Bring on the Beef
The occasion marked the first time my husband’s family had dined out together in at least 16 months, and we celebrated the moment of normalcy with beef. The ten of us sat in a semi-private space at a favorite steakhouse, more than six feet from anyone but our waiter. My filet was fantastic, cuttable by butter knife and made even better surrounded by family.
National Beef Month appropriately claims the month of May, when hamburgers and steaks frequent the backyard grill. This American pastime also shares roots in farm family tradition. The National Beef Checkoff reports 91% of U.S. cattle farms and ranches are owned by families. In Illinois, farmers care for just over 1 million beef cows and calves on almost one-fourth of the state’s farms, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. In some rural townships, cows outnumber people.
On our farm, the genetics of the small herd of beef cattle trace back to Grandpa’s decades as a cattleman. Hedge posts harvested from the farm frame the pasture fence, and we paid the local FFA chapter to build the feed bunks in the cattle lots. Some of our farm’s favorite photos have come from sunset’s glow on the pasture or the cattle shading themselves under the big burr oak. Cattle live in tandem with the environment, from co-existence with wildlife to the carbon sequestration of managed grazing on land unsuitable for growing food crops.
For generations, our farm-raised beef has taken prominent space in the chest-style freezers at family and employee homes. The practice of freezing a year’s worth of beef moved mainstream during the pandemic. Many local meat processors, including ours, are so booked with work that our farm for the first time scheduled custom beef processing more than 18 months in advance for unborn animals.
Absent a social calendar for much of a year, our household commonly prepared beef for dinner. Beef tacos, smoked pulled beef, burgers, beef stew and roast beef dinners brought us around the table. I look forward to the summer meals, when we can throw a steak on the grill and cook some garden veggies for a simple, nutritious meal with protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins from the main course alone.
About the author: Joanie Stiers’ family grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises beef cattle and backyard chickens in West-Central Illinois.