Wheezing chickens…

5 Sep


To the folks who asked about assessing whether a bird is OK for slaughter…

You told me that despite treatment with antibiotics, the birds still seem to be wheezing, and “sound  raspy.”  You also know that they cannot be on antibiotics for at least seven days before slaughter. 

Well, if  I had a chicken that was wheezing, I would give it oxygen and make it quit smoking.

But seriously, I certainly wouldn’t eat any animal that was sick or was recently on antibiotics. Even slaughtering facilities quarantine animals that are sick or have a temp until a) they are well or b) are condemned as unfit for consumption.

So my opinion is, don’t slaughter and definitely do not eat.

Will I see you… in September?… (music)

4 Sep

To the person who asked the question about upcoming workshops, watch this space. I may be doing a session in late September or October…

Now – with the strains of “See you in September” echoing round your skull – what’s new with me?

Well, I had a fantastic time at the wonderful Chef Courtney Contos’ Kitchen Store in Shelburne Vermont recently. Did a pig and sausage class, with tempting tastings of the pork cuts and finished sausages.  And if you’re ever in the area you MUST visit the store. My personal favorite is the pig butter dish. I want it.

Chef Courtney's pig butter dish

Chef Courtney’s pig butter dish

Anyway, keeping on keeping on… a few days later I was one of the judges for a burger cook-off at Chef Contos’ store.  Burp – may have gained a few pounds; I have never eaten more hamburgers. Great fun.  Why do they call it a “hamburger”? No ham in it!

What having y’all been doing? I’d love to know and so would your fellow blog readers. Why not write in and tell me? Let’s all get to know each other.

Ahhh… all better now.

21 Aug

Had pneumonia. That’s why I haven’t been around. Back and frisky. So what’s new?

Well, I did a fantastic two-day workshop at Sterling College in the beautiful (as, “time seems to have forgotten it”) village of Craftsbury, Vermont. We had eleven students from all over the USA and Canada, including a Toronto chef, a chef from New York City, a Texas farmer and a few awesome young ladies. Love the way that more women are getting in the craft – or should I say art? – of butchery.

Pig, deconstructed

Pig, deconstructed

We processed a pig that had been raised by the students at Sterling College. Weighed in at 560 lbs… now that’s a whole lotta hog.

I demonstrated how to cut half the animal on day one; the students then had at it on the second day.  Every day we cooked up some of the pig for lunch.  One of my favorite dishes is side pork, pork steaks and cutlets.

The 2-day workshop is part of Sterling’s two week course on Charcuterie.

Check it out.


Sausage-making class THIS SATURDAY

24 Jun

First – abject apologies. Been away, and been busy. Mea Culpa (blame me!)

I wanted y’all to know that there are two (2) places left for this Saturday’s sausage-making workshop at the wonderful Chef Courtney Contos’ shop in Shelburne Vermont.

Click here for all the info.

We're going to have FUN!

We’re going to have FUN!

Those of you who don’t know Chef Courtney, should! She was my partner for the Gourmet Butcher DVD and is a knowledgable and very talented chef. Her shop is a culinary experience in itself.

Chef Contos and "moi"

Chef Contos and “moi”s


So – hope to see you in a few days.



Hormones in Beef: Part Three of Three

23 Mar

Hi. I’m not Cole. I’m Karen Coshof.  I co-wrote “The Gourmet Butcher’s Guide to Meat” with Cole. The book’s discussion about hormones in beef was part of my contribution to the project.  Here’s  the third and final part of the discussion (with a gentle conclusion)…


Help, I’m Eating Hormones!

Since estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are naturally produced by the bodies of animals, including people and cattle, should you be worried about additional exposure via cattle ear implants? I say no, and here’s why.

Let’s take a look at estrogen. The normal production of human estrogen per day is about 4,000 nanograms (1 nanogram = 1 billionth gram; 1 gram = 1/454th pound) in boys, a little higher in girls, about 100,000 to 150,000 nanograms in men, from 5 to 15 million nanograms in nonpregnant women, and from 4 to 64 million nanograms (or more) in pregnant women.

A 6-ounce serving of beef from a beef animal that has not been implanted contains about 2.6 nanograms; the same serving from an animal that has been implanted will contain about 3.8 nanograms of estrogen. Exact amounts will vary, but remain around these mean numbers.

Looking at some other foods:


8 fluid ounces (one glass) of milk = about 30 ng of estrogen

300 peas = about 330 ng estrogen

3 ounces of cabbage = about 2,000 ng


3 ounces of soybean oil = about 1,680,000 ng
(you read that right!)


And medications: One human birth control pill contains the same amount of estrogen as 105,000 pounds of beef from implanted steers.

