If you suggest to Jim Lintott that grass-fed beef is tough, he’ll tell you in an second it simply isn’t true.
Lintott says tests conducted over two years at the University of Manitoba gave a high tenderness rating to the beef produced by Manitoba Grass-Fed Beef Association members.
But you don’t need research to convince the shoppers at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, where you’ll find Lintott every weekend, that grass-fed beef has a melt-in-the-mouth consistency.
“They say it cooks better and tastes better than conventional beef,” says Lintott.
The secret? Feeding, genetics and aging. And grass eaten at the right time.
Lintott believes young grass grazed either early or late in the season has a high sugar content that reacts with bacteria in the rumen to generate the same kind of energy as grain in order to produce well-marbled tasty meat.
Not only that, but research suggests grass-fed beef is high in nutrients such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), reputed to have anti-cancer properties, and heart-smart omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed beef is also considered high in beta carotene and vitamin E.
Tender, tasty, good for your health and environmentally friendly. That’s grass-fed beef in a nutshell, its proponents say.
That’s probably the reason Lintott can’t keep up with the demand, even though he sells for a premium. He completely ran out of tenderloin on a recent weekend at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, despite charging $19.79 a pound, about twice what you’d pay at Safeway.
If grass-fed beef is so popular, why isn’t it more available? Lintott says it will be once he and his producers develop a marketing system.
Doing your own marketing is always an uphill battle for farmers who are traditionally great at producing products but not always skilled at promoting them.
But that could change for Lintott’s grass-fed beef producers next year when Plains Processors Ltd., a provincially inspected abattoir in Carman becomes federally licensed. That’ll allow Manitoba Beef, a marketing company owned by Lintott and his colleague Randy Tkachyk, to sell their product outside the province.
Lintott is already planning a trip to Vancouver in August to develop relationships with buyers. Alberta is also seen as a good potential market.
They currently direct market most of their beef through home sales and farmers’ markets. Several Winnipeg restaurants and retail stores also carry the product under a certified Manitoba grass-fed beef label.
Besides selling high-end cuts, such as steaks, they also market further-processed products, including saskatoon berry sausages, meat pies, paté and dill farmer sausage, which use lower-end cuts.
NEW SHELF SPACE
Lintott and his five colleagues received a boost earlier this year when Vita Health stores in Winnipeg began stocking their ground meat and value-added products.
That’s a long way from Safeway and Sobey’s, but still a good foot in the retail door, Lintott says.
The Manitoba Grass-Fed Beef Association owns the protocol for producing the beef. The Springfield Cattle Company, a shareholder corporation involving the six producers, owns the animals.
Currently, the company’s 200 cattle, including 65 cows, are located on scattered pastures around southeastern Manitoba. Lintott and his producers plan to consolidate them on two 250- acre pieces of land, which they are already fencing.
Another 400 grass-fed cows owned by other producers in the province operate under the same protocol. Cattle usually remain on pasture year round with bush for shelter and bale grazing in winter.
Having all animals on one pasture makes for a holistic, environmentally sustainable system in which rotational grazing, haying and manure management come together simultaneously, Lintott says.
Being small has other advantages, too. Lintott says his company can provide traceability for every pound of beef and will soon put numbers on food product labels representing the actual animal from which the ground beef came. It is also starting to profile its farms and farm families on the MGFBA website. [email protected]
“Itcooksbetterand tastesbetterthan conventionalbeef.”
– JIM LINTOTT