The most simple question to ask when defining meat quality: do you enjoy eating it? Does it taste amazing with nothing more than salt?
Finishing refers to the last stage of an animal's life. The goal is to ensure the animal has an adequate amount of fat. This stage contributes significantly to the overall flavor and culinary profile of the meat. Factors such as genetics, age, time of year, and very importantly, feed/forage quality all play a role in the outcome. It's a pivotal part of creating exceptional quality meat that will taste amazing.
As a side note, this is typically the stage where most cattle in the conventional meat system end up in feedlots (ie: standing around on dirt paddocks without access to fresh forage, eating a diet of cheap corn and other industrial by-products). At Augustus Ranch, our animals are never deprived access to fresh pasture and forage, even in the finishing stage.
PROPRIETARY CUSTOM RATION
Our primary goal is to create a chef quality product without compromising the nutritional integrity. The way we accomplish this, in addition to our genetic program, is to provide a proprietary custom ration that we've spent years developing. This ration contains no corn or soy and consists mostly of non-GMO barley and flax. We lovingly refer to this ration as "rainfall in a sack". It provides a consistent source of energy and feed for the animals which provides great results. In addition to this ration, the animals leisurely graze on fresh forage and grass throughout the day, which also allows them to continue behaving the way nature intended.
Barley is a member of the grass family. It's an ancient cultivated plant which produces a nutritious cereal grain that, in addition to animal fodder, is also heavily utilized for beer production. It's a real treat for the cattle, providing an energy source which helps ensure a favorable consistency in the beef.
Flax is another ancient plant utilized for fiber, food, and oil (known as linseed oil). It naturally contains high levels of the essential omega-3 fatty acid known as ALA (alpha-linolenic-acid). It does add significant cost as a feed supplement, but it's a great way to help maintain a healthy fatty acid profile in the meat.
The quality and diversity of fresh forage is dependent on many factors including climate, soil, and time of the year. Some of the perennial grass species which grow in our pastures include coastal and bermuda. We also plant annual grass species such as rye and oats at certain times of the year.
FINISHING DIET: CATTLE
Our cattle are finished in a 100% pasture based setting for a minimum of 60 days on the custom ration we described above. This gives the cattle a proper amount of time to ensure a consistent result. The animals that enter into the finishing phase are also of a mature age, having spent at least two years grazing in our pastures with the rest of the herd. Without consistent finishing, the culinary quality of our products would fluctuate based on several variables. This ration constitutes around 3 - 5% of their total diet and does not affect the overall nutrient profile in an unfavorable way.
FINISHING DIET: PIGS
Pigs are primarily omnivores, meaning they seek and tolerate a much wider variety of food. Their stomach and digestion operates differently than a grazing herbivore (such as a cow or sheep). Therefore their diet is more consistently supplemented with a feed source in addition to the plants, nuts, and roots they will forage on their own. Our supplemental pork ration is similar to the finishing ration of the cattle, containing barley and flax. Barley is a fantastic feed for a pig and develops great culinary qualities in the finished product. The flax contributes to a robust, more balanced omega-3 fatty acid profile which is often lacking in most commercially available pork.
FAT IS FLAVOR: AN OVERVIEW
There are different classifications of fat on a carcass. Some of these fat types more directly affect the eating experience. Subcutaneous fat is the outer layer which rests on top of the muscle, just underneath the hide. This is also known as fat cover and relates to the term conformation, which refers to the thickness of muscle and fat in relation to the skeletal structure. Intramuscular fat is the accumulation of "marbling" within the muscles which helps contribute to a juicier product. Both of these fat types are important for culinary purposes, but the intramuscular fat is what most chefs prefer due to the fact that it boosts flavor and helps prevent the meat from drying out during the cooking process.