Eating Local: There’s no beef with small-scale farming |

Eating Local: There’s no beef with small-scale farming

Ed Colby with Buttercup and Buttercup's mom, Poppy.
Marilyn Gleason |

Buttercup has wide-set eyes, thick blonde eyelashes and short legs. “He’s cute,” Nanci Limbach told Ed.

The yearling steer is bulky and will put on hundreds more pounds by fall. Buttercup is part Hereford and part Simmental, an ancient heritage breed that originated in Switzerland. Nanci told us to expect yellowish fat marbling the meat of the Simmental.

Ed’s new mantra is “work smart, not hard” when it comes to the farm. He doesn’t have to make a profit on our farm animals, because they provide services and save work. Buttercup will keep the chest-high grass mowed so we don’t lose tools and hoses and cattle dogs and neighborhood children out there, while fertilizing the farm with his manure. Meanwhile he’ll grow fat and strong for market. Ed just needs to break even.

There’s a lot going on at the Limbach place down by Silt. Nanci runs a wildlife refuge, rescuing and nursing injured animals, right across the road from Paul’s honey house. In other words, she rehabilitates injured and orphaned bears so they can go on to rob honey from Paul’s beehives scattered across the Western Slope.

As if that weren’t enough, Nanci raises a small herd of cattle. When Ed got serious about getting a cow, he called Nancy.

Did he want a pregnant cow and her calf? Or a yearling steer? Would the steer get lonely? Would our 2 acres provide enough forage for the cow and her calves? “What I know about cows you could fit on the head of a pin,” Ed told her.

When I stopped by Sunshine Farm to pick up my heirloom tomato seedlings a month ago, Pat Vigil asked if we were really getting a steer. Her daughter Camille lives across the county road from Colby Farm.

“Camille got a steer, and that animal was so destructive,” Pat told me. “He knocked down fences, ate her apple trees and wrecked the irrigation system. You tell Ed to ask Camille about her steer. That was nothing but trouble.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” I said. I’d lobbied hard to get more lambs, and I’d already warned Ed about the disrespect cattle show for flimsy fences. He had his mind made up. I didn’t want to nag.

Ironically, Ed is angling toward veganism just as he brings beef to Colby Farm. He believes Dr. Feinsinger’s warnings about the health costs of a meaty, fatty diet and the cardiac miracle of the plant-based diet. Ed just had a birthday, and, as he put it, “I want to have another.”

At the Aspen Ideas Festival Sunday, Ethan Brown touted a plant-based food product that looks and cooks and tastes like ground beef — maybe better. Ethan is a tall, broad-shouldered, athletic-looking vegan motivated by concern for the well-being of farm animals and the planet.

At a facility in Missouri, Brown separates plant protein in a water-based process, then applies heating, cooling and pressure to make Beyond Burger. “Let’s move away from defining meat in terms of origin and more towards composition,” he said.

“Conventional beef production uses lots of natural resources, has a huge impact on the environment,” Ellen Kunes of Consumer Reports told the audience in Aspen. “Think about the fact that agriculture and forestry account for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock production takes up a lot of that. Large amounts of water are also used in producing corn, which is used to feed the food animals that we’re about to eat. And let’s not forget about the fact that there are very barbaric conditions that are still existing on the factory farms.”

There’s more. A Consumer Reports ad warns, “More than 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on livestock — not only to treat sick animals, but also to compensate for the effects of crowded, dirty conditions at many factory farms,” breeding resistant “superbugs” that sicken millions and kill at least 23,000 Americans annually.

The impact on global warming of 66 billion animals we eat every year worries Brown. “There is a race against the emissions that are occurring. There is a race against the global resource use.”

Small-scale farming is an antidote to most of these ills. Keeping animals on the farm provides chemical-free meat and cycles nutrients back into the soil.

Ed was jittery the morning we were scheduled to pick up his steer. Pat Vigil had warned him about the trouble with cows, and he worried a lonely herd animal might be prone to wander.

At the Limbachs’, Buttercup and his mother waited in a corral. Ed and I looked them over while Nanci’s brother fetched a trailer to haul him off. Poppy bellowed and mooed. Buttercup approached and sniffed shyly at my hand, then unfurled an enormous tongue and gave me a lick.

Nancy told Ed she didn’t think the steer would be too lonely or restless. “He has a calm, sweet temperament,” she assured him.

When he swung the trailer door open at Colby Farm later that morning, Ed swears Buttercup started chewing the deep grass before his hooves hit the ground.

Marilyn Gleason writes Eating Local for the PI’s monthly Good Taste page.

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