Neola Farms: grass or grain?

The answer is: yes.

I spoke to Michael, the owner of Neola Farms, to get the straight story. Until his cattle are weaned, they grow up on grass and mother’s milk. The mothers eat grass eleven months a year, switching to hay only in the dead of winter. Growing up on grass and milk sets the purebred Angus calves’ marbling in place. After they are weaned, the cattle are given grass, hay, and corn.

“My boys love corn” says Michael.

The hay is an interesting story. The cattle eat it not for the grains atop the stem but for the stems themselves. Cows, as it turns out, can’t burp and gas can become trapped in their stomachs. Bloat can be a serious problem for cows, a painful, even fatal condition. The straw from hay helps give gas a route to escape. Next time you see cows in a field alongside the road, look to see if they are lying down facing uphill. They do this to help gas escape.

Farming, like all of life, is a compromise. Michael’s son, who runs the corn operation, avoids GMO corn as much as possible but does use Bt corn to avoid using pesticides. Bt corn is controversial, but it doesn’t seem to be causing the harm that was feared. Micheal has not used pesticides for 25 years now thanks to innovations like Bt corn and using insect predators to eat flies.

I would still have to give Neola Farms high marks for their environmental efforts. Using locally grown corn reduces fuel costs. Not using antibiotics or steroids makes the meat safer and tastier. Even while their grazing is supplemented with corn, the cows are still in the fields instead of in feedlots. Local processing helps to keep a small slaughterhouse in business in West Tennessee. And all of this enables Michael to bring excellent beef to market at or even below the prices found at local grocery stores.

I give Neola Farms top marks for the beef. In fact I’ll be giving grill marks to a couple of sirloin steaks tonight.

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