Tag: Animal Welfare


American Grass-Fed: Bringing Bison Back


America is celebrated for its diversity: from music to food, almost every aspect of our culture has been influenced by people of varying ethnicities. For this reason, it’s difficult to find an authentic taste of America. For those who wish to take a walk in the shoes of our native bretheren, however, there is good news. Bison meat is truly North America’s native meat.

A family of bison from Shape Ranch
A family of bison from Shape Ranch

Sixty million bison once roamed the great plains and amply fed the hearty appetites of the Native Americans who occupied this country. When the Transcontinental Railroad was built in the 1800s, bison herds were split between the North and South. The Southern herd included animals from Texas, eastern New Mexico, eastern Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and southern Nebraska. By the dawn of the 20th century, the total bison population had dwindled to less than 1,000.

Thanks to conservation efforts, bison are slowly recovering. The Southern Plains herd that exists today was started in the 1880s by Charles Goodnight, a wealthy American cattlemen. His wife urged him to save five calves at a time when hunters were killing bison by the hundreds of thousands.

Shape Ranch, producer of Thunder Heart Bison, is owned and run by Hugh and Sarah Fitzsimons near San Antonio, Texas. In 1806, the King of Spain granted this land to Juan Fransisco Lombrano, a loyal subject of the crown who stocked the ranch with cattle and sheep. Many generations later, in 1933, Shape Ranch was purchased by Hugh’s grandfather, H. A. Fitzsimons, and has remained  in the family ever since.
Bison
The ranch was originally stocked with registered Hereford cattle and steers until Hugh made the decision to begin a herd of bison. The family now raises 350 head of bison. More recently, Shape Ranch decided to shift focus toward the genetic integrity of their bison. Their goal is to increase the number of Southern Plains bison that were once indigenous to Dimmit County and all of Texas. In 2008, Hugh purchased four bison from the only remaining, pure-bred, Southern Plains herd. These bulls came from the famous Mary Annand Charles Goodnight herd that is now the Texas State herd at Caprock Canyons State Park. By choosing animals from such legendary sources, the Fitzsimons family insures both strong and diversified genetics.

In April 2009 Thunder Heart Bison was certified by the Animal Welfare Institute as Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), making it the first bison ranch in the United States to meet the stringent and exacting standards of the AWA. Thunder Heart Bison Ranch is dedicated to allowing bison to live in accordance with their natural instincts: they eat only grass and are killed on the prairies where they live, under low stress conditions. Thunder Heart is one of very few ranches in America whose buffalo are both grass-fed and field-harvested. By grazing on native grasses, such as Sea Coast Bluestem, Old World Bluestem, Curly Mesquite, and Hooded Windmill, these bison produce a flavor that is mild and delicate.

Grass-fed Bison is naturally leaner than other meats but the fat it does have is mono-unsaturated, making it much healthier while refusing to sacrifice flavor. The leanness of the meat requires low and slow cooking.

We are particularly excited to share this incredibly unique product with our customers. This year’s Thunder Heart Bison is only available in small quantities, and Heritage Foods USA is proud to take part in the opportunity to share this one-of-a-kind, grass-fed bison with all of you. Each cut of our stock originates from one of 350 bison raised on the Fitzsimons family ranch from a herd that is slowly, but surely, being brought back from the ranks of endangerment. With its pure, lean, unmatchable taste, this offer is truly one-of-a-kind.

An Intro to Heritage Pork Breeds

The core of Heritage Foods USA’s mission is to preserve rare heritage breeds. We work hard to support family farms that raise their animals on natural diets and without the aid of antibiotics, which are common on industrial farms.

Red Wattle Pig
A Red Wattle pig raised by Larry Sorell at Lazy S. Farms

 

Heritage pork is sourced from  Certified Humane Red Wattle or Six-Spotted Berkshire stock. Some of our farmers, however, also raise other rare breeds – Duroc, Old Spot, Large Black, and Tamworth – which are available for purchase by request, or as porterhouse chops and cured hams.

Sorell_Sow_BreedBerkshire
A Berkshire sow with one of her piglets

Berkshire meat is elegant, luscious and smooth. The streaks of fat that run through Berkshire meat produces a round, buttery flavor that melts on the tongue. The firm and substantial texture of Berkshire meat was so cherished by the British monarchy that they exported the breed as far as Japan, where it is called Korobuta.

As seen above, the Red Wattle is the only pig left in the world that still has a wattle hanging from its jowl. Red Wattle meat is charmingly inconsistent; its expressive porky flavor is concentrated and even a little racy. Originating in the South Pacific, the Red Wattle pig populated the backyards of New Orleans during the 18th and 19th centuries where it was bred to stand up to the strong and flavorful Creole cuisine. These gentle red hogs are renowned  foragers: when allowed to roam, their meat develops earthy, herbaceous traces of the vegetation within their locale.

One of Craig Good's Duroc hogs
One of Craig Good’s Duroc hogs

Duroc meat is clean and crisp. Its taste and texture are polished and easy on the palate. Duroc pork is a standard – not too fatty, not too lean, not too strong – but is certainly more flavorful than its factory farmed cousins. In fact, Duroc genetics were used in the foundation of the pig industry, which gained momentum in the 20th century.

Tamworth meat is robust and gutsy, and is the leanest of the heritage pork breeds- making it an excellent source of bacon and jowl. Its balanced flavor is the pork equivalent of a red beer. Despite its presence on the Threatened species list, the Tamworth is a hearty, strong, resilient animal – making it an excellent candidate for the growing urban farm movement around the United States.

A Gloucestershire Old Spot sow from Craig Good's farm
A Gloucestershire Old Spot sow from Craig Good’s farm

 

Large Black and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Along with the Red Wattle, they are the rarest pig breeds that Heritage Foods sells.

Originating in the Berkley Vale of Gloucestershire during the 1800s, the GOS was bred to lounge around in the orchards of England, where its sole responsibility was to clean up fallen fruit.  The breed became rare after World War II, when the shift to intensive pig production reduced interest in grazing pigs. Due to its supreme laziness, GOS meat is very delicate – even its fat is edible and milky. Old Spots carry a distinct layer of backfat and marbling within their meat, making them the bacon pig of choice for many.

The Large Black is a favorite of farmers who appreciate the breed’s intellect and docility. Its strength, hardiness, and ability  to forage make it a valuable asset for pasture-based farming. The breed is native to southwestern England and gained popularity in the 1800’s as farmers began to see that the animal could easily turn poor-quality feed into large quantities of high-quality meat. The Large Black’s physical characteristics – its dark skin and large ears – make it stand out in terms of appearance and efficiency: its dark skin protects it from sunburn during long hours of grazing, and its long ears shield its eyes from dirt while foraging. Large Blacks are also known for their lean consistency; however, they lack the excess back fat found in the GOS.

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