How long does it take to make a steak?

 This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. I received compensation, but all opinions are my own.

grilled porterhouse steak
How long does it take to make a steak? First question—are you Team Medium-Rare like me? If you are, then it takes about twelve minutes to make a delicious Porterhouse Steak! My favorite way is grilled over charcoal with a bit of woodsmoke, but frankly, even pan-fried in a cast iron skillet is okay with me.

Before that steak appears at the grocery store or restaurant, ranchers like me have already spent up to THREE YEARS of planning and hard work on your steak! Yes, seriously! For National Agriculture Day, March 23, 2021, let’s talk about how long it takes to make a steak!

Let’s start at the beginning. I am a Seedstock Rancher—which is kind of like the person who grows the seeds you buy to plant in your garden, except with cattle. My family and I use many tools to determine which are the best bulls to breed to our cows, that will help in producing the best breeding stock to sell to other ranchers. When I make a breeding decision, it affects the people who buy my cattle, as well as the calves that they raise, and finally the beef that they produce and send to the restaurants and stores!

hair sample for DNA
My customers who buy breeding stock rely on me to sell them the best genetics available. DNA sampling is one of the coolest tools that I use to know the genetics for the bulls that I sell. From a sample of tail hair, the lab can extract DNA, and based on genetic markers we know if the bull’s progeny will have superior marbling characteristics or not! Of course, we want the best marbling so they will make delicious steak. There are other traits that we use to select superior cattle as well, but marbling is very important in determining quality steaks.

My customers use my seedstock (bulls and cows) that I sell to them, to raise cattle that make the beef we eat. A cow’s gestation is nine months, so after purchasing a bull from me, my customers will have calves about a year later, and then they are about 1 ½ to 2 years-old when they are slaughtered for beef.  So, when I say that it takes at least three years to make a steak—I am not exaggerating!

medium rare sliced porterhouse steak

Are you looking for new beef recipes so that you are ready to break out the grill this summer? My favorite place for browsing recipes is and you can find delicious ways to cook steak, roasts and ground beef! Grilling season is just around the corner and on National Agriculture Day, enjoy a steak knowing that a rancher just like me has been working to send you the best steak we can!

Are you Team Medium-Rare? Team Medium? Or maybe even Team Rare? How do you like your steak? You can trust that it is safe and nutritious, and that I have done all the work and planning to bring the best steak to your grill.

Why do ranchers burn their pastures? Five beneficial reasons to put up with the smoke

Less than 4% of the original Tallgrass Prairie remains in America and most of that is in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The prairie is comprised of native grasses--not planted by any human. Even though it was designed by Nature, it is mankind's responsibility to help maintain the prairie. 

"If we want it to be here for the next generation, and the next generation, then we gotta do what Mother Nature did before we came here, and we've got to burn it quite often to keep the grassland a grassland."  --Mike Holder, Flint Hills Extension District. Mike is one of my heroes--an old cowboy who loves the prairie and isn't afraid to fight for it!

In late March and April, the skies in Kansas are often filled with smoke and even metropolitan areas may see the haze of smoke and smell the fires. Often, people with breathing problems have even more trouble with the smoke. So, why do ranchers set their grass on fire? Here are the top five reasons my family sets controlled fires on our prairie grass:

5.  To encourage wildlife population -- what's good for the livestock, is good for wildlife!
"Fire is critical to prairie chickens and other grassland birds, because it keeps those trees out of the prairie. If you do not burn, you end up getting woody encroachment out into those grasslands and what that does is provide habitat ...for predators that prey upon prairie chickens and other grassland birds."  Jim Pittman, Ks Dept of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

4.  Weed control -- Kill woody shrubs and trees. Some people may claim that this is the #1 reason to burn, and frankly, all five reasons are all very closely tied together.  Back when the Indians and buffalo roamed free on the Kansas prairie, lightning storms lit fires that raged over thousands of acres in one big bonfire.  Once the grass began to regrow, the buffalo came to the fresh, tender grass.  The inhabitants also noticed that fire kept killing back the woody weeds and that kept trees from invading the native pristine prairie. So the Indians began lighting the first controlled burns and history was made!   In addition to controlling weeds, burning the grass promotes diversity in the grassland. The beauty of the native prairie is that it isn't comprised of only one plant. Many different grasses and forbs combine to make a healthy, sustainable grassland.   "The ranchers in eastern Kansas are really kind of stewards of one of the last pieces of the most important ecosystem in north America,"   Karl Brooks, EPA Region 7.

