they get tough again. There is a sweet spot right around medium rare to medium. Rarer than this and the meat is tough. Longer cooking times to medium-well and well-done also give a tougher steak. I cook to an internal temperature of around 150 and then remove from the grill — the temperature will continue to rise to around 155 — perfect!
3. Steaks. With corn fed beef I used to eat very thick fillets—often 2 inches thick or more. Not with grass fed. The best are steaks around 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. This makes it easier to control the cooking time and the thin steaks are actually more tender than thicker ones.
4. Roasts. Cook roasts in a crock pot on low overnight. You can also slow cook them on a Weber grill with indirect heat. The secret is to use low temperature and long cooking times.
5. Spices for steaks. Thaw steaks before cooking. An hour or so before you cook sprinkle with a mixture of kosher salt, powdered instant espresso, and cocoa powder. Try it—you will amaze your friends with the great taste—no one will be able to guess the spices and you can keep it as your own secret recipe.
What is Agroforestry?
Agroforestry or silviculture is a conservation effort of growing pine trees and managing hardwoods using cattle in a way that compliments each other and makes maximum sustainable use of the land.Hudson River Landing Farm is providing a model of how to use heritage Pineywoods cattle as a powerful landscaping agent. The goal is conservation and sustainability with an emphasis on grade hardwood, softwood saw timber and preservation of the Pineywoods breed.
Why don’t you raise wheat or corn on Hudson River Landing Farm?
Wouldn’t crops like wheat, corn, or soybeans be more ecologically correct? Everyone knows that it takes 10 pounds of vegetation to make a pound of beef—if you grew wheat you could feed more people.
The answer to this lies in understanding the rocks, geology, soil, and climate of the northeast Georgia Piedmont. 350 million years ago all of north Georgia was part of a long mountain range similar to the modern Himalayas. The area now at the surface was about 15 kilometers (6 miles) beneath the surface (imagine deep beneath Mt. Everest!).
Gravity wears things down and rain dissolves minerals. Through time the mountains have eroded away leaving a core of crystalline rocks called gneiss and schist. The gneiss of north Georgia is high in silica, iron, and aluminum with only a little bit of calcium, magnesium, potassium and other elements needed for cash crops to flourish.
To complicate matters Georgia has a warm wet climate. Things dissolve faster in warm water than cold (can you dissolve sugar in cold tea?). The rain acts on the rocks like boiling water draining though ground coffee. All of the goodies get carried away leaving useless grounds behind—the north Georgia soil. In this case the little bit of soluble calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous (all needed for nutritious plant growth) that did exist in the rocks gets carried away and eventually ends up in the Savannah River and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.
Left behind is a thick red saprolite soil with concentrated iron (rusted red to give the soil its color) and aluminum. It is not cost-effective to grow cash crops in these soils, as it would take too much expensive commercial fertilizer, a dwindling natural resource. However, the thick soils hold water very well and can support lush grass, brush, and trees. People cannot digest this cellulose directly and they do not hold enough food content to make it work boiling and eating them directly.
Cattle are one of the few machines we know capable of converting this vegetation into protein usable by humans. When you eat our beef you should be assured that you are consuming food that has made the most efficient use possible of the soils of the region.
I have heard that eating rare meat and beef can lead to mad cow disease and other serious illness. Is this true?
While nothing in life is certain there is lot of misinformation about this topic.
What is “Mad Cow Disease?”
Mad cow disease is caused when cattlemen try to raise the maximum amount of beef on a small feedlot. Because there is not enough natural grass to feed the animals, growers look for an inexpensive food source. Although currently banned in the U.S., sometimes cattle food is actually made from the parts of other animals (cattle, chickens, meat by-products & blood). This is usually how cows get the disease—from eating meat products.
Cows were designed to eat grass not meat or meat by-products! Our cattle eat only natural northeast Georgia grass, shrubs, and trees. Because we do not feed our cattle (other than a few grain-molasses treats!) this is not a concern.
