Monday, December 7, 2009

Salad Bar Beef

Big Red (photo by Muriel Norris Fahrion)

Before I went to Polyface I grew up on the best managed native grassland in Oklahoma, in my opinion. But not only in my opinion, but in others as well. In the year 2002 Phelan Ranch won the Outstanding Rangeland Management Award, an award that was presented by the Society for Rangeland Management (SRM) . Here is a little statement about SRM from their website that will help you fully understand the meaning of this award.

The Society for Range Management is the professional scientific society and conservation organization whose members are concerned with studying, conserving, managing and sustaining the varied resources of the rangelands which comprise nearly half the land in the world. Established in 1948, SRM has over 4,000 members in 48 countries, including many developing nations.

Salad Bar

So, as you can see my father, John Phelan, has been managing our ranch in a sustainable way for many years. As you might imagine, it was not big jump for me philosophically when I went to work for Polyface. On the Phelan ranch we have always focused of land and grass health. We have always called ourselves "Grass Farmers" and claimed to be in the Solar Energy business. You could even say that we are in the business of Sequestering Carbon.

Note: If you think that CO2 is going to cook the planet, buy Salad Bar Beef instead of a Prius! You be sequestering (capturing) carbon instead of merely using less!!!

For those of you not familiar with the term Salad Bar Beef, coined by Joel Salatin, here is a little bit from the Polyface website that will explain the term and the Philosophy.

Herbivores in nature exhibit three characteristics: mobbing for predator protection, movement daily onto fresh forage and away from yesterday's droppings, and a diet consisting of forage only – no dead animals, no chicken manure, no grain, and no fermented forage. Our goal is to approximate this template as closely as possible. Our cows eat forage only, a new pasture paddock roughly every day, and stay herded tightly with portable electric fencing. This natural model heals the land, thickens the forage, reduces weeds, stimulates earthworms, reduces pathogens, and increases nutritional qualities in the meat.

Enjoying the Salad Bar

If we began to think Holistically (that is thinking in term of a whole rather than the pieces), we began to realize that what we do with our livestock management has a tremendous and dramatic effect on the health of the surrounding ecosystem. We must ALWAYS be thinking of our environment as a whole, and how what we are doing affects everything around us. This includes the health of plants and animals, but also the health of our neighbor, be it proximately (chemicals, water quality, etc.) and/or ultimately (health and wellness of those consuming our product).

CAFO... Industrial Beef

The industrial food system is NOT thinking holistically when it builds a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). It has broken livestock needs down into one part and forgotten about the rest of the ecosystem. It has taken a wonderfully created system, I call it the cycle of food, and broken it. Plants feed animals and animals fed plants. What could be more simple? Now, in CAFOs, we feed herbivores food they aren't designed to eat and, on cropland, we feed plants chemicals they aren't designed to consume. You will never convince me that manure from a cows rear-end is the same (in any way from the plants perspective) as petroleum based Ammonium from a tractor.

Before we go on lets not get confused about the livestock in general. Some environmental activists want to eliminate cattle all together. Well, why not? They are producing Methane, a highly destructive greenhouse gas and doesn't red meat cause heart disease and probably cancer?. Do not forget that tens of millions of Bison once roamed North America. That's not even counting all the herds of Methane producing ruminants in Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, and Europe. These animals were and are EXTREMELY vital for the health of the land. Some scientists even say that the very act of grazing (large tongue slurping up loads of grass and spreading saliva everywhere) is extremely important to the health of the plants and soil. And the people that consumed these animals not so long ago did not experience heart disease. Do not be fooled that cattle are the problem.

Mismanagement is the problem.

How do we solve this mismanagement? Should we call our senator? NO WAY. You just get frustrated and then they will pass a bill that will HURT the very people trying to manage land correctly. Instead, lets take what I call the "Voting with the Green Ballot" approach. You vote every day, usually 3-5 times a day with your dollar. What system are you supporting? Who gets your hard earned money? Is it the CAFO, or is it the Salad Bar Beef producer?

Anyway... I'll get down from the soap box and tell you about our herd.

Currently we have a herd of about 30 cattle dedicated for Salad Bar beef. We usually run about 400-600 stockers year around, but they are part of our custom grazing enterprise which I will discuss in detail on a later post. Our plan is to butcher twice or three times a year and sell Wholes, halves, and quarters of beef. If you are interested we will be butchering about June and need orders in by May. The sooner the better... like tomorrow. Once I get a website up and running I will post all specific dates for ordering beef, pork, chicken, etc.

Since I came back in October, we have been striving to feed our herbivores only what they are designed to eat. Rotational grazing is in effect and alfalfa hay and/or alfalfa pellets is used to supplement any protein deficiencies. We do not use Hormones to increase growth and we do not use antibiotics to fight infection. We want to build their immune systems, not prop them up in some unsustainable fashion.

If you would like to see first hand what we do, or have any questions either come and see us or leaving a question in the comment section. Here is a link to us on Google:

Phelan Ranch Location


  1. It may not even take a bill to be passed to hurt you guys...

    We'll see how long it takes before all cattle producers are labeled as bad guys, no matter how many they raise. Maybe you can show the world how things should be done.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Grady -- glad to see you back to blogging! Well, geez - I have a sister that lives in Chickasha - next time I drive down to see her, I'm definitely taking and extra road trip to look you up - doesn't look like you are that far!
    We have cousins over on the east side of Oklahoma (near Perkins/Stillwater) that also use all of Salatin's principals for their rangeland management and their dairy herd. However, they don't have internet or web pages. We enjoy visiting with them, as well, when wanting to talk with people of like mind.
    My prayers and best wishes are with you and your organization!

  3. My hubby and I are "newbies" to country living. I read constantly about hormone free and antibiotic free farming/ranching. Pease tell me how an infection is treated w/o antibiotics. We don't have any critters yet but I plan to get them eventually as $ permits. I want to raise healthy animals. Do critters suffer if their infections are not treated with antibiotics? How are their illnesses treated in a manner not dangerous to humans?

  4. Finally Found you. I e-mailed, phone called and now finally found you with the address and google.
    I just moved to Cordell from Florida. I am sooo glad there is someone in this area that still raised cows on grass. I am in dier need of a "fix" of milk. The real stuff. I have been "on the wagon" since I left Fl. three months ago. I love the web site. I am very anxious to come see you. Will you please call me or email me to setup a time?

    Thanks a bunch. Bonny Allen
    ph. 561-290-8190


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