For me, it's important to know where my food comes from. It's important to know who it comes from. And most of all, at any chance I get, I try to go and actually see where it comes from. I've been buying beef from NHB for years now and Frank, the farmer, is everything you want a farmer to be. Big, jovial, dedicated and most of all honest and open. Kate and I asked him if we could visit the farm and on Sunday he invited us out and we jumped at the chance to come see the farm and learn what Frank is doing and how he does it.
Frank raises highland cattle, a survivor breed from Scotland that are perhaps my favorite breed of cow. They are smart, full of personality and incredibly resourceful. On top of it all, they are absolutely the cutest little cows ever, and produce a beautifully red, balance of lean and fat product that is second to none in my opinion. In a country where it's all "Black" (Black Angus) a variety in meat taste and breed is a welcomed change. Frank raises all his cattle on pasture with a hay and silage supplement when needed, but uses an all natural program with absolutely no chemicals whatsoever.
As we walked up to meet Frank after arriving at the farm, which is about 25 minutes from my home, it was immediately evident how much care he takes for his animals. With 200 acres and 250 head, there is very little smell which is amazing if you've ever been around a farm of any type, let alone a cattle operation. The cattle were active, playing and more curious than I've ever seen cattle to strangers walking around.
Frank greeted us in front of one of the pens where mothers and calves go to be together and talked to us about a calf that he got a call about yesterday when we were talking to him at the Farmer's Market. The little calf got her leg stuck in the feeder and was pretty weak. The little girl was doing well and recovering, but as we were talking, a couple of heifers came over to check in on her, to which Frank called out " She'll be ok Lulu ". Kate and I looked at each other and smiled, because it was as we expected, Frank is a softy.
You see, as I mentioned earlier, Frank embodies the physical stereotype of a farmer. He's a guy that if you saw him angry, you'd avoid him. Kate however said, " I bet you he baby talks to them all … ", and sure enough, this couldn't be further from the truth.
Frank walked us into the pen to go say hello to Lulu who is a national champion and 12 years old. She is a beautiful cow and tolerant of handling. I stress tolerant because we're not Frank. Frank could probably hang around her neck, but she "let" us pet her and at one point bowed her head to say, "Yup, I've had enough…", to which Frank spoke up … " LULU, be good… " and Lulu walked away sulking and knew she got scolded. Frank then proceeded to call her back and baby talk her into her ear to ease her concerns.
This was by no means an exception, it became clear that he knew every single cow and their names and what their individual personalities were, and this led to one of two questions where Frank looked at me as if I was an idiot:
" Do you know all of their names? " " Of course, why wouldn't I? "
He continued to walk us around and talk to us about how his program works, the meticulous records he keeps about temperament and meat production and weight gain and all that jazz. He is a very very proud man and rightfully so, he has an incredible farm with beautiful animals and show quality animals with the all natural program. He has a number of cattle, both bull and heifer that are national champions, even in the gaining category. The thing that's amazing is a big component of his program is a selection based on temperament traits. It's important for him to be able to handle the bulls and be able to be in there and work with them. This was demonstrated first hand when he begun petting one of his star herd studs and even pulled on his tail to let him know he was there. The bull not only didn't care, but even turned to come say hello. Beautiful animal that was 905 lbs at 9 months old when he was younger.
As we continued to talk, Frank's love for the animals was as evident as the sun we were standing under. Laugh after Laugh about how names got picked, and how two of the cattle were named Jim and how he acquired Meg, his favorite lil girl. During this time is when I asked the second question on which he thought I was an idiot:
" Do you get attached to those you take in for processing? Do you just drop them off or do you watch? " " Of course I do. " (He launched into a story about a favorite black cross he had that used to come down to the fence to his mom for scratches and belly rubs. ) " I take them in myself and put them down right away so that there is no stress or concern."
This, in my opinion, is why the meat is so good. Not a day of stress, a life full of love and their master being the last thing they see. Sure it's emotional, and it should be, its taking a life. A life of something you cared for for over two years (Frank's cattle get to 'market' weight in no less than 2 years because no growth hormones are used ), and a detachment from that emotion and life would be far more strange.
The visit was absolutely fantastic and Frank has stories for years to tell. He's a farmer through and through, has been his whole life and wants to do nothing else. Since he was a teenager, his full time job has been that of a hoof trimmer. If you think about what I just said, this guy has a full time job on top of his 250 head of cattle. He manages the entire operation with the help of his son sometimes, and this is amazing to me. It would challenge even seasoned farmers to manage a farm that size with the help of staff as their full time job, and Frank does it himself on top of a full time job.
Frank and NHB are what farming is all about. If it was all a question as to whether or not farmer's markets were important, it saved Frank's farm. Because of feed costs and Big Ag pushing out small farmers, it's becoming increasingly difficult for small scale farmers to make a living. The Boulder and Longmont farmer's markets saved Frank's business and his passion. Support your local markets, support your local farmers. It's a lifestyle choice that should be supported and ensured to carry on for years to come.
" How could you eat a cow you know? " " How could you eat a could you don't know " - Conversation had with me and a Whole Foods patron