It looks like something out of a John Wayne movie – a field full of patched and speckled cattle with immense, curving horns, grazing placidly; small calves standing by their mothers. I’ve come to find out about Longhorn beef, but this is Western Oregon, not Texas cow country, and pasture is lush and green; storm clouds are gathering over the Cascade foothills.
I’m visiting with Roy Lingenfelter, owner of LingFarm in Aumsville. Roy has run Texas Longhorns on his 25 acres since 1994. His cattle eat nothing but grass and the hay Roy grows on land he rents from a neighbor and bales himself, supplemented with selenium salt. He doesn’t feed grain for several reasons: he wants to keep his meat lean: grain-fed beef is fatty. “Cattle are not designed to eat grains.” By not feeding grain to the animals, Roy also avoids the possibility of introducing BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease) into his herd – the disease is often spread through cattle feed that contains animal by-products as well as grain. Finally, pasture-fed beef has 2-4 times more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed animals, as well as more vitamin E and beta-carotene, both important antioxidants. According to research, people with diets high in omega-3s are less likely to have high blood pressure and are 50% less likely to suffer heart attacks, while vitamin E and omega-3 s have been shown to reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer. “My heart doctor buys this meat.”
Roy hands me a brochure that outlines the nutritional value of Longhorn beef. A chart shows me that Longhorn beef contains fewer calories and less fat and cholesterol than most all other meats, including turkey and chicken, while providing nearly as much protein. The brochure also contains cooking tips, as Longhorn should be cooked more quickly that other beef. Roy recommends that his customers cook the meat partially frozen, to keep it tender and juicy. LingFarm beef is sold at the Salem Saturday market and at the Salem Public market. “I haven’t missed a Saturday in 11 years; I like to see people filling up their baskets with veggies.”
Roy keeps his operation as natural as possible. He irrigates his pastures with water from the Santiam Irrigation district, and rotates his 35 cattle through the 46 paddocks about once a month.
He uses a small amount of a chemical herbicide to control curly dock, bull thistle, and the poisonous tansy ragwort. Since he began the business he has only sprayed the entire acreage twice, and controls new outbreaks by pulling and spot-spraying the noxious weeds. He uses no hormones or antibiotics but he does treat his cows for liver flukes, inoculating them when necessary. He has never had to pull a calf. “Longhorn calves are only about 25 pounds at birth, so it’s a very natural process.”
I ask about slaughtering. By federal law, meat sold to the public must be slaughtered in a USDA-approved facility, with an inspector on the premises. Roy uses a humane-kill facility in Mt. Angel: “You don’t want them to suffer.”
He is careful about moving and handling his animals and tries not to cause them undue stress. “I take my time moving them. I always take them over the night before, so they have a chance to recover from the ride.” After slaughter, the meat is hung for a week to ten days for tenderization, then cut packaged and frozen.
We walk into the field where the cattle are standing. They seem gentle and unperturbed by our presence in their pasture; even the bull, a black and white fellow named Oreo, seems mild-mannered, despite the wicked 6 ft. span of his horns. One gal comes over to us for a scratch under the chin. Roy rubs her between the horns, grins, and his blue eyes shine. “I never take a vacation. This is not work to me.”