Meet Your Meat: What to Know When Buying High-Quality Meat Around Boulder

We recently sat with Craig Tabor from Locavore and grilled him about meat. Craig is a renaissance man who studied economics and physics, served in the navy, worked as an executive chef and then ran a very successful business in Boulder before starting Locavore Delivery. Now he sources and sells top quality, grass-fed meat and is a self-professed chicken herder and bacon enthusiast.  He is also one of our members!

Craig shared with us his wealth of information about local meats and the meat industry in general. He cares deeply about how the animals are treated their entire life, including how they are slaughtered (which also impacts the quality and taste of the meat).

Life on a farm – Quality vs. Efficiency

pasture raised chickens
In his search for the best local meat around, Craig has visited a lot of farms.  He confirmed that everything you imagine happens at a small farm (cows outside eating grass, chickens roaming the ground looking for bugs) isn’t feasible at the larger farms. Logistically, it’s just not efficient with a large numbers of animals.

factory raised chickens

The challenge facing farms big enough to stock a supermarket is that they can’t efficiently sustain a natural environment for their animals. Imagine having 100,000 chickens in Colorado.  First you have to have an enclosed area to protect them from predators both on the ground and in the air.  Then you need to be able to herd them inside and out. And consider the amount of land you would need for a chicken to be able to eat it’s natural diet of plants and insects. It’s just not a feasible reality for large farms.  Most commercially raised chicken are raised several to a cage that are stacked 3-10 cages high.  They never go outside or even roam around on the floor.  Under these circumstances, a farmer can definitely produce low-cost eggs…but there is certainly a tradeoff with the nutritional value.    

Whole Foods is helping medium to large farms to raise standards for more natural meats and has created an Animal Welfare Rating system. This is good news for the animals and the industry in general.

The challenge, when shopping for meat at Whole Foods, was that most of the meat didn’t rate very high on their system – most meats were a Level 1 or 2.  Because of the inefficiencies mentioned above, it’s difficult to get high-quality pasture-raised or grass-fed animals from larger farms.

The Finishing Process: Are You Eating What You Think You Are?

Pasture raised cows, beef BoulderAnother impact to efficiency is the last 90 days of an animal’s life when they get fattened up…the finishing process. Providing less space and feeding cows corn or soy is much cheaper than allowing them the space to eat their natural diet – grass.  So now, most cows are fed corn (which they can’t digest) and while it’s cheap and fattens them up quickly, it makes the animals sick. And this stress in the end contributes to the overall nutritional value of the meat.

The grass-finished animal spends its entire life with access to grass or hay. During the finishing process they are fed as much hay as possible. Since hay is more expensive than corn or soy, this also adds to the cost of animals raised this way.

So if you are trying to avoid beef that is fed corn or soy, you need to find a supply that is grass-fed and grass-finished.

The End Of The Road: How The Animal Is Slaughtered

The slaughtering process also impacts the taste of meat. In traditional slaughterhouses, the animal becomes extremely stressed (think of the all the stress-hormones released into the meat if this process is not well-managed) and if the animal is not stunned properly it will cause blood spots and bone fractures.

Ideally, animals should be slaughtered in facilities designed by someone like Dr. Grandin, who is able to think from the perspective of the animal and has created stress-free slaughterhouses. The animals walk in on their own accord, are slaughtered quickly and experience no fear. The facilities are quiet because there’s no squealing, crying and fighting. It’s as humane as it can be.

The Level of Meat Quality Available Locally.

Here’s Craig’s lowdown on the quality of meat available locally.

 

Poultry

With poultry, Craig says it’s efficiency vs quality – there is no middle ground. On a large scale, a farm like Wisdom Natural Poultry has 3 buildings full of chicken that are all fed corn. If you’re looking for pasture-raised chickens or eggs, the best quality you can expect to get is from a farm share. Eggs from pasture-raised chickens are much higher in omega-3s and are well worth the price.

We have eggs from Craig in the fridge by the front desk.  We’ll hopefully be getting frozen chickens soon.

 

Lamb

Local lamb is hard to source right now because of the time of year. Lamb eats grass and in the winter there is no grass.

Craig is hopeful for grass fed and finished lamb in the next couple of months.  In the meantime, you’ll find lamb at Whole Foods in their Level 1 category.

 

Pork

The tastiest breed of pig is Berkshire. They are also the least efficient. Pigs are either fed soy, corn and whey. The quality of the feed dictates the quality of the meat. You can actually tell what the pig was fed by looking at the meat. If the fat on the edges is almost clear, the pig hasn’t been fed well. The fat will be translucent and rubbery when you cook it. By comparison, a well-fed pig will have fat that is waxy and white and delicious when you cook it. 

The animals Craig sources are fed a high-quality diet, live outdoors on a farm and are slaughtered at a Temple Grandin influenced facility.

 

Beef

Most farmers buy calves in the spring, feed them grass all summer and harvest them in the fall, making it difficult to source grass-fed and finished beef in the winter.

Craig works with a farmer that cuts hay all summer to feed his cattle all winter. The cows are finished with oat grass which has a higher protein content.

Wrapping Up (with Bacon?)

After learning so much from Craig, I couldn’t help appreciate all the work that goes into raising grass-fed and finished animals. We are so lucky to have access to this meat at Crossfit Sanitas!

Craig drops off a different Paleo Packs each week that have a variety of beef and pork (steaks, chops, roasts, ground meat, sausages, bratwurst, bacon, etc.). He checks the prices every week against the market value at Whole Foods and his high quality meats are always less expensive. Prices vary depending on what’s in the there, but they’re usually around $45.  

Farm-fresh eggsWe also get eggs through Craig. They come from Terry and Jackie Osborne that have been in the cage-free/organic egg business for over 20 years.  All of the hens have plenty of room to run around and are fed a soy- and GMO-free diet.