Monthly Archives: October 2011

Holy Cow

 

**This post is a re-print from my other blog Agoge Fitness Systems**

Last Sunday marked a milestone in my family’s journey toward greater health and wellness. We purchase ¼ of a grass fed cow. Specifically this cow came from 2733 Ranch and was a grass finished cow, meaning that it was allowed to forage and live off of grass, a cow’s normal food, it’s entire life.

Feeding my family clean, healthy meats has always been a priority. Cost has, however, always been prohibitive. Just check the meat counter at Whole Foods and you’ll see why. Grass fed ground beef frequently runs in excess of $8 a pound. I have a family of six and we all have healthy appetites. We often eat beef two or three times a week.

So in order to feed us (and actually be full) I have grown accustomed to compromise. Until now most of our meat has come from Sam’s Wholesale. The meat is mass produced, corn fed and antibiotic laden. But, it was meat, of decent quality and most importantly affordable.

No more. Sunday night Samantha and brought home three coolers brimming with beef. We went in with four other families and divided a whole cow. Including processing and fuel costs for the family who drove to retrieve the meat our total cost was less than $800. Our quarter of the cow came in at over 150 pounds. That comes to a few cents more than $5.00 a pound.

Even by my family’s standards this was a fair amount of meat. In preparation we bought a 7 cubic foot freezer and set it up in the garage. Once everything was packed away we realized, if we use the freezer in the garage refrigerator as well, we actually have enough space for half a cow.

Once the cow was divided our take included 50 pounds of ground beef and New York strips, Ribeyes, chuck roasts, shoulder roasts, short ribs, soup bones, stew meat, liver and filets. One thing to note is that your personal mileage will differ each time. First of all the cow is sold in terms of total pounds and so don’t be surprised if you end up with meat from more than one cow. Also the very nature of buying a cow means there will be more some cuts than others. Unless you’re buying the entire cow yourself, you and your partners will have to devise a system of fair distribution.

In our case, everyone walked away happy on Sunday.

Now, all I can think about are recipes.

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Goat Power Part 1

My property is effectively divided into fourths. There’s the front yard, the house proper, the back yard and then the “Back Forty.” The Back Forty is approximately ¼ to 1/3 acre. It sits behind the privacy fence that defines the backyard.

Up until now the Back Forty was wasted space.

It was overgrown with privet, wisteria, briars and hackberry trees. The wisteria is so prolific that it killed one of the hackberry trees which fell during one of this summer’s storms.

When we moved into the house three years ago Samantha and I hacked our way with a machete around the perimeter of the space just to get a feel for what it was like. We discovered the remains of a barbed wire fence along the back and two runs of chain link on either side. I began to formulate an idea.

It always bugged me that I had space that I was paying for but couldn’t use. There are a good five acres of woods between my house and the nearest one behind me, so a wooded buffer isn’t really necessary.

I started looking into the cost of clearing that space and what my options were.

The first option was, of course, the “free” one. I could clear it by hand. With a hack and slash approach I could clear the property on my own. I have machetes, axes and chainsaws. What I don’t have is a tremendous amount of time and this job would take a lot of it. Also there would be the matter of what to do with the brush once it was cleared. Burning would be a questionable option in my area and hauling it off would be every bit as difficult as cutting it down.

I could rent or hire a Bobcat to come and push everything over and pile it up. This would cost me between five and six hundred dollars. The clearing would go much faster but I would still have to deal with the brush.

My third option was an “organic” approach. My grandfather has a farm in middle Tennessee. He raises goats and I have seen first hand their appetite and unbridled capacity to decimate vegetation. I decided for relatively little cost the best option was to bring in goats and let them do the clearing for me. A fence was mostly in place and with a little repair I felt it would be secure enough to keep them penned in. It was not lost on me that I might also have access to a very cheap source of “grass fed” meat to serve to my family. More on that later.

There is a client at the gym who has goats that he uses to keep the brush clear on one of his properties. I had jokingly suggested that he let me “borrow” a few of his goats. To my surprise he said yes and that he had one in particular he’d like to send my way. My friend Bob came over and helped me clear the perimeter and expose the fence. My wife, Samantha and I spent another day shoring it up.

Our main concentration was on the barbed wire fence in the back. We pulled the loose wire tight and reset posts that had fallen over. After a trip to our local Home Depot where we bought more barbed wire, T-posts and a T-post driver, we filled in what I felt were the weak spots. I was expecting an adult goat so I spaced the barbed wire about a foot apart. When I was finished I called Sam and told him we were ready.

I should have know something was up when he volunteered to catch the goat and bring her over himself. I, however, was too excited over how easy this had been and was ready for our new guest to get to work. Sam brought her over and we set her up in the back.

This was early afternoon and I didn’t think much more about it. We had guests coming over for grilled burgers and my thoughts turned to charcoal and what else I was going to put on the grill. My middle daughter Bronwyn, the horse girl, was at the stables all afternoon. She came home after our guests had arrived and while I was working the grill with two apple cores in hand. She breezed by without so much as a “Hello” to our guests saying, “I’m gonna go feed the goat.”

Needless to say, Bronwyn fancies herself as a bit of an “animal whisperer” and the prospect of a new species for her to interact with was more than she could stand.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and if I had it to do over again I would have stopped her. When Sam delivered her he warned me that she was a rescue goat and not overly fond of people. Unfortunately, I was too busy grilling burgers and didn’t take the time to think things out.

Not five minutes had passed when Bronwyn returned with eyes as big as saucers, “The goat got out!”

“What?”

“The goat got out!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes!”

“How?”

“I don’t know!”

