1. move or jump suddenly or rapidly upward or forward.
synonyms: leap, jump, bound, vault, hop
And so it begins.
Spring brings with its new life and youthful vigor a mad dash for all those in the ag industry- this is the time to capitalize on cool temperatures, spring rains, and new melting snow pack. With our own snow pack at 150% of our normal, we've been eager (as we are every year) to get all of our irrigation systems up and running to take full advantage of every bit of water we can!
If only it were so simple.
[ BRINGING THE HERD IN ]
Spring also means moving the herd onto their summer graze- which for us means two weeks of hauling cows and calves from winter fields, working them in the corral, and then trailering them to their fields. Most people are familiar with the concept of the cattle drive, but since we keep our herds on pastured ground year round in two different valleys, a cattle drive would be quite impractical for our locale and model. (The romantic side of me gets a bit wistful at the loss, but my practical side gets excited every time we improve on our efficiency in this seemingly monumental undertaking.) This job is pretty much an "all hands on deck" kinda job, so everything else more or less gets put on hold for these two weeks!
[ IRRIGATION PREP ]
We use both flood irrigation and sprinkle irrigation to keep our fields healthy and growing. Our goal is to get all of our fields to the much more efficient sprinkle irrigation systems to be more conservative and balanced with our water use. Flood irrigating is also much more labor intensive and requires a constant assessment of the needs of each individual field which shifts as spring warms into summer- temperatures rise and as summer wears on, water supply slows.
Through the winter, our herds graze and calve on our grass fields. We protect our wheel lines and hand lines from the cows by pushing them up against the fenceline, securing them in place and then erecting a temporary hotwire fence for the winter.
That's one thing I had never given any thought to before I started ranching- exactly how hard cows are on everything. They are really just big blundering eating machines. There are, essentially, three questions a cow asks when evaluating objects present in her environment:
1} Is it food?
2} Is it good for scratching?
3} Is it going to chase me or move?
Fences and wheel lines, if you'd like to know, are GREAT scratchers.
But I digress.
Those temporary fences need to be removed completely from the field, which means all hot wire is rolled up and stored and all posts pulled and stored or moved to another use. Once the fence and all accoutrements are removed from the field, the line can be moved into position. This requires a rudimentary check of all sprinklers and other parts to see if we can catch anything that got broken before turning the line on, as well as straightening the entire line. Not all fences/fields are perfectly straight of course, so some require we dissemble parts of the line to fit more closely to the fence- which then need to be reassembled in the spring! Once the line is prepped, it needs to be flushed of any mud or critters that may have holed up for winter inside.
It's not a terribly difficult job to be sure, but it does take considerable time- especially when you have several wheel lines to attend to!
Sprinkle irrigation prep is a very mechanical job.
Flood irrigation prep is much more intimate to the land. The land itself shifts and changes in minor ways every year, but some of those changes can add up to significant impacts on water distribution. The patterns of the herd movements through the winter, particularly in the early spring when the ground is soft impacts not only the ditches, which get corroded by cattle walking them in and need to be corrected every few years, but also areas within the fields themselves- which you often won't notice until you begin irrigating and find new dry spots. The same problem arises with heavy equipment on soft ground- suddenly you may have new "ditches" in the middle of your field diverting your water.
The mechanical side of prepping a field for flood irrigating is relatively simple. You make your tarp dams- maybe you've seen those blue or orange canvas tarps in ditches- cutting the roll to the size of each post you will use, delivering all those tarps to your field and distributing them as needed. Some fields have ditches that need more heavy correction, so that's where the heavy equipment comes into play to build up those banks. Or maybe your field uses gated pipe to irrigate- so those need to be flushed as well, and turned back into position or put together entirely, depending on the field. Ours range in size from 6in to 10in diameters and you can certainly feel the difference in the weight! All the gaskets need to be checked, as well as the gates to ensure you've got the maximum possible control of your water and pressure.
As mentioned, though, the land has changed over the winter and you don't know what changes will affect what areas of your field and how significantly. So even though you may get all the pieces in place to put water onto the field, prepping for irrigating has only just begun. Now the real work begins- and it's mainly a LOT of digging. Shovel work to correct the path of water, redistributing heavy flow areas across dry. Finding and fixing old weaknesses and new. Figuring out what tarp placement will optimize your water flow for each particular set. If the ground is weak in a particular place- meaning a lack of grass root holding the topsoil in place- the goal is to slow the flow so as to not lose topsoil. That calculation also has to take into account how far the water has to travel over the next 24 hours- which obviously also changes if you're on a hill or on flat ground. Suffice it to say, you'll likely still be "prepping" some of your fields for irrigation long into summer - and you'll have ample opportunity to fine-tune after the first and second cuttings.