3.  Promote better utilization of grasses by livestock.  Cattle like to eat where it is the easiest to get to the grass, and as they eat, fresh tender grass regrows.  There may be luscious, nutritious grass on the next hillside, but often the cattle stay where they are content. So they don't eat down the other hillside and the grass grows tall and lank there. It doesn't taste as good to them, and they ignore it.  So we burn off the lank, old grass to encourage fresh, tender and more nutritious grass to grow on that hill as well, luring the cattle there. That is better for the land, not just because there is more to eat, but also it helps control erosion and compaction from cattle walking all over the same land.

2. Better weight gain on livestock with fresh, green, more nutritious grass.  The Kansas Flint Hills is mostly Cow Country! Yes, there is plenty of crop ground, too. But for the most part, the hillsides and tops are too rocky to farm. So we manage the grass for cattle to use it.  Much of this land isn't fit to grow crops, so we bring nearly a million head of cattle here for a few months in the summer to eat the grass and turn it into something we humans can consume.  I can't eat grass--but cattle can convert it to protein.  It has been proven that calves grow better on new, fresh grass that doesn't have the old dead grass it must grow through.

1.  Use fewer chemicals.  Mother Nature is amazing and constantly changing. One of the biggest reasons we have lost 96% of the native prairie is because it was either good enough land to grow crops, or it has become infested with trees.  Cattle don't eat trees and when the eventual infestation of Eastern Redcedar engulfs a part of the prairie, we have lost use of the land as well as the positive impacts of deep-rooted, carbon-sequestering native plants. Without fire to control the woody invasion, we will have to turn to chemicals for widespread control.  That not only increases expense, but also labor and safety. 

A few years ago, farmers and ranchers participated in a program to voluntarily choose when to burn pastures, based on wind patterns, meteorological data and amount of land to burn. This video explains much about the science of burning pastures, and the science of ozone and what we as caretakers of the land do to manage the fire and choose when to burn. And if you watch the whole video, you may see me a few times--along with many of my grassland management mentors!! (Be sure to leave a comment if you watch it all and if you saw me!)

"Fire is the only way to maintain it. It's too important an ecological asset to lose..." Brian Obermeyer, The Nature Conservancy

Through the years, I have written lots of blog posts about the pasture fires that farmers and ranchers set in April in Kansas. Here is a compilation:

How do cows have their babies?

Often the first sign of a cow in labor is her raised tail. She will look for a place to be alone. The membranes may appear as a water "balloon" that will burst and you can then see the calf's front feet.
I usually don't get to see calves actually born. We have about 300 calves on our ranch each year, but when I see a cow in labor, I leave her alone to have her calf and I return in about 30 minutes to see a live calf. She will be licking it and teaching it to nurse. So when a heifer was in labor yesterday in the sunshine, I decided to get my camera and sit and watch. From the point of when the calf's feet are showing, to delivery, it should only be about 30 minutes.

A heifer should calve within 30 minutes of the feet being presented. I check to make sure the calf is presented correctly by how the feet look. If they're upside down, the calf is backward and we need to help her deliver.

Uh-oh. She sees me! Cattle like to be alone and protected when they calve. Soon she is too busy pushing to worry about me. I hid behind the feed bunk!

You can see the calf's nose now. The front feet should come first, with the nose and head next. He kind of looks like he is diving out!

