There's an old saying that goes, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." As an eternal optimist, this saying resonates with me, because I always believe that something good can come from a bad situation.
When our first Jersey-cross heifers started calving a couple years ago, we ended up with a little brown Jersey-cross bull calf. We named him Hershey and, to me, little was the only way to describe him. Compared to our Holstein and Holstein-cross bull calves, Hershey was tiny.
We were more than a little bummed. There was no market - and still isn't - for Jersey bull calves. Since we were sure it wouldn't be profitable to sell Hershey at two to three weeks old, like we do most of our other bull calves, we talked about what to do with him. We considered keeping him until he was weaned and then selling him. But after a couple days it was decided that we would keep Hershey as a freezer steer.
During one of my field research projects in college, I had heard that Jersey beef was the best tasting beef of all the breeds. This would be our opportunity to test that claim. And a chance to put something a little more tender in the freezer than the three cows who had previously occupied our freezer.
This would also be a new experience for me. Growing up, the only beef we ate came from mature cows who had experienced mishaps of one sort or another. My parents raised one steer when I was really young, but right after putting him in the freezer, there was a mishap with a cow and then we had to find room in the freezer for twice as many boxes of beef. Dad figured it was one of those Murphy's Laws of Farming deals, so that was the last steer raised on our farm.
After that, ground beef and slow-cooker roasts were the only types of beef in our freezer. I can't remember ever having steak. I'm not sure if that's because my parents opted not to buy it for price reasons or because my mother's penchant for cooking meat until it was very well done didn't work so well with steaks.
As a result, I was never much of a steak lover. But Hershey changed that.
We raised Hershey with our heifers. He didn't get any special treatment. He ate what the heifers ate - high quality hay and just enough grain mix to supply adequate vitamins and minerals.
We took Hershey to the locker the fall after his birthday. The guys who helped Glen unload him said he must have been a pet because he was so tame. We didn't treat him as a pet; we try to raise all of our youngstock to be calm.
A couple weeks later, the boxes of beef came home to fill the freezer. Growing up, I remember having a hard time knowing that we were going to be eating Julie or Tulip or Dottie for supper. I don't know if it's because of all the time I spent with them during milkings or because I just didn't like thinking about ending an animal's life. As I've matured, though, I've come to believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give our animals is a lifetime of excellent care on our farm followed by a humane death. I think Trent Loos said it best when he said, "Death with a purpose gives meaning to life."
So, when I took the first package of Hershey's ground beef out of the freezer, I did so with respectful gratitude.
But when I took the first package of steaks out of the freezer, I did so with complete apprehension.
I didn't know a thing about cooking steaks. So while the steaks thawed, I pored over the advice in The Joy of Cooking about how to properly cook steak.
I don't like the taste of grilled meat - probably because we never grilled anything when I was growing up - so I decided the broiler would be the best way to prepare our new steaks.
I preheated the broiler and broiler rack, then rinsed, dried and seasoned the steaks. I smiled as the steaks sizzled when I laid them on the broiler rack. Following the timing directions in Joy, I turned the steaks half-way through and then checked carefully to make sure they would end up cooked medium-well instead of very well done.
I'm not sure I've ever been so pleased with something I've cooked. The steaks were melt-in-your-mouth tender and absolutely delicious.
As the kids gobbled up their steak, I told them they were incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy steak at such a young age.
Glen said it was amazing that something so good had come from what we had originally thought was an unlucky situation.
We've only got a couple packages of Hershey's beef left in the freezer. But Hershey's cousin, Steak, will go to the locker next week.
We've raised Steak just as we raised Hershey. The only difference between the two is that, as much as we'd have liked Steak to be a heifer calf, we were secretly excited to have another Jersey steer for the freezer.