[ WEED CONTROL ]
Along with those lovely temperatures and spring rains come the weeds- fortunately, if you've done the work of irrigating, you'll hold them at bay on the fringes of your fields, no other work required. This is one of many reasons we work so hard to get water on every inch of ground. The places that don't see water are inevitably plagued with thistles and the dreaded white top. This requires more digging within the field to target those dry sections- whether with a shovel or a V-ditcher more or less depends on when you can get to it. A V-ditcher on a tractor is simply not practical on recently irrigated ground or on taller grass, so for irrigating purposes before the grass is harvested or grazed down enough to use that big equipment, that trusty shovel is an irrigator's best friend.
In the middle of your fields though, the better solution in to just hack those thistles down with your shovel. Again, still another reason we so highly value the equitable use of water on our fields!
Needless to say, we have been BUSY and will continue to be so until our irrigation systems stabilize and we fall into our regular rhythms. The fields are such a glorious green, with particularly deep and luscious grass this spring- I'm excited to see what the first cutting will bring and what other projects we can accomplish with the support these cool temperatures and spring rains have afforded us!
Many thanks to Alan, our guest blogger, for this delightful rendition of his recent experience with one of our small briskets. He breaks down his preparation methods and shares his and his family's review- spoiler alert: he raves JUST a little bit. And as the rancher's apprentice, I can't help but rave about our beef with him! I'm learning the ropes from true artisans- and Alan has just found out exactly what that means. Follow him on Instagram (@an_oregon_family) for more photos on his many grills and cooks!
This is a story of conversion.
If you’ve attended church at all in your life you have a certain understanding, or expectation, for what “church” is like. In some towns you can find a church on almost every other corner. You see those churches—regardless of denomination—and say to yourself “I know what it feels like in there, I know what to expect.” However, if you’ve ever found a CHURCH, then you know what a rich, dynamic, fulfilling experience it can be. How...expanding.
There is a definite difference. If you know, then you know.
I now know the same can be said for meat, specifically, beef.
I have purchased beef from a variety of places, probably the same type of places most folks shop...Fred Meyer, Safeway, Winco, Cash & Carry. My beef shopping choice du jour has generally revolved around which store also happened to have milk on sale, or a great deal on eggs, or cheese, or...you fill in the blank. Basically, my beef shopping choices were all based on things that had very little to do with beef, or the quality of that beef.
Here’s why. Regardless of store, my beef experience was basically the same. It was about price, and it was simply an alternative to pork, or chicken, or turkey. The taste was fine, it was ok. Bottomline: I knew what to expect. Or I thought I did.
Then something changed for me. I found BEEF. Clear Creek Beef.
Through the magic of social media and Instagram, I came across Clear Creek Beef, and Sheen, the Rancher’s Apprentice. The Clear Creek story and their mission resonated deeply with me. I am #bornandraised an Oregonian, and I love this state, and the pacific Northwest. The diversity here—people, geography, business—combine to draw out an innovative, pioneer creativity that is uniquely Oregon. I find myself drawn to that which is uniquely Oregon; it both grounds and inspires me. Clear Creek Beef fits this description perfectly. Long story short, I soon found myself on the receiving end of a beautiful 3-pound brisket.
I was excited holding this cut, and a little nervous, too. Brisket is almost mythological in its meat status, so when my thoughts turned to the upcoming cook, I knew that I had to do justice to the steer that surrendered this special cut of beef. In my opinion, that meant letting the beef flavor shine through, and that meant it was going on my Traeger Bronson grill.
If you’ve ever had low and slow smoked brisket you know how awesome it can be. With a beautiful Clear Creek brisket in hand I knew that I wanted to focus on simplicity to allow that pasture-raised beef flavor to shine. After a review of options, I decided upon going “Texas style,” a guarantee for big beef flavor that almost melts in your mouth. Texas style means salt, pepper, smoke, and time. That’s it—simple, straight forward...perfect for me.
The day before I planned to grill, I prepared to trim up the brisket by giving my best boning knife a few extra passes on the sharpening stone.
FYI: Frankly, trimming is what made me the most nervous with this cook. If you’ve never trimmed a full brisket before I’d definitely recommend reviewing some of the how-to videos or articles available on the Internet before you feel like you understand what and how to trim. Personally, I’m a big fan of Aaron Franklin (@franklinbbq), Susie Bulloch (@heygrillhey), and Danielle Bennett(@divaqbbq) for their passion and approach to brisket and grilling.
Now, we all know that fat equals flavor. However, the visible fat deposits and silver skin on briskets don’t really render down, and they certainly won’t provide any added flavor benefit, so I felt confident that I could trim away! Besides, it’s the marbling that truly makes the beef sing, and my Clear Creek brisket had marbling to die for!