So maybe we’re all getting a little too worked up about hormones in beef… (just saying)… 

HORMONES IN BEEF: part two of three (from my book)

16 Mar

Are Hormone Implants Safe? Part 1: The Politics

There are as many opinions about the safety of beef from implanted cattle as there are people.

In the late 1980s, the European Union banned the import of all hormone-treated meat from Canada and the United States, citing dangers to human health. This suggests that some sort of hormone-related risk from US beef caused the European community to press for the beef ban.

Let’s shed a little more light on the issue. The EU ban was triggered by an early growth promotant called DES (diethylstilbestrol), one of the first hormones used in feedlots. When DES was proven to cause cancer, the United States banned it in chicken and lamb production in 1959 and in all cattle production in 1979.

The European concern was triggered later—in the 1980s—when DES was detected in baby food made with veal. The baby food was made in France from French cows treated with DES, and thus had nothing to do with the United States. The resulting uproar led several European countries to ban the use of all hormones in cattle, which effectively banned most North American beef.

The dispute over the use of hormones in cattle is long running. The United States and Canadian governments maintain that the hormones being used in meat production today are safe. The European Union claims they are not. So why is this issue such a hot political potato?

Many economists and scientists believe that the EU ban was deliberately protectionist, and that beef was singled out because Europe has historically depended on beef from other countries—particularly the United States and Brazil. Why? Because there’s not much good grazing pasture in Europe. To protect the “inefficient” beef markets of the EU, the ban was created and received generous support from European consumers despite the lack of conclusive evidence.

Arbitrating the matter is the World Trade Organization (WTO), which rules on international trade between nations. The process by which rulings are arrived at is complex, involving hearings from both sides of the issue, expert/scientific testimony, drafting of an interim report, review, a final report, and ultimately a ruling, which becomes international law. If one side breaks the terms of the agreement, the penalty generally involves some sort of trade sanction.

In 1997, the World Trade Organization sided with the United States and Canada, saying that the EU’s health claims weren’t scientifically justified, and that the hormones used were unlikely to pose a hazard to human health, if good animal husbandry was practiced. However, the ruling still stands.

To help alleviate the situation (which was hurting both North America and Europe), in early 2012 the European Union offered concessions to partially defuse this 20-year trade war. The deal allowed the EU to retain its ban on imports of hormone-treated beef in return for an increase in its import quota for non-hormone-treated beef from the United States and Canada. In return, the US and Canada lifted import tariffs on a range of European farm produce like cheeses, chocolate, truffles, and other specialty products.

Are Hormone Implants Safe? Part 2: The Science

Science, like opinion, changes. But opinion is subjective and science, ideally, is objective. It’s just that as new information or findings emerge, they are incorporated into scientific research, and so what we know today is colored by and rests upon what we knew yesterday.

So for every report that concludes that the use of hormones in beef production poses a threat to children, another report points out that our bodies continually make the exact same hormones that the EU nations have banned in meat, and that we eat eggs and butter, which contain the same hormones in much higher concentrations than in beef.

An experiment by Iowa State University found that growth-promoting hormones decrease the land required to produce a pound of beef by two-thirds, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions nearly 40 percent per pound of beef compared with cattle never implanted with hormones. That seems like a big check in the positive column for hormone use.

However, other studies have focused on the negative environmental impacts of hormone residues in cattle manure. When manure from feedlots runs off into the surrounding environment, these hormones can contaminate surface water and groundwater. Multiple studies have shown that children are particularly sensitive to these kinds of hormones, even at very tiny levels. Even the USDA has commented on the danger of hormone residues flushed into groundwater. But since cattle produce hormones naturally, this may be more of an issue of manure management than implant residues—it’s very difficult to isolate which hormone residues are the result of implants and which are not.

I’m not a scientist. I’m a butcher. All I can do is try to present the most factually accurate information out there. One expert I spoke with is Marcia Herman-Giddens, adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, Chapel Hill. In the late 1990s, she was the lead author of a seminal study on early puberty in girls, in which she expressed her concern about the effect of hormones and other endocrine-affecting chemicals in our environment. Herman-Giddens told me this:

When I wrote that study, there was very little data on hormone implants in cattle, although the doses were not inconsequential. To me, the use of hormone implants is still an open question, and a complex one. Effects, if any, could depend on the amount of meat consumed, interactions with other substances, and possible cumulative effects of similar exposures. I believe the reasons for early puberty involve a multiplicity of causes.

My generation did not grow up in a chemical-infused world. Now it’s all around us . . . in plastics like BPA, in herbicides and pesticides, even in dental sealants on children’s teeth. We are living in a sea of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. So it’s only natural that, depending on lifestyle, some people will encounter more exposure than others. It’s not just one thing—it’s cumulative.

In my opinion, the use of hormones to stimulate cattle growth is still a significant issue for the public. I believe that what’s needed is open, independently funded research to avoid public perception that the way the beef industry is framing this issue suggests that there’s something to hide. So for me, the jury’s still out.