Not being really prepared to take a goat yet, I had no corn to entice her back with. So I took a five gallon bucket and a scoop of dog food, hoping that it would sound like corn and that maybe I could entice her back that way. I asked my friend to take over the grill and headed up the hill to see what I could do, Bronwyn followed with tears in her eyes and a look of absolute panic about her.

“Where did she get out?” I asked.

“Over here,” she pointed.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I was trying to feed her the apple core and she just ran through the fence.” More like phased through. There wasn’t any sign of passage. The fence was undisturbed and the barbs were free of goat hair. Clearly one foot spacing was too wide.

I shook my bucket of dog food and called but heard nothing. Dark was fast approaching and there are five acres of woods behind my house. It was time to go in.

Bronwyn was completely distraught. She blamed herself and was convinced that she had killed the goat. I was mad and frustrated but I never blamed her. I blamed myself. The fence was my responsibility and Sam had told me she didn’t like people. Bronwyn was 11 years old and crazy for animals. I should have stopped her.

Nevertheless, she could not be consoled and she went to bed without eating. I resolved the next morning to go out and repair my negligence. I bought corn, a collar, a bell and more T-stakes to repair the fence.

That morning as I was leaving the Ag supply store I got a text from my mother-in-law, Nana. The goat had been found. She heard her bleating next door as everyone was getting ready for school. They chased her almost a quarter mile to the parking lot of a nearby construction company. With the help of one of the employees and a half hour spent chasing her around the parking lot they managed to trap her and get her back home.

By the time I got home everyone was back at the house. The goat was sequestered inside our privacy fence and everyone was relieved and ready to head to school. I made plans to come back in the afternoon bell the goat, fix the fence and return her to active duty.

At noon I received another text from Nana.

“Did u move the goat?”

Crap.

Turns out the goat managed to jump out of a six foot high privacy fence and head out for freedom and whatever fate held in store for her. As best as I can figure she climbed on top of the woodpile. From there she made a leap onto a stack of pallets and used that height to jump the fence.

Crap.

That afternoon I saw Sam again. When we made the exchange we had not exactly been clear on ownership and I was uncertain as to whether this goat was a loan or a gift. With head hung low I related the goat’s story and our failed efforts to recover her. Sam just shrugged it off. It became clear that by taking the goat I had actually done him a favor and now that she was out of his hands he couldn’t care less what happened.

It was at this point that I got more of the full story. This goat was part of a pair rescued by the Humane Society. They were both full grown adults, but the male was much more tractable and useful. She was a pill, being trouble to both the humans who dealt with her and the other goats in Sam’s flock.

The male goat’s name was Clyde. The goat we lost was named Bonnie and somehow learning this brought everything into perspective. Bonnie was, like her namesake,a wildcard destined to be free and to manage her own fate ro die trying. I figure one sunny afternoon while canoing down the Cahaba, which runs a short ways behind our house, that I’ll see Bonnie again. I fully expect she’ll be at the water’s edge eating water plants and in charge of a gang of rogue deer, living her life on her own uncompromising terms. Either that or she’s already been a part of somebody’s barbecue, either way she’s managed to live up to her name.

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Emerson’s Acre

Ralph Waldo Emerson promoted a philosophy of self reliance. He felt the highest life a man could attain was by living according to his own works and his own merit.

I couldn’t agree more.

This blog will be a chronicle of my own efforts to attain a higher life right here right now.

I won’t define my intentions anymore than that simply because I don’t want to write myself into a box.

Here’s what I will tell you. I’m thirty nine years old, married and have three daughters. My mother in law lives with us. We have three cats, two dogs and at present two goats. Our house sits on just under an acre of land with over half of that land being behind the house.

It’s my goal to increase the yield of that land and begin to get more of our sustenance from it.

This is what I am not. I am not anti-social. I generally like people. I am not anti-technology. Obviously. I am not vegetarian. Although I do have several friends who are vegetarian. No, really. I am not anticipating the end of the United States government or the world as we know it. I fully expect that each of these will keep on keeping on regardless of what I do or think about them.

I’m just a guy trying to do the best that he can for himself and his family.

Part of that means providing the best food that I can find in order to ensure that we adults maintain our health for as long as possible and that my children have all that they need to grow as healthy and strong as possible. I work as a personal trainer/massage therapist. I’m self employed and manage a pretty good little business and bring home a comfortable salary.

Could it be better? Yes.

But here’s the rub. As a self employed businessman in a hands on type of work, every dollar I currently make is dependent upon me. I already devote 60+ hours a week to my business. What good am I to my daughters or my wife if I’m never around?

Life has it’s costs. Nothing is free.

But we often get to choose how and when we pay.

I want my family to eat organic produce. I want them to have grass fed beef, clean pork and organic eggs and chickens. Whole Foods sells all of these things and there’s one not too far from my house. But have you seen what Whole Foods wants for an organic, grass feed, free range chicken? We’d starve. We’re six big people with large appetites. Not to mention that I eat Paleo. Whole Foods is not a reasonable option for us.

What’s left? Do the best we can? What’s more important? Organic Produce? Grass fed meats? Are we doing ourselves any favors if our produce is free of pesticides but our meats are loaded with antibiotics and other toxins?

I think I can do better. I think that with the acre lot I have I can meet most if not all of those goals. I can produce organic vegetables. I can raise chickens that will at least provide eggs (chickens for meat is largely dependent on my daughters. We’ve had this discussion before and I usually end up losing badly.)

Again the cost is relatively the same. I just trade labor which I have in abundance for cash which I don’t have as much of. The benefit to me is that I get not only the produce I want but the added benefits of fresh air, exercise and time with my family, not to mention the sense of connection with God, the earth, and being able to see the fruits of my labor going into the growth and sustenance of my beautiful girls. You can’t buy that at Whole Foods.

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