“No Hormones. No Antibiotics.” Increasingly, health conscious consumers reach for meat, dairy and poultry products bearing this label.
Certain hormones and antibiotics are FDA approved as additives in livestock feed. Hormones (steroids) speed growth and bulk up animals. Antibiotics combat the effects of the steroids. When animals are slaughtered, these drugs remain in the meat sold to consumers.
Pam and Bart Petray own Top O’ the Mount Farm in Winslow. They are among a growing number of producers raising livestock free of hormones and antibiotics. Most Saturday mornings you can find them at the Fort Smith Farmers Market on Garrison and 2nd Street. Here, they sell “all natural, grass fed” beef to a growing number of new and repeat customers.
Who are their buyers? “All kinds of people from all walks of life from all over the country,” explained Pam. “Some who stop by are just curious while others want to make a lifestyle change to healthier eating.”
Bart talks freely about dietary concerns with grass fed cattle. “Our pastures are sectioned. Each day they are moved to a new section of grass. This protects from soil damage that can come with intensive grazing. They feed on different grasses as well as pellets of alfalfa and sunflower. They also feed on a broad variety of vegetation--acorns and legumes. They get hay through the winter.”
He goes on to explain the drawbacks of commercially prepared mineral licks. “Commercial mineral mixes generally contain chemicals that inhibit cattle from processing the nutrition in their food intake,” he said. “Cows can actually starve to death on a full stomach because of the chemicals in prepared mixes. I make my own mix at the farm. It’s basic component is kelp which is high in nutrition.”
Careful as the Petrays are about the health of their livestock, there is the inevitable occasion when one gets sick. Most of the time the animal can be nursed back to health with antibiotics. According to Bart it takes 48 days for antibiotics and other medicinals to be processed out of the animal’s system. Once the animal has been nursed back to health the Petrays sell it. “We stand behind our no-antibiotics marketing,” said the couple. “We simply do not butcher animals that have been exposed to antibiotics.”
Grass fed, all natural beef is certainly a healthier alternative to chemically treated meat. And, consumers want their beef to be tender. “It’s all in the aging,” explained Bart. “Our beef is aged 12-24 days. Aging breaks down the muscle which is a natural tenderization process. It also gets rid of that gamey flavor.”
“We also eliminate high strung animals,” added Pam. “We handle the animals, they are calm and use to us. This is a big plus when we take them to be butchered. It keeps their stress level minimal--which makes for better meat.”
I must admit. When I first heard of Top O’ the Mount Farm and how good this farm’s beef is, I was skeptical. I had tried meat from other local grass fed farms. For the most part it was tough. And sometimes the flavor was absolutely awful.
My first purchase from Pam and Bart was a package of rib steaks. They were awesome--flavorful and absolutely tender. That prompted a return visit to the market. At this point our family has feasted on the sirloin and rib steaks as well as rump and chuck roasts. My brother came to visit and couldn’t get enough of the pork roast he was served. Their pork sausage is so good you’ll never want to buy any of the store brands. This summer we’ll be throwing a few pounds of Top O’ the Mount Farm brats on the grill as well.
Get out to the Fort Smith Farmers Market and meet Pam and Bart. Ask questions. Check out their website, TopOtheMountFarm.com, where you can place an online order. And when you visit them at the market, be sure to say “Hi” to the farm dog, Buddy. He’ll not be far from Bart!
By Colleen Perry