With Father’s Day just around the corner, many people start to think about treating their dads to meat cooked on the grill. This time of year, the weather is just right for gathering the family for a picnic and grilling tender, flavorful burgers, with the smell of a barbeque wafting on the breeze. Just over a month ago, Wolff’s Apple House began offering all-natural, free-range beef from Lone Star Farm, a small-scale Lancaster County cattle farm owned by Ernie and Elmina Beiler. This makes it easy to enjoy all-natural burgers for Father’s Day!
When it comes to raising cattle for beef–the kind of high-quality beef that Wolff’s Apple House is proud to sell–many crucial choices are involved. For Elmina Beiler, there is an organizing principle behind the choices she and Ernie have made with their herd. Everything they do to raise their 90 cows comes back to a decision not to take any short cuts.
Many of their decisions have involved their cow’s diets. When it came to genetically-modified grain, the Beilers “made a choice just to stay away from GMOs,” says Elmina.
The first time I ever spoke to the Beilers, back in 2011, Ernie noted that if humans “don’t eat a balanced diet, it does funny stuff.” Likewise, when cows eat just one thing, it increases the likelihood that they will get sick. While cows in commercial beef operations eat primarily kernel corn, the Beilers feed their cows the whole cornstalk, along with hay and some grain. The Beilers also give the herd as much grazing time as they can, and have even installed temporary fencing to allow for more grazing.
Another important decision has been to raise their cows without using antibiotics or hormones. Because their cows are raised on a healthy, balanced diet, the animals stay healthy and don’t need antibiotics. “It is so rare for our animals to be sick,” says Elmina. If they ever do have to use antibiotics to save the life of a sick cow, that cow is automatically taken out of their all-natural program and they do not sell beef from that cow. Racking her brain, Elmina can’t think of a time when this has happened in the last few years.
The choice to raise cattle using all-natural methods has been “the best decision we’ve made,” says Elmina.
But healthy diets for cows are just the beginning at Lone Star Farm. The Beilers have been making many important choices about keeping the farm itself healthy and sustainable. Their farm is on a conservation plan that will make their farm more environmentally-friendly with each passing year. Not only that, the farm sticks to a nutrient management plan, and has a crop consultant who visits the farm to advise the Beilers on what each field needs. This has been “VERY helpful,” says Elmina. “It keeps things more green.”
As part of their sustainability initiative, the Beilers have taken measures to prevent erosion and make sure there is no run-off from manure.
They have also taken the important step of fencing off the stream that winds through their farm. A few years ago, they planted 550 new trees along the steam bank. Stream bank fencing brings many environmental benefits. In addition to keeping the cattle dry and less muddy (which keeps many diseases and infections at bay), stream bank fencing improves the water quality, protects cattle from harmful organisms floating downstream and provides a habitat for diverse wildlife. Elmina has seen snapping turtles, racoons, Baltimore oriels, cardinals and many other birds on the farm since they planted all the trees along the stream bank.
So this Father’s Day, as you celebrate with family and friends, you can have peace of mind, knowing that the burgers you’re grilling came from a farm that has made many valuable choices to keep its cows and the environment healthy.
Father’s Day Menu Planning
Main Course: Hamburgers with hearty rolls from Le Bus Bakery, topped with Vidalia onions and local tomatoes.
Salad: Best Broccoli Salad
Sides: Chips & Fresh Tomato Salsa with Locally-Grown Tomatoes; German Potato Salad