Hamburger and E. Coli
The other problem with illness comes from eating rare hamburger that has been contaminated with bacteria. This illness, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), occurs when one eats food contaminated with E. coli and other bacteria. HUS follows typical symptoms of food poisoning and can lead to severe diarrhea and intestinal bleeding. The widely publicized scares have caused many people to avoid burgers and to overcook their steaks. The problem comes from the commercial butchering process. High volume slaughterhouses often have very unsanitary conditions and the carcasses can become contaminated with feces.
Compounding the problem is that, in a high volume lot, it is impossible to avoid a few sick animals. Often the burger you buy at the supermarket can have meat from up to 1,000 different animals.
Because the bacteria gets intimately mixed into the meat in the grinding process the only way to kill the bacteria is to cook the burger to well-done with no pink center. When you buy our animals you can rest assured that you will be getting meat from a single healthy animal butchered humanely in a small clean shop. While it may be safest to not eat any hamburger that is under cooked, the risk of illness is greatly reduced.
How About Steaks?
Steak is another matter and is the subject of much misinformation. Commercial steak can still be contaminated in the butchering process. However, unlike ground beef, the meat is from a single animal. Because the meat is not ground, bacterial contamination stays on the surface.
Eating rare stake is safe as the searing heat of a grill kills all of the surface bacteria. Our steaks are even safer as we assure healthy animals and a clean butchering process. Furthermore, the meat does not contain pesticide residues, antibiotics, or growth hormones.
Why do you charge a premium above market price for your animals?
Taxes on the land, fences, and labor cost money!
Commercial cattlemen make their money by producing the maximum weight in the shortest possible time. They do this by raising commercial breeds of cattle bred to gain weight fast. They place the maximum number of cattle on the smallest possible amount of land and feed supplements. At about 12 months of age they are sent to a commercial feedlot, usually in the Midwestern corn belt, where the real horrors start. Force feeding corn and other supplements along with growth hormones and steroids make the animals really put on weight fast. The animals are packed into the pens and can barely move insuring that most of the gain is in the form of fat. Even though inhumane this allows maximum profit in the shortest possible time. Typically, feeder calves are sent to the lots at around 9-12 months of age and 500-600 lbs. After they have been on the lot and force-fed for 90-160 days they weigh 1,000-1,200 lbs. Even so, cattle ranching is a high-risk business and most cattlemen operate on a very thin margin—at today’s market prices they would not stay in business without use of these techniques.
By contrast, raise our cattle on natural forage using grass fed techniques. We operate a farm that is humane to our animals and friendly to predators. These techniques are designed for sustainability and conservation rather than extracting maximum profit from the land.
We market our feeder calves at 14 to 18 months at a weight of 450-600 lbs. This is lean healthy high-protein meat but we do not enjoy the profits created by the large weight gain at the feedlot. Currently, we are in the process of obtaining organic, humane and predator friendly certifications. Our premium allows us to market lean healthy cattle, to keep our pastures uncrowded, and to never run a feedlot!
What was that? I thought HRLF raised cattle—that sure looked like a goat…
We raise other types of rare and endangered “heritage” livestock on Hudson River Landing Farm.
You are correct. Other old-breed heritage animals with broad gene pools call HRLF home. Depending on the time of year, you may find heritage goats (Oberhasli, fainting goats), heritage turkeys (royal palm), heritage chickens, and even antique tail dragger airplanes.
Goats really make a lot of sense and, like agroforesty, can boost the yield of both the cattle and the goats. Even though Pineywoods eat many more types of vegetation than domestic beef breeds there is a limit! They really don’t like blackberry, cherry trees, pokeberry, and other weeds.
Goats, however, prefer these weeds. By eating the vines that the cattle don’t like, goats help to keep the pastures open and increase the amount of grass. We think that this type of agriculture just makes good sense and eliminates the need for herbicides. If you like goat or turkey meat just ask—we may be able to help.
We specialize in Chevon (young goat meat) similar to veal but with more texture and flavor and very low fat.
In addition to goats, we also have exotic chickens and are considering Choctaw or Marsh Tacky ponies (both a landrace of Spanish horse).