Is your beef processed on a small scale by an artisan skilled in safe and proper preparation or on a massive scale in an industrial packing plant by low skilled labor dependant upon irradiation, antimicrobial steam baths and other technologies to remove bacterium? At Wolf Creek Farm, we partner with, Fauquier's Finest Butchers, an Animal Welfare Approved and USDA inspected artisanal abattoir for our processing.
Our animals take the 30 minute ride to our local abattoir at daybreak in small groups in our farm trailer. Animals remain calm during this short journey as they have become accustomed to trailering during our “practice moves” between pastures during their lives on our farm. They are harvested immediately (typically no more than six to eight animals per day) and remain calm through the harvest process. As a result, the meat remains free of adrenaline and other natural substances that are produced by animals when they come under stress, and cause their meat to become tough and to spoil more quickly.
Contrast this with the concentration of the four giant meatpacking companies (Excel, Tyson's subsidiary IBP, Monfort, and National), where 80% of the beef cattle born in the US are slaughtered. Cattle are shipped long distances in tractor trailers carrying fifty or more animals crowded together and then wait for hours in trailers queued at the processing plant or in the vast holding pens surrounding the plant. Between the transport and holding pens, these animals spend their final day(s) in strange surroundings being handled by strangers who have little affinity for these creatures. This stressful environment is the antithesis of Animal Welfare Approved. The processing plants, or "disassembly factories" are staffed almost exclusively with minimum wage, immigrant labor, where they process thousands of animals daily with line speeds often exceeding 400 animals per hour, or more than one every ten seconds.
Is your beef dry-aged (as was the norm until the early 1980s) where the carcass is hung for 7-21 days allowing natural enzymes to break down the muscle fibers and tenderize the meat while it loses excess moisture, or is it wet-aged (as is the case with nearly 99% of beef today) where the meat is immediately placed in plastic bags and aged in its own blood juices on the way to the restaurant or retailer? At Wolf Creek Farm, we use traditional dry-aging prior to flash freezing in vacuum packs to ensure the highest quality beef.
Our natural grass-fed animals' carcasses are hung and dry-aged to enhance their flavor, a traditional process in grass finished beef that has been all but lost in the industrial processing centers that handle only grain finished beef. After hanging from seven to twenty-one days, the beef is then cut into the customer's desired mix of end products, vacuum-sealed, and flash frozen. Our beef is transformed from live animals to fresh frozen, dry-aged individual cuts and immediately returned to our farm, where it enters deep freeze storage, awaiting customer pick-up.
Contrast this with the commercial beef industry, where the cattle are slaughtered in huge numbers, continuously throughout the day, often seven days per week. Where the beef is then wet-aged in huge refrigerators, hanging with thousands of other carcasses, from a variety of animals from different feedlots, as well as cull or "downer" cows and spent bulls that have been shipped in from commercial dairies and meat conglomerates' herds. Wet-aged because it is faster and because the proteins in grain-fed beef begin to break down much more quickly than in naturally grass finished beef, giving grain-fed beef an off taste and color if it is dry-aged. These carcasses are then irradiated, or as the industry refers to it "cold pasteurized" and subjected to antimicrobial "steam baths" to eliminate the harmful bacteria that might have entered the intestines during feedlot phase and contaminated the meat during the rapid and mechanized processing. Carcasses are then cut into large pieces, or primals, and this boxed beef is then shipped to the cutting plants, often attached to the slaughter-house or in large warehouse locations or super market distribution centers, where it is cut into individual cuts, placed on Styrofoam meat platters, wrapped in plastic wrap to wet-age further in its own blood juices and offered to the consumer as "fresh". This industrial, feedlot grain-fed, wet aged beef transported hundreds or thousands of miles cannot compare to grass-finished, dry aged, flash frozen, locally grown beef for true eating pleasure.