Sunday, July 10, 2011

Local Flax-fed beef

A few weeks ago (ok, almost 2 months ago! eek! This post has been a long time coming!), I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting some amazing people at the Des Moines area farmer's market. These people run a grass-fed, flax-fed, hormone-free cattle company and are passionate about making healthier alternatives to commercial beef products.

Honestly, I didn't know about this company until I stumbled upon it, largely due to the fiance's almost magnetic attraction to any kind of beef stick EVER. I was actually at the next booth over trying to acquire some organic tomatoes when he excitedly called me over and started telling me about the flax-fed beef company.
Meet Peter Woltz, who was very friendly and excited to tell us about his products. I missed the name of the lovely lady in the picture, but I assure you that she was equally friendly and knowledgeable :)

These two own and represent Timber Ridge Cattle, which is located in Osceola, IA. They have a passion for creating healthy beef products, and they take the science of nutrition very seriously (people after my own heart!).
Their journey began when they acquired a commercial cattle feed-lot, with corn-fed beef and an aggressive antibiotic regimen. They immediately knew that this was not the way they wanted to run their cattle company, as the cows were often sick and very unhappy. The meat quality was also sub-par, and they knew that they could make a better product.

They were introduced to some interesting scientific literature indicating that grass and flax fed beef had a larger percentage of omega-3 fats, a better ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, and an overall lower saturated fat profile than their corn-fed counterparts. I've done a little bit of research, and I think that this is the paper they were reading: Flax-fed beef study. 

This is just one of several studies that indicate that what we feed out livestock strongly effects the nutritional output of their meat products. In fact, a recent very nice review on the topic can be found here: Fatty-acid profile of grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef.  Importantly, feeding oilseeds like flax results in amazing health benefits, but the addition of omega-3's and monounsaturated fatty acids doesn't quite get the same beneficial outputs, which indicates that we don't quite understand how or why fatty acid metabolism works in animals. I like to refer to this as the 'Wonderbread Conundrum', which refers to the inability of fortified foods like Wonderbread to completely meet our nutritional needs. This is why I am a fan of a varied, whole foods diet rather than a stringent diet that requires supplements. We just don't know enough about nutrition and bio availability at this point. This is also why we should support academic science.

In fact, the Timber Ridge Cattle Company works closely with the Food Science and Human Nutrition at nearby Iowa State University to monitor the nutritional profile of their cattle. Recent results indicate that their flax-fed beef have 500% increase in omega-3's, a 3-1 omega-6 to omega-3 output ratio, and 20% less saturated fats than traditionally farmed beef. They are continuing to monitor their cattle, and they are working to find ways to make the flax even more bioavailable to their cattle, thus improving the nutritional output even more.

They market their product as a smoked beef product to further preserve the omega-3 content. Also, because of the unsaturated nature of the beneficial fatty acids, they are worried about side reactions that may occur upon high-heat cooking, rendering the fats partially hydrogenated or isomerized to those pesky trans-fats. How does it taste? Amazing. We bought a beef stick to take home and it was honestly the best beef stick that I've tasted. I'm very picky, and I usually find summer sausage-type foods too fatty or greasy, but this product had the robust flavor of summer sausage without the grease.

They were also nice enough to provide nutritional information, which I've taken the liberty to compare against traditional beef summer sausage at I'm actually really, really impressed with the difference that a flax- and grass-fed cow has over a traditional corn-fed cow:
(all numbers are in grams unless noted otherwise)

Wow, I mean that's almost a 30% difference in calories, it's a solid 30% difference in saturated fat AND the flax- and grass-fed beef contains more protein. That, my friends, is science at work ;)

So, as a final statement, I just wanted to say that I was totally impressed with this company, their dedication to making a fantastic beef product, and their interest in the science behind farming healthier, more nutritionally dense cattle. If you want to get your hands on some, locals can visit the Des Moines downtown farmer's market, or you can visit their website where they will ship you some goodies of your choosing: Timber Ridge Cattle Co.

Disclaimer: This highlight and review was completely of my own accord and I have received no compensation (other than the free samples offered to anyone who stops by their booth) for my opinions and advertisement. I purchased one 8-oz Jalapeno Summer Sausage with my own money, and it was delicious.


  1. This is a great article, and there really are farmers out there like the Woltz who are farming more sustainably and producing better product(from a calorie and protein point of view, certainly). Farmers like these need highlighting and they need a food-savvy audience to give them our support.

    Market and organic farming has really rocketed in the UK, and meeting the guys behind the beef you eat is so, so important. I would recommend to anyone if they haven't done so already to visit a farmers market and talk to the people down there. Learn about the food you eat, and it tastes better - honest! ;)

    Good job, more of these please!

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I do have some more local businesses to profile, so I'll see what I can do!

  3. You’d think it would go something as easy, as grass-fed beef eats grass and grain-fed beef eats grain, but it’s actually more complicated than that. What’s the real deal between the two? Grass-fed cows actually live a better life. They eat their natural diet of grass, and they’re free to roam and take naps in the pasture, but they take too long to mature. And with the growing demand for beef, ranchers need to fatten up these cows and send them to the slaughter house -- fast. This is where grain-fed cows come in. They’re confined to feedlots which restrict movement, preventing them to use energy so they grow fat quicker. They’re also injected with antibiotics and hormones that promote growth, allowing them to mature within a year. However, grass-fed cows are significantly healthier than grain-fed cows, containing 2-4x more Omega 3 as compared to 4x more fat of the grain-fed cows.

    Alex Staff