What is upcycling?

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.
That big belly is not because she is pregnant,
but instead it is her 4-part stomach filling up with grass
and helping her make delicious Beef! Upcycling!

Recycling, upcycling, composting, using less and doing more.....those words and ideas are all part of the sustainability picture and the bigger picture of climate change. We all need to do our part and identify ways that we can really make a difference for the environment--and that means cows too! Cows have a really cool ability called "upcycling" and it has already been helping the environment! So what is "upcycling?"

Merriam-Webster dictionary site defines UPCYCLING as "to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item; to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value)."

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!)

The Best Meat Seasoning Recipe...EVER!

Seriously, I NEVER exaggerate...well, mostly never...almost never, but THIS stuff is awesome! I have made it for years and given it for gifts.  After receiving a mason jar of this seasoning for a Christmas gift, my friends start dropping hints about July 15 that they are starting to run low on my seasoning.

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 BeefItsWhatsforDinner.com 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:

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.