Skip Rock Ranch combines great genetics, low stress handling, proper nutrition, and a small town butcher shop to provide better beef at a great value. It is a healthy, sustainable farm to table concept in which you are an active participant.
When we were growing up, we didn't go to the grocery store to buy meat on a styrofoam tray, shrink wrapped in plastic. Mom went to the butcher at Franka's Grocery Store in El Campo, Texas, where she selected our cut of meat, and Mr. Polasek wrapped in front of us. Out of economy, many folks would order a side of beef from the butcher and have it cut to order. Usually, we would buy a whole steer from the Wharton County youth fair that had been raised as a 4H or FFA project by someone we knew. Over time, our family moved into buying all of our meat from the grocery store on those yellow styrofoam trays. Maybe it was just more convenient and not too much more expensive at the time. We probably thought it was "progress."
Now we live in an age of factory farms with slaughter facilities that process hundreds of thousands of cattle a year. Cattle are finished in feedlots using steroids, antibiotics, hormones, and fed diets that are far from what Mother Nature ever intended. In Texas, more of our beef is now coming from feedlots and slaughter plants in Mexico, Australia, and South America. Meat is packaged with additives and preservatives to extend shelf life. Stores even treat the meat with carbon monoxide to keep it looking red longer. Americans are now used to buying hamburger packaged in a tube like breakfast sausage. If you are what you eat, we are now doing something incredibly wrong for our children's health.
We wanted to get away from the factory farm concept and simply raise and butcher cattle, just like our Grandpa did in the 1950's. Back then, cattle ate grass, were steroid and hormone free, and the feedlot system wasn't our only option. Skip Rock Ranch is not reinventing the wheel. We are just going back to the way it was done just a few decades ago. Our goal is simple: We want one of our ribeye steaks to be just like a ribeye steak from 1955.
Actually, almost all cattle in the U.S. are still raised on grass by small family owned ranches like ours. However, once the cattle reach 6-10 months of age, they go to an auction barn, where they are sold into the feedlot system. At that point, the feedlot's job is to put as much weight on the animal as quickly as possible through drugs and modified feed, so that we can enjoy our cheap tubes of hamburger. It may not be humane or healthy, but it is fast and cheap. Like it or not, it is the way we produce meat in the states today.
Our approach is simple. We have Devon bulls and Angus/Devon cross cows. Our calves are born on the ranch. We also purchase select Irish Dexter steers from reputable ranches and raise them with our herd. At that point, they have been raised only on grass and their mother's milk. For the next two years, they live at our ranch near Pearsall, TX. Our cattle graze in the pastures just like cattle have lived for millennia. They are never given steroids, hormones or antibiotics. Finally, our herd is managed using humane, low stress livestock handling techniques developed by animal behavior pioneers such as Temple Grandin and Bud Williams.
Many ranchers overstock and run out of grass in the winter. Consequently, they have to add supplemental feed like corn, sorghum, oats, cotton seed, and hay. We don't. In Texas, as long as you have good pasture management with plenty of seasonal grasses, cattle should be able to graze all year without supplemental feed. We can graze our herd year round. While that makes for a much smaller herd, it also means they are eating and living just as Mother Nature intended. Also, by keeping our herd smaller, we avoid overgrazing, which is far better for the land over time.
It's quite easy to raise grass fed cattle, the hard part is finding a good butcher. In the 1980's we had 3 butchers within 20 minutes of El Campo, TX where Lee and I grew up. All three have closed their doors. Today, most of the mom and pop butchers have gone out of business. There are none left in Austin, and only a handful remain in Central Texas. There are great butchers still around, you just have to seek them out. We use Dziuk's Meat market in Castroville, TX, just west of San Antonio on Hwy 90.
When your steer is 24-30 months old, we will deliver it to Dziuk's. Under 24 months, it is still growing and you would be buying much more bone than meat. If it is over 30 months, it will only get tougher. Then, you get to decide exactly how you want your meat custom butchered, just like our family did when we were kids.
It is possible that some of this is simply a nostalgic desire for the way things used to be in a simpler time. That is part of it. Mainly it is a backlash reaction to the way our food is raised and processed today in America.