Soon the head is pushed out with the calf's knees (or elbows?!). The membranes are still around the calf.

Very quickly the cow pushes the calf out. The shoulders can be a difficult part. But this time, the calf's shoulders slide right out.

The cow is really concentrating and I can sneak closer.

She has the calf pushed out to his rib cage, and he tries to breathe, but he can't yet because his rib cage is still compressed. His tongue is sticking out reaching for a breath!

As his rib cage is pushed out, he stretches out to take a breath. The mama cow is still focused on her contractions.

The hips can also be a point of difficulty. If the cow's pelvis is shaped wrong, or if the calf is very large, it may become "hiplocked." As the calf is born, it rotates slightly to free the hips.

Unfortunately as the calf rotates, this time his head becomes rotated and his body pushes it around. If he doesn't straighten out quickly, he may suffocate!

The heifer finishes pushing the calf out. She must now stand up soon and begin licking the calf to get him to breathe immediately.

Another successful delivery! Congratulations, it's a boy!

Grow what you love!

I love, love, LOVE fresh garden produce! But I really don't have time to grow a large garden. That confession is really difficult for me. You see, my grandma was a committed gardener. My mom is an excellent gardener and I'm pretty mediocre! The previous two generations relied on garden produce to feed their families, but I have a really good supermarket just a short drive away. (well, my grocery store is 30 miles away, but realistically, that is a half hour drive and that is no big deal!)

TED app

It all started in 1986--I went to Japan to promote Kansas beef in the Daiei supermarkets and I was hooked! Through the years, communication has changed and consumers have changed. I often hear criticism for the "Millennial" consumer, and I vehemently disagree! These young people are interested in many of the things that farmers and ranchers also care about:  protecting the environment, caring for animals and making things better! What a perfect opportunity to answer questions about how food is raised. 

I have been involved in connecting with consumers for many years--both in person and digitally. A few examples are below. In addition, I routinely host people to visit my ranch and a few blog posts about their visit are also listed below.

Presentations available online:

  • State of NOW Twitter Conference #140You in July 2013 in New York City at the 92nd Street YMCA,  Title: Have No Fear, Empower Yourself

  • National Farm Mom of the Year, 2012: Farm Moms and City Moms have the same concerns

Posts by Visitors to my ranch:

"Truth is, my perspective was way wrong.  I have been digesting all that I learned and have so much more to do.  There is much more to come, but for now, I will tell you to please get the big picture and your own information.  It is always important that you do your own research, so you can form your own opinion based on fact." --Dana Zucker
"Not long after piling into Debbie’s pickup truck with my three kids and mom, we were lucky enough to roll down our windows and witness the birth of a calf from about 5o meters away."  --Liz Heineke
"The perception I had of ranchers like Debbie was not of them having herds that looked like a calm group of cows just hanging out.  If they are poked and pushed and not treated with a gentle hand, why didn’t they just run to the open field when the gate opened. Truth is, these herds are treated well, very well.  They are fed before the family and when everyone else is tucked into bed on a iced over day, the family is out making sure the herd has food and water."  --Dana Zucker
 "The family ranchers’ dedication to caring for their cattle and their land was mind-blowing. They said several times how they look at it a “gift from God” which explains their dedication and hard work. Their compassion and love of their way of life shined through every single person that we met." --Ashley Prescuitti

Relevant Blog Posts on KidsCowsandGrass by topic:

"I believe that we have a responsibility to treat our cows and calves with respect--that means we provide everything they need to have a good life including space to roam and abundant food and water."
"I am so grateful that you chose to allow your special person to become my hero. I cannot imagine the pain of losing your child, but I came very close. You are in my thoughts every day, and I want you to know that my boy is doing his best to live a good life to honor your child."

Let's talk!

Thank you for reading! If you like this post, I would appreciate any comments and shares. You can see a bit more about me and my family here, and connect with me on facebook and twitter! Please do! Connecting is the WHOLE POINT of blogging! I'd love to hear from you.