Dig In: Field trip to Maryland Creek Ranch
“Do it by the Almanac,” Mike Bohrer at Maryland Creek Ranch assures us. Each fall, he weans his Scottish Highland calves by the Almanac. This year, he has five. They will spend two years grazing on spring-fed pasture in the High Rockies growing to slaughter weight. “There’s a time for everything,” Mike explains. Even potty training, he adds. “That’s what we did with our kids. By the Almanac.” If only I had known!
The cattle are not house-broken, but they are treated like family. In early October, we planned a field trip to Maryland Creek Ranch just north of Silverthorne. During our visit, Mike and his daughter Renee greeted the herd with treats, pats and a wire brush for combing through their woolly hair. These thousand pound cattle, with thick curling horns, nuzzle the ranchers like dogs, whine to be brushed and grunt in satisfaction.
“When you’re raising animals with horns, the more docile and gentle you can get ’em, the better,” he said.
The process starts about this time each year when the calves are brought down from the pasture to be weaned.
“They’ll spend the first two to three weeks down here, and we’ll what we call imprint them. … We hand feed them. We start brushing them. We get them tamed down, so that they’re not afraid of humans. We walk in there, and they just come right up.”
For these pampered cattle, pedigree is important. Mike explains that most breeders take a Highland bull and breed to any kind of cow.
“They can legally sell that as 100-percent Highland, which I don’t think is right. … There’s very few of us breeders (who) actually use Highland bulls and Highland cattle,” he said.
However, his 100-percent Highland cattle herd currently has four guests, an assortment of Angus cattle from Kansas.
This is an experiment that seems to be largely the idea of Renee’s Kansan boyfriend, Bo. I detect a deeply rooted Colorado/Kansas beef rivalry playing out here. Highland beef is very different from Angus, the breed typically raised for our NY Strips and Ribeyes. It all comes down to growth rate and marbling.
Angus cattle grow to 1,000 pounds in one year and then are slaughtered. They have a thick layer of fat between the skin and muscle and less of the desirable intramuscular fat attributed to good marbling. Typically, they are raised on grain to make them grow faster.
“If you fed your kids candy bars and ice cream every day, they’ll survive and they’ll probably be pretty plump, but it’s the wrong kind of fat. You can fatten a cow up with a lot of grain, and they’ll get there quicker.” Mike is speaking my language.
Highland cattle take two years to get to slaughter weight, and, during that time, they are kept cozy in their dense fur coats, even in our Alpine climate, so they don’t need as much fat to keep them warm. Instead, they have more intramuscular fat, “and that’s where the flavor’s at,” Mike says.
Maryland Creek Ranch beef is incredibly flavorful, and it’s also incredibly good for you. These are grass-fed cattle raised naturally, without hormones or steroids. Industrially-raised cattle are fed corn and soy and have steroid implants in their ears. Highland beef, raised on pasture, is an excellent source of Omega-3’s and is as lean as buffalo.
When Bo suggested to Renee that they bring home some Angus cattle from his family ranch in Kansas, she proudly scoffed, “I raise Highland.” Renee describes sampling Kansas Angus beef, “just browning hamburger … why is there so much grease!” Nonetheless, the Angus have arrived, and everybody seems to be getting along.
“Cattle are cattle” Mike says. Even if it is an Angus, he knows that any cattle raised on his grass pastures will taste great. “This is a hay meadow. It’s what they eat.” He will continue to breed his Highland cattle, while Bo and Renee will breed the Angus with her Highland heifer to get something new.
“Being a parent ain’t easy,” Mike laments. We all grunt in agreement. He speaks proudly of his children, now grown and on their own paths. I watch my own kids climb the rungs of the pasture fence whispering, “come here moo moo cow,” and think I’d better go get an Almanac.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s “The New Best Recipe”
½ cup ketchup (I use Sir Kensington’s or homemade)
¼ cup coconut sugar
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp pastured butter
1 medium organic onion, quartered
1 small organic carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stick organic celery, coarsely chopped
1 cup collard greens, coarsely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic
2 oz grass-fed beef liver, cubed* or 2 tsp of worcestershire sauce
2 pastured eggs
1 tsp sea salt
about five cracks of fresh pepper
2 tsp dijon mustard
½ cup low-temperature pasteurized, grass-fed whole milk (I use Kalona Supernatural) or additive-free coconut milk (I use Natural Value)
2 lbs grass-fed ground beef
1 cup organic coarse blanched almond meal
8 slices of bacon (I use Beeler’s)
*divide beef liver into pre-cubed 2 oz portions for adding a hint of je ne sais quoi to any beef dish: hamburgers, meatballs, meat sauce, shepherd’s pie, etc. Puree before adding to eliminate liver’s objectionable texture.
For the Glaze:
Mix together all ingredients in a small saucepan. Set aside.
For the Meat Loaf:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in medium skillet. In a food processor, puree the onion, carrot, celery, collards, garlic and liver. Add the mixture to the skillet and saute, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Place the ground beef in a large mixing bowl or standing mixer and combine it with the eggs, salt, pepper, mustard, milk and almond meal. Then add the cooked puree.
Turn the mixture onto a piece of parchment lined baking sheet and, with damp hands, pat into a loaf about 9×5 inches. Coat the loaf with about half the glaze and then cover with the strips of bacon. Overlap them slightly to cover the entire surface and tuck the ends of the bacon underneath the edges of the loaf.
Bake for about an hour, until the bacon is crisp and the internal temperature is 160 degrees. Cool for 20 minutes. While the loaf is cooling, simmer the remaining glaze until it thickens slightly. Slice and top with the glaze to serve.
Striving to grow made-from-scratch kids in a machine-made world, Julia Landon is the chef-owner of Bun in the Oven High Nutrient Bakery. Landon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more inspiration at http://www.bunintheovenfrisco.com or on Instagram or Twitter @BITOFrisco.
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