I source whole animals from local farmers. In this quest, I visit farms to meet the farmers, see the animals and view the land.
Living River Farms
Having been involved with homestead broiler (meat) chicken production for decades, when I visited Beau McLean and Christopher Green at Living River Farms in Stevensville, I had an idea of what to expect. Perhaps more importantly, I know how hard raising meat chickens really is. Chris and Beau generously took time out of their busy day to show me the young chicks warming under heat lights in the brooder house and to give me a tour of the growing stock out on pasture. Their ingenuity and grit have allowed them to build a licensed, state certified poultry processing facility in the state of Montana. Until now, unless you grow your own, the chickens you buy in a store are likely not Montana raised or Montana processed!! This is remarkable considering we live in such an agricultural state! After wading through the red tape of licensing and completing the construction process, the Montana Poultry Growers Coop processing facility was born. The care Beau and Chris take to create quality, pasture raised birds inspired me to add chicken to the variety you'll find at Mountain Meat Shares. These birds are sold whole and average 4 pounds. Living River chickens never receive antibiotics, added hormones or chemicals. The farm formulates and grinds their own feed with grains sourced from a local family farm in the Bitterroot.
Our household loves the variety of meals just one chicken provides—dinner, lunches to take to work, broth for future recipes. You'll find that if you choose to cook these birds whole, there is little waste. Stay tuned for recipes and preparation guides on our blog!
My first memory of chicken butchering comes from early in my childhood, perhaps as young as eight. My grandmother, after preparing and cleaning up from noon lunch on the farm, would walk down to the meat chicken brooder yard and capture and slaughter 4-6 of the largest of the group. I’d struggle to carry them by the feet, back up to the house. They were heavy and it was a long ways! She would then proceed to dip them in boiling water, instructing me and my cousins to quickly pluck. Once satisfied with our product, she allowed us to continue on with the evisceration. While I could go on about chicken anatomy, and describe more amusing and unpleasant aspects of butchering, these memories stayed with me. The sheer deliciousness of home grown chicken does not begin to compare to the mass-produced commercial chicken found in stores. We are proud to offer Living River Farms pasture-raised chickens at Mountain Meat Shares.
Oxbow Cattle Company
Here in Montana, the vision of cows grazing on lush pasture just seems as natural as the mountains, but not all cattle management is the same. I thought a lot about how to choose a beef provider for Mountain Meat Shares, but after meeting Wendy and Bart Morris at Oxbow Cattle Company and hearing about their passion for their business, the decision was simple. Everything about them and their operation is defined by integrity. Touring the land, you hear a dedication and a vision for building up the soil, strengthening the forage quality, caring for the land—with an end result of beautiful, delicious grass-raised beef. Their business is a melody of several enterprises—a cow/calf operation, young “stockers” being grown, and steers and heifers being finished to butcher weight. Each enterprise requires careful consideration of mineral balance, pasture quality and a close eye on genetics to bring the most efficient and tasty animals to your table. And the biggest surprise of all—this melody is being sung out on the very edge of our city of Missoula. Encompassing the Upper Miller Creek conservation land leases all the way to the Sapphire Range, this ranch covers nearly 5000 acres. Their beef is grain-free, hormone-free and antibiotic free.
My grandparents' farm was a dairy operation and cows were a big part of my childhood. When I was too young to own the horses I dreamed of, I substituted young calves to satisfy my horse care craze. They put up with being brushed and halter trained and led about the lawn as pretend "ponies." While raising beef cattle in our arid state is a bit different than the green pastures of New York, I still have a soft spot for them. I’ll be providing you with ways to cook and relish this beautiful all grass-fed beef through our blog. We are excited to partner with Oxbow Cattle Company!
Roxie Davis at Lyon Ranch in Drummond, Montana is the quintessential multi-generation Montana rancher—industrious, honest and a shepherd to a diverse flock. My visit drew me to the goats first. Since I am new to owning goats, I had many questions about their care, their quirky habits and milking. We then moved on to the chicken coop, then a sneak peek at a new litter of piglets in the barn and then off to view the feeder pigs wallowing in the water on this hot Montana day. Roxie called out the various names of the breeding sows and boars, filling me in on their mixed heritage. Lyon Ranch pigs are raised on pasture, with the addition of alfalfa and local grains. Roxie loves working with genetics and is frequently experimenting with different breeds of pigs. While cattle are the main operation of this ranch, pigs make their home alongside the cows—just as Roxie intends.
Having raised pigs for years, I have a deep appreciation for their sensitivity. And pigs are happiest being piggy--- eating, sleeping, romping with their friends—you know, the good life! I have often said that time spent in the pig pen is good for the soul. They’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you slow down and just be. And everything they do is social. “OK, everyone let’s eat. Let’s eat, let’s eat…. Yum yum…. OK, everyone—let’s run. Run! Run! Run! Ok, everyone, let’s spin around each other—I know I’m 200 pounds, but I got this. Spin! OK, everyone, let’s nap. Nap, ahhhh nap” Yep— pigs know a thing or two about living easy. Seeing them enjoy their lives is what makes me so proud to offer non- confinement raised pigs at Mountain Meat Shares.
Old Spur Farm
As I drove up to Old Spur Farm, I saw one of Tristan Kenney's sons pushing a wheelbarrow nearly bigger than himself. I smiled because I love to see kids working out on the farm. I was introduced to the family and everyone helps out with the care of the chickens and gathering of the eggs. The kids were eager to point out their favorite hens and tell stories about each. After visiting several egg farms this summer that sell at our local groceries, Old Spur Farm was the homestead I was looking for in an egg producer. Although the other farms were family owned, and often operated with just one or two workers, they were still big... very big. Thousands of hens. And cage free doesn't mean free range or pasture raised. Or even hens outside.
Tristan and his family are committed to pasture-raised hens. Eggs can be an important part of cooking at home and can be breakfast, lunch or dinner. They store well, are delicious when farm raised and nutritious.
While sheep can be found throughout Montana and I talked to quite a few lamb producers last year, it was a recommendation from our butcher at Clark Fork Custom Meats that had me meeting Ruth Carlson in Plains. Ruth was one of the first two women to graduate with a degree in Animal Science in Agriculture at the University of Idaho. After moving to Plains, and working with a variety of sheep breeds, her research led her to the Texel breed. The resulting lambs were what she was looking for in terms of quality and mild flavor. The response this past year from our Meat Shares customers has been very positive! Carlson Farm lamb is grass-fed, raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and are raised on pasture of orchard grass and clover.