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AMY KIRK: Food raised on the ranch tastes better than store offerings

Amy Kirk, Daily Republic Columnist  One of the things I am most thankful for is our home-grown food. At times it has been somewhat of a challenge to contain, retrieve, and get back in. I’m talking about our butcher critter — the term for our “carefully selected” (or as we like to say, “culled”) steer or spayed heifer that eventually feeds our family.

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It only makes sense that if we are in the business of raising beef cattle which ends up in grocery stores, we should get to eat the beef we raise — and at least once a year we try to do just that. But sometimes our homegrown beef is hard-earned. Once we select a butcher critter, we provide it with a special grain and hay diet (it gives beef the best-tasting flavor) for three to five months before we have it processed at a butcher shop locally.

At times our food has gotten out: someone didn’t ensure the gate was securely latched when they went through, the butcher critter escaped via our kids’ friends leaving the gate wide open behind them, or it jumped out leaving a mutilated cattle panel in its wake. When a butcher critter gets out, not only is somebody usually in trouble, but getting a feisty butcher critter that’s been on a grain-fed diet back in isn’t always easy.

One year we fed a butcher critter over the summer until the grain was gone, then turned it out with the herd until fall gathering. When it turned up missing, my husband was convinced it had been cattle rustled until a fellow rancher called weeks later and said it was in with his horses. Other times butcher critters have tried to take us while bringing their grain (the reason we dump the grain into the trough from opposite side of the fence now). Cloven-footed homegrown food can be a lot of work.

Having an entire freezer filled with one’s own beef may sound wonderful, but in all reality, we probably outspend beef-buying consumers. If we figure the energy, time and money spent on the feed and the processing, we aren’t just eating tasty, energy-providing food; we’re eating pretty pricy beef. We have to deal with the butcher critter’s grain-fed attitude every day for months, exert energy in the occasional struggle to get it back in if it gets out, arrange in advance a processing date, haul it down for processing, pay for the processing, pick up the five to seven boxes of beef, and find room for all of it in the freezer.

This is why I envy grocery consumers sometimes. When a shopper needs a roast, steaks or hamburger, he or she can pull up to the variety of meats, spend a few seconds looking over the different cuts, make a few comparisons then toss something in the cart and wheel off to the next item on the list. The hassle that goes into providing wonderfully packaged cuts of beef neatly displayed in a grocer’s meat section has been done by others for the consumer. I have never seen a grocery shopper chase down their food the way we have had to occasionally.

This Thanksgiving, my family and lucky relatives enjoyed an expensive dining experience: Kirk Ranch prime rib. And let me just say that prime rib tastes better than turkey because when you have to work hard for it, the food tastes outstanding.

— Amy Kirk and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth-generation cow/calf operation near Pringle. She blogs at