Maybe you’re worried about the environmental impact of industrial beef production. Maybe you want to limit beef for health reasons. Or maybe you’re just looking to incorporate a new, tasty meat into your diet.
Connecticut farms are here to satisfy your carnivorous cravings, including with red meat alternatives such as bison and emu. Packing a super protein punch and offering lower fat, bison and emu meat boast similar tastes and textures to beef, though you’ll pay more than you will for the beef at your local market.
Local bison and emu (both of which can be substituted in just about any recipe that calls for beef) are raised humanely, roaming freely in pastures, without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.
Bison is sold in the meat section of chain supermarkets. It can also be purchased ($10 a pound for ground bison) fresh from Creamery Brook Bison Farm in Brooklyn, where a large herd is cared for by Austin and Debbie Tanner.
The rumble of the 50-bison herd can be heard and felt across the rocky pasture, as the beasts race uphill to surround the trailer of a tractor during a tour of the farm. The only time these massive bovine get grain is when the tours are given, so they sprint with great verve to get to the tasty treat.
Thought by some to be native to Connecticut, bison are wild cattle that can run up to 35 mph, top the scales at over a ton, and stand, at their shoulders, between 5-6½ feet tall. These impressive animals came back from near extinction, in part, due to demand for their lean, flavorful meat. They are not as easily controlled as cattle, so the prospect of keeping them confined in feedlots doesn’t work well, Debbie says.
“You don’t think an animal that big could jump a 6-foot fence, but they can. I’ve seen it,” she says. Debbie was introduced to the world of bison farming through her husband’s love for the animals. He previously ran a dairy farm on his 120-acre property. When milk prices were up back in the early ’90s, he finally saw his chance: he told Debbie to get ready because five bison would be arriving soon.
“Five bison arriving in November is not what you want, but we made it work,” Debbie says, laughing. From there the herd grew and the cows were phased out.
“Bison are much easier to care for,” she says. “They pretty much take care of themselves and love the cold weather so much that they actually face into the snow and wind.” Debbie, who hasn’t eaten beef in years, adds, “I prefer bison meat; it’s far less fatty and greasy and it has a great taste.”
The Tanners process between 16-20 animals per year. The rules for bison processing are the same for beef, but the markings and labels are different, Debbie says. “We get about 300 pounds of boneless meat off each animal. Most of the meat is frozen and offered for sale at the farm. Fresh meat is sold, but only by preorder.”
With much smaller herds, Connecticut emu farmers sell the lesser-known red meat on a smaller scale. Despite the failure of the short-lived emu farm craze of the ’90s, emu today is growing more sought after, especially by those who are allergic to beef due to the tick-borne disease alpha-gal syndrome. Emu is poultry with a similar low-fat content to chicken, though it looks and tastes remarkably similar to beef and is classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as red meat.
Topping out at 6 feet tall and weighing up to 100 pounds, the flightless Australia natives are the world’s second-largest bird, behind only their ostrich cousins.
For Victoria Robinson of Penfield Farm in Portland, this protein-packed meat is her usual stand-in for beef. Her affinity for the giant birds began with the rescue of an emu pair nine years ago. Currently, she has six breeding pairs and usually hatches up to 60 chicks for sale yearly. She also sells large, emerald-green emu eggs for $20 each for consumption. “You only need one to make a whole frittata and they taste amazing,” Robinson says.
Like bison, emus are fairly low maintenance. “Emus are very hardy birds,” Robinson says. “They rarely require any veterinary care and they are easy to keep as long as you keep them clean, well fed and provide them with the essentials of water and some shelter.”
Unlike chickens, which tend to start laying eggs in the spring, emus begin in late November and usually lay an egg every three days into January. Chicks usually begin to hatch in February and March.
Robinson sells ground emu meat for about $9 a pound and typically gets about 25 pounds of meat from each animal, as well as about 22 pounds of fat, which is turned into oil.
“Pure emu oil is an amazing skin treatment for scars and burns, as well as wrinkles,” says Robinson, who uses it nightly on her face.
Robinson’s emu meat can be purchased at her farm stand, which is open each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Creamery Brook Bison: 860-779-0837, creamerybrookbison.info
Penfield Farm: 860-836-5599, penfieldfarm.com