Free Range Beef at The Dawson Creek Cattle Company

In the last half of the last century, a national burger chain capitalized on an advertising campaign featuring an elderly lady buying a burger at a competing burger chain. The feisty actress opened the bun from the competing chain, and upon seeing a very small hamburger patty, uttered a phrase repeated around the world, “Where’s the beef?”

For those concerned about health and longevity, the question could be more appropriately phrased, “Where’s the natural beef?” Entrepreneurs all across the nation are testing the waters for producing chemical-free, organically grown crops and free-range herds of beef, flocks of chickens, and hogs.

Blue skies and green grass. It's a good, grass fed life for these Pamlico County locals.
Blue skies and green grass. It’s a good, grass fed life for these Pamlico County locals.

PBS programs produced by UNC-TV are revealing a growing number of individuals in North Carolina producing naturally grown vegetables and fruits to be sold at Farmer’s Markets or from small farm operations. The demise of tobacco production and the public’s disdain for consuming food that has been subjected to inorganic chemicals have contributed to an expanded use of area farm land for food production. This phenomenon is not limited to plants.

Consumers are justified in assuming that chemically altered food products are not providing desired nutritional benefits and exposing the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, and the neurology system to permanent damage. Many nutritionists proclaim, “If it comes in a box or a can, don’t buy it or eat it.”

 

The Way Nature Intended

“It’s a classic example of doing what’s simple and basic is the best way to grow.”

Justin Lee, a fifth generation farmer from the Dawson’s Creek area of Pamlico County, is now producing free-range, grass-fed beef from cattle that never ingest anything chemically altered. He said, “My steers graze on native grasses for 18 months. Then, two months before they are custom slaughtered and butchered into cuts for the dinner table, I feed them with feed I make myself. I use corn, soybeans, minerals, and some molasses for flavor, with no additives whatsoever.”

Justin Lee, owner of the Dawson Creek Cattle Company.
Justin Lee, 5th generation farmer and owner of the Dawson Creek Cattle Company.

 

He continued, “I go a step further in producing what you want to serve to your family. For ground beef, I grind roast cuts. I do not grind up things like the heart or other organs into the hamburger; I do not put what would be throw-away scraps in what I sell. If it comes from a cow, it could be put in your hamburger and legitimately be called ground beef. But when I make ground beef, it is what you expect, cuts of beef that have been ground up.

“Also, my steers are not processed in a factory. And even more important for your health, they have never consumed anything that is not natural food for them.”

Lee said, “It’s a classic example of doing what’s simple and basic is the best way to grow. It is so much easier to keep up with the health of your herd if you know exactly what is in the diet of your cows. When they eat grass, you don’t have to second guess whatever might be in any purchased feed that could be making them sick. Just because what I do is simple, does not mean that it is not science. I have studied a lot from the US Department of Agriculture in terms of beef production. Because my herd is small, I can keep up with my cows individually. I watch how they are growing and when it comes time to harvest, I hand select a steer to take to the abattoir.”

Strategically moving the cattle between fields ensures higher quality nutrition.
Strategically moving the cattle between fields ensures higher quality nutrition.

After a steer has been slaughtered, the cuts of beef are vacuum-packed and frozen. Items like ground beef and stew beef are sold in one pound packages. Steaks and roasts are sold individually. When the beef returns from the abattoir, it is sold on a first come basis.

For example, once all the steaks are sold, there are no more until another steer is ready for harvest. As the ranch operation grows, the time between harvesting individual steers will be shortened.

A young calf enjoys pesticide free grass at the Dawson Creek Cattle Company.
A young calf enjoys pesticide free grass at the Dawson Creek Cattle Company.

The benefits from small farming operations such as the Dawson’s Creek Cattle Company extend beyond the production of healthy food products. As technology eliminates jobs and as cheap foreign labor sends good jobs overseas, high school and college graduates are discovering that becoming an entrepreneur is a very viable alternative to struggling to find employment in a shrinking job market.

When young couples create a business such as the Dawson’s Creek Cattle Company, they are not only creating a source of revenue for themselves, they are also boosting the local economy and enriching the county’s tax base.

Newly born calves growing up free on the range at the Dawson Creek Cattle Company.
Newly born calves growing up free on the range at the Dawson Creek Cattle Company.

The Dawson’s Creek Cattle Company has a small retail sales outlet at their farm operation center on Janeiro Road, a half mile west of the Dawson’s Creek Bridge but being this is a working farm you’re better off to purchase their products from Henry & Shorty’s Country Store in Bayboro or from the Inland Waterway Provision Company in Oriental. Arlington Place residents will be pleased to know that you can also experience Justin’s locally raised beef just a few miles down the road at Gary’s Downeast Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar. Order up the Cattleman’s Burger (medium rare) with a slice of fresh, locally grown tomato. You won’t be disappointed.

An engineered system ensures clean fresh water is always on tap for the cattle.

While consuming a diet primarily of red meat may not be the most ideal for long term good health, when one does consume red meat, it can be logically concluded that consuming naturally produced red meat is a wise move, whatever the amount of red meat consumed.

Pamlico County author, photographer, and celebrated eccentric Benjamin Casey.

Story and Photography by Ben Casey

This article comes to you courtesy of Ben Casey. Ben is an author, photographer & celebrated eccentric. He calls Minnesott Beach home but spends most of his waking time in Carteret County documenting the dying industry of wooden boat building for his latest book, “Sound People“.  Ben has authored several books about the waterways of Eastern, NC. A few of them being “Living Waters”, “All in One River”, “Disaml? : The Great Dismal Swamp Canal” & “Mama Always Said: A Little Southern Wisdom from Backroads, Creeks and Rivers.” When Ben isn’t writing you’re likely to find him with a Nikon in hand, covered in framing saw dust or straining to load tree stumps as unique as him into his “red pickem up truck”.