Bubbyswhollycow’s Weblog

Our First Steer

Just about a month ago, my friend Gerry and I were discussing Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food”, when I brought up the fact that he, Gerry, has 600 acres, at least half of it pasture, that would be perfect for raising a few cows. That is how all of this steer discussion began. Last Monday we were delivered a 1200 pound steer, all cut up and frozen. The process has been interesting, just finding the source, establishing a modicum of understanding about what beef farming entails, what kinds of cuts one can expect to encounter, how to begin planning menus using such odd cuts as tongue and kidneys, and how to parse out the prime cuts so that we are not using up all the prime first, thereby leaving us with nothing but tough cuts at the end of the cycle. Not to mention that it takes at least three weeks to organize another animal to begin the process again.

There are a couple reasons I have for keeping this blog. First, if any chef out there is curious as to the process of getting a steer, this can serve as a guide. Second, it will be an interesting process from a culinary perspective: I would like to document some thoughts and uses of various cuts, and share comments and results from the effort. Third, I believe a lot of people are going to become interested in bettering the food chain in general. Maybe this blog will help individuals think about how to feed their families better, and make tasty dishes to boot. And so…

There have been some steer raised on Gerry’s property by a couple of make-shift cowboys. When I brought it up to Gerry, it seemed logical that we could get this guy, Matt, to throw in four or five cows for us.  At the time, neither of us really had any idea as to the real story on raising cattle. I had not read Pollan’s book, and Gerry was jamming it down my throat, saying the book simply reiterated what I believe in anyway, and that I would really like the book.  So, I did not have the understanding at the time of our first cow discussion of the real difference in grass fed animals versus lot fed.  It seemed reasonable to me that if a cow was fattened up by 10% on corn for the last part of its life, it was best for the meat.  Like any other chef or cook or meat oficianado, I have concerned myself with marbling in a steak, picked through eight dry aged prime porterhouses before finding the best marbling, the firmest flesh, the perfect dry-aged patina.  It was a somewhat slow coming to an understanding that the way I thought, the way I was taught, was the way the propagated the biggest man-made health crisis in human history. So, Gerry called Matt and spoke with him.  Matt told us to call someone else, and that someone put us in touch with a couple of cattle farmers.

The first gentleman we met was Lonnie Schaeffer.  My son Abraham and I drove up to Delta, NY and met Gerry and his daughter Isabelle.  Abraham commented right away on the cow smell, and I was reminded of growing up in Utah, where there were some cows and horses around even in my little suburb.  Mr. Schaeffer’s brother, Mr. Schaeffer, met us at our cars and said Lonnie would be along shortly.  Abraham and I started tossing a football and it wasn’t long before the youngster stepped in a big cow patty.  He was disgusted, but we continued playing, and when he stepped in poop again he didn’t notice.  Better play in poop than not play at all.  We could see a few cows milling about, and the scene was something like bucolic, maybe a little romantic.  Let me say here that, in that bucolic moment, all the cows looked like cows to me.  But they’re not all cows.

Here is my current understanding.  I may have to come back and correct myself here.  The animal is a Bovine.  A baby is a calf. A female becomes a cow when she calves. A male is a bull until it has its balls removed and then it is a steer.  I believe if it is not used for meat, but for work, it becomes an ox. This covers the gender specifics I suppose.  But when Mr. Schaeffer, Lonnie that is, showed up, the explanations and questions started flying.  The children were somewhat horrified at what followed.


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