It rained last night and the sound of the rain on the aluminum roof of the trailer lulled everyone to sleep in seconds. Today it’s fresh, cold and windy with post frontal clouds driving across a pale blue sky above the waving green grass of Bill and Nicolette Hahn Niman’s 1,000-acre ranch here in Bolinas, CA. The ocean in the distance is a cold dark blue. I was up early in anticipation of a call of from Bill. We had dinner in Point Reyes Station last night, but I wanted some time for a more formal interview. Trouble is, perched here on the mesa above Bolinas on Niman’s ranch I don’t get any cell phone reception.
So, I’m sitting here in an old metal chair with a cup of Earl Grey tea looking southeast with the rising sun on my left and a two-year old herd of Niman’s black Angus grazing along the fence line.
Bill’s various flocks of heritage turkey cackle in the distance. We were up late last night so Deirdre and the kids are still asleep in the trailer.
This is what this trip is supposed to be like. Time to think. Time to write. And time to spend with the people who are changing the way we eat. That’s definitely Bill Niman. Although he’s no longer associated with Niman Ranch, he’s still very much at the forefront of sustainable meat production in a way that Niman Ranch is not. He raises Angus and Hereford on his sprawling ocean view ranch as well as on other ranches in eastern Oregon and near Mount Shasta. As a 100-percent grassfed operation he needs to move his cattle to where the grass is greenest. He doesn’t fed them any hay or supplements. Once the grass has dried up, the cattle stop putting on weight and building up intramuscular fat, i.e. the marbling that makes a juicy steak so juicy.
Grassfed beef is a wonderfully elegant, sun-powered system. The sun shines. The grass grows. The cattle eat the grass. The cattle stomp and poop and fertilize the soil and encourage more grass to grow, biodiversity to flourish and carbon to accumulate in the soil–all without human intervention. Feeding his cattle supplemental feed would break the loop on that closed circle system. What this means is that once the grass is no longer green, there is no more beef.
As someone who’s been raising animals for food for more than 30 years, Bill has strong feelings about how things should be done. He says, when it comes to grassfed beef a lot of people are doing it wrong. With the rising popularity of grassfed beef, having a lot of inferior product on the market is hurting the nascent industry, he says. By late summer or fall (depending on where the animals are grazing) the cattle start to draw off their fat reserves to get them through the winter. Beef in drawdown mode is not beef you want to eat. What this means is grassfed beef is a seasonal product. Just as tomatoes are best in late summer, grassfed beef is best between May and October. Unless it’s frozen, you shouldn’t eat grassfed beef any other time of the year, Bill says.
Stay tuned for my full interview with Bill.