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Farmers produce beef as demand increases

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Cows at B&B Farms pose for a picture Friday in Maple Ridge Township.

ALPENA — Closures at meat packing plants and nation-wide supply chain issues is causing Northeast Michigan residents to seek out meat directly from the farmer.

Ben and Brook Nowakowski, owners of B&B Farm in Maple Ridge Township, are among the farmers locals are turning to stock up on beef. The couple raise grass-fed and grass-finished beef, and have been selling beef and beef products directly to consumers for a little over a year.

Ben Nowakowski decided to raise grass-finished beef about a decade ago, after discovering he liked the taste of it. He said the beef has “a stronger flavor.”

“I got into it because it was a superior eating experience, and come to find out, it’s actually good for you,” he said.

There is a different management style for cows raised for grass-finished beef than cows raised conventionally, he said. Calves are allowed to stay with their mothers for 10 to 11 months, instead of the traditional six months, and then remain on a high quality diet for the rest of their lives.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Ben Nowakowski and his two-year-old son Gus walk through the pasture at B&B Farms Friday in Maple Ridge Township.

Ben Nowakowski said the cows graze on grass and other annuals during the summer and high quality hay in the winter, as opposed to being fed grain as is done in the conventional market.

He said there’s not a lot of machine work required for growing and storing winter feed, but that there is a lot of walking, and moving the temporary fences. The cattle are moved to fresh pasture daily.

The Nowakowskis currently have about 80 cows on their farm, and many of them will spend their entire lives there. Ben Nowakowski said the cows are butchered throughout the year as they reach maturity.

“It’s definitely a learning process,” he said. “I haven’t mastered it. I get better each year.”

Ben Nowakowski said they used to sell beef to wholesale markets, but the payment they would receive for the meat was below the cost of production. He said selling direct to consumer is more profitable, and they had to obtain a warehouse license to be able to do so.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson B&B Farms owners Ben and Brook Nowakowski are pictured with their children Rosie, 10 months, and Gus, 2, at their farm Friday in Maple Ridge Township.

He said there has been a steady increase in business, but the pandemic has caused people to purchase more beef because it’s something people are concerned about. He said they got their website up just as people began to look for farmers who sell beef locally.

“The butcher shops are also getting slammed right now because the processing plants are closed,” Brook Nowakowski said.

She said it usually takes two to three weeks to make an appointment with the butcher, but now it’s taking three months. They had to guess when their stock would be ready to make their butchering appointments throughout the summer.

One of the more unexpected effects of the coronavirus has been the increased demand for beef, and the lengths people go to to get it. Brook Nowakowski said they have had people drive between two and three and a half hours to purchase meat from them.

Ben Nowakowski said they have already sold out of the animals they sell in quarters, halves, or as a whole for the season.

“I’ve never done that in May. Never. It’s always been a struggle to sell what I can produce,” he said.

More information about B&B Farms can be found online at thegoodnessofgrass.com.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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