Ranchers use cattle to harvest sunlight. It’s a different way to look at it, but entirely true. Grass plants shoot up leaves that act like little solar panels. The energy the plant collects is used to grow a healthy deep root system and more leaves. Once a grass plant has been bitten by an animal it sends a signal to its root system to push up more growth to recover its solar gathering capacity.
Historically native grasslands were grazed by millions of bison that were continuously on the move. This movement allowed grazed areas to recover before the herds returned. On TK Ranch we try and mimic nature and use what is called time-controlled grazing to manage our livestock. This requires careful monitoring of the grasslands to ensure we are not overgrazing and damaging them. Overgrazing can occur if livestock aren’t moved fast enough out of a pasture during the growing season. Imagine being at a restaurant and enjoying your favourite meal when the server brings you a second one that is fresh and hot. It’s human nature to push away the older meal and eat the freshly prepared one.
The same can be said for cattle. New growth is tender and delicious and the preferred meal of any grazing animal. If pastures are not monitored closely and the animals moved quickly, they will graze plants more than once, making it difficult for them to recover. Some producers continuously graze their pastures and under this management grass plants can become severely overgrazed. The plants sacrifice root mass to send up new growth and over time their root systems become so shallow that they can no longer access vital nutrients and moisture deep in the soil. Eventually the plants will deplete all of their resources and die.
The same can happen when a pasture is not grazed enough. Plants will send up growth that will eventually die and dry off. Over time this old dead growth will build until it shades the mother plant from sunlight until it eventually dies. First Nations people like the Blackfoot understood this and routinely used fire to rejuvenate grasslands to entice the bison back. The ashes created caused their moccasins to turn black, hence their name. Today most of the wild prairie is gone with the exception of a few special places like TK Ranch. We still find remnants of the past scattered across the grasslands, hundreds of tee-pee rings and several ancient bison trails remain. They are a stark reminder of what we have lost and underline the importance of conserving of what is left. By using time-controlled grazing to manage our livestock, we have maintained and enhanced the rich biodiversity of the wild Northern Fescue Grasslands that encompass much of TK Ranch.
By harvesting sunlight and converting it into nutrient dense grass-finished beef we have created a win-win-win for the land, the animals and the people that consume our products.
Easy & Delicious Flank Steak
It took me several years to discover how easy and delicious flank steak can be. I heard it was a tougher cut so I left it for more talented cooks to prepare.
One week when we were long on flanks I decided to do a bit of experimenting. I am celiac so choosing what to use to prepare meat can sometimes be challenging and almost always has to be from scratch.
Without a lot of time on my hands I decided to keep it simple. I took a thawed flank steak and scored it with a sharp knife on both sides. Each cut was about 5 mm deep and one cm apart. I then minced 4 large cloves of garlic finely and rubbed it into each cut of the steak. I decided that another easy ingredient was wheat and gluten free Tamari, so I placed the steak into a shallow pan and poured about 3 tablespoons carefully over it. I let the steak marinade for a few minutes then turned it over and did the same thing on the other side. I continued to turn the steak while I put on rice, made a fresh salad and pre-heated the BBQ.
Once the table was set I took the steak out to the BBQ and seared it on high heat for 30 seconds on both sides then turned the heat down to low. When juices started to gather on top I turned it. I then cooked it an additional 3 minutes before taking it off the heat completely. My family loved this simple twist on a steak dinner that is substantially more cost effective than other more expensive cuts. It quickly became an easy and delicious staple meal for our household.