After steeling my nerves with a second cup of black coffee, I set to my task. Ten minutes later I had removed about 8 oz of fat and separated the “flat” from the “point.” My Clear Creek brisket was now divided into two nice slabs of beef ready for seasoning—my favorite part.
I had any number of beef-centric rubs and seasoning blends available to me, but I wanted to taste BEEF, not seasoning. For me, the decision was clear: simple Texas style seasoning--coarse salt and black pepper. I prefer to blend my salt and pepper before applying them to the meat, so I measured out equal parts of each (about 2 tablespoons each) and combined them in a spice shaker container. After applying a light coating of olive oil as a “binder” I shook the spices over the meat, creating a nice even layer across the entire surface of the flat and the point. Oh, let me tell you, it looked so good; I could picture the bark forming already. I may have even drooled a bit.
With the seasoning applied, I covered the brisket with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator, letting it rest for about 20 hours. Yard work, family activities, and more yard work filled the rest of my day, capped by a Traeger-grilled cast iron pan pizza for dinner. At day’s end the beef was prepped, my yard looked good, the family was fed and happy, and I was fully ready for brisket glory!
The next morning it was time to start the cook! Pulling the brisket from the fridge so it could raise to room temperature, I fired up my Traeger Bronson on a blend of hickory, maple, and cherry pellets, setting it to 250 degrees to allow the smoky goodness to really bathe the brisket. My goal was to get consistent heat and a steady flow of smoke over the meat as it slowly cooked. I was not in a rush.
Going low and slow with a brisket means that you are cooking based off of meat temperature, not time. I was seeking an internal temperature of 165 degrees, so I inserted my digital meat thermometer and closed the lid.
165 degrees arrived after about three hours in the smoke, and I wrapped both pieces of meat in peach butcher paper. This is a crucial step as it helps ensure that the brisket is mouth-wateringly tender, with a super dark bark crust. I placed the brisket packs back in the Traeger and raised the temperature to 275 to finish off the cook, looking for an internal temperature of 203. The smoke continued to roll, and I enjoyed a glass of pre-brisket red wine with my wife in the spring Oregon sunshine.
After a full glass (or two), 203 degrees arrived and I pulled the meat from the grill. I have to say, I was tempted to dig right in—my hunger, combined with the grilling aroma (and the wine) were making me dizzy with anticipation. However, I resisted temptation, hearkening back to Susie Bulloch’s advice:
“Rest your smoked brisket. DO. NOT. SKIP. THIS. STEP. Resting your brisket allows so many of those hot and bubbly juices to settle down a little and redistribute to the meat. It also brings your brisket down to perfect slicing and serving temperature.”
Advice heeded, I wrapped the brisket packets in a clean, old towel and placed them in my cooler for the requisite resting period.
Heading indoors, I prepped green salads for the family and put the finishing touches on a quartet of cheesy twice baked potatoes, coating them in way too much melted shredded Tillamook cheese. With the table set, the family pressing me for dinner, and a reasonable brisket rest period (40 minutes) it was time to slice and eat!
And now, the conversion starts...
Buttery. Break apart tender. Beefy. Rich. Juicy delicious. So good.
There are not enough adjectives to fully capture the tastiness, the tenderness, the richness of this meat. No knives were used at the table. Not a scrap of beef was left on a plate, no fat trimmings pushed to the side. It was not until the brisket was gone did anyone even start in on their potatoes or salads. There were no leftovers. There were many smiles.
Brisket is indeed the stuff of myth, and the Clear Creek brisket we enjoyed only added to the legend.
I thought I knew what to expect from beef, but that was before I had experienced BEEF. Pasture-raised, hand-finished. Clear Creek Beef.
Our brisket dinner was a rich, vibrant, fulfilling dining experience.
There is a definite difference. If you know, then you know, and you want more.
You can probably tell by his IG name and logo that Oregon holds a special place for Alan. As a native Oregonian currently living in the Portland area, Alan appreciates the beauty and splendor found in all four corners of the state and finds the Pacific Northwest essence uplifting and enriching.
This inspiration has led Alan to grill and cook in a way that he hopes fills his growing family’s tummies and spirit. Alan strives to use local ingredients whenever possible, believing that they are fresher, healthier, and make his meals better, and more enjoyable.
Inspired by authenticity and passion, Alan believes that quality product made by passionate folks doesn’t just connect you to great stuff, it connects you to great people.
Alan blogs about his cooks on Instagram, and can be found @an_oregon_family. He longs for days of wide open skies, snow-capped mountain ranges, and endless opportunities.