In a 2009 report written for the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, analyst Susan Holtz noted the dramatic increase in drugs used annually in Canadian animal husbandry—particularly in intensive (read: feedlot) operations. She pointed out that much support for the EU ban on growth promotants had to do with European countries’ history of embracing traditional values of livestock raising, as well as support for local and artisanal food and the heritage value of agricultural landscapes. In a phone call, she told us that while the use of hormone implants may be safe, she is very concerned about the effect of antibiotic use (more about this below).

And to conclude: The assessment that administering hormones to beef cattle is a safe practice has been endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States, Health Canada, the Codex Alimentarius Committee of the World Trade Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the European Agriculture Commission

HORMONES IN BEEF: part one of three (exerpted from my book)

8 Mar

One of the flashpoints in any discussion of beef consumption is the use of hormones; or more specifically, growth hormones. Exactly what are they and why are they used?  And more to the point, are they as dangerous as some people claim?

Language is an interesting thing. You can use words to create emotional responses. Like “hormone-free” beef. There’s no such thing. It’s impossible.

Why? Because all animals—like all human beings—produce natural hormones in their metabolisms. In fact, every multicellular critter (cattle, people, dogs, birds, vegetables, whatever) creates its own natural hormones. If you’re worried about hormones in beef, what you need to look for is are the terms no added hormones or no hormones administered.

What exactly is a hormone? It’s a chemical released in one part of your body that affects another part. Hormones like estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone (aha, those “low T” ads) are naturally present in beef, and also in pork, poultry, milk, eggs and fish. But guess what? Plant foods like potatoes and wheat contain significant levels of progesterone, and some oils and plants also contain testosterone. Milk products provide about 80% of the progesterone, 30-40% of the testosterone and 60-70% of the estrogens in our diet. Meat and fish, about 5% of the progesterone, 20-30% of the testosterone and 15-20% of the estrogens in our diet.  

When people talk about when they talk about hormones in beef is really the administration of a growth hormone to stimulate weight gain in young cattle. There are several reasons for this. People who eat beef prefer (and have come to expect) tender meat. This means eating the meat of younger animals, because the meat of a younger animal is naturally more tender than that of an old animal (obvious, really). For this reason, beef cattle are usually slaughtered at a very young age (from about 18 months to two years). Most male cattle are neutered when they’re young (a process that turns bulls into steers); female cattle (heifers) are spayed. Neutered steers and spayed heifers produce fewer natural hormones than older animals (same with humans), so small amounts of certain hormones are given to them to help them grow.

Most cattle finished in the conventional way are given growth promotants via ear implants. These are small pellets placed underneath the skin in the middle one-third of the ear—a place where there’s no way they could accidentally be included in products intended for human consumption, and no risk of hormone residues entering the meat. The pellets dissolve gradually over 60 to about 120 days, and must be completely depleted before slaughter. Feedlot operators must verify that the pellet is “dead” at least 30 to 45 days before the animal is killed.

Ear implanting

Ear implanting

After the pellet is implanted, its active ingredients are slowly released into the animal’s bloodstream, increasing its blood hormone level just enough to stimulate additional growth in muscle. Implanted animals grow faster, are leaner, and use feed more efficiently. Since the conventional cattle feeding business is defined by very narrow margins affected by seasonal swings in feed costs, the use of implants more than pays for itself in delivering larger, leaner cattle. Note this comment, however, from an implant information sheet: “All growth implants . . . show the greatest improvement in gains and efficiency on higher energy diets.” So the type and quality of feed is critical.

Implants increase weight gain by 5 to 23 percent and improve feed efficiency from 3 to 11 percent. Essentially, the animal grows larger faster, and so can be slaughtered younger. The hormones used are identical (either natural or synthetic versions) to the hormones cattle naturally produce. Today, both the United States and Canada have approved three natural hormones (estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone) and three synthetic hormones (zeranol, trenbolone, and melengesterol) to help cattle feed efficiently, bulk up faster, and develop leaner meat. Note that melengesterol is administered via feed, not implant.

Implants work by speeding muscle growth and reducing fat deposition. Comparing an implanted animal with an animal of the same weight that has not been implanted, the implanted animal will be leaner. But since beef grades are primarily based on the degree of marbling (measured as the amount of internal fat in the rib-eye muscle), implanted cattle will generally need to be fed longer, so that they have time to put on more muscle and marbling.

In the United States, hormone implants are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA tests for synthetic hormone residues in meat, but they don’t test for natural hormone residues. It can’t be done . . . animals produce natural hormones throughout their lives. It’s simply not possible to differentiate between hormones occurring naturally, and those from implants. This means that to some extent, the use of growth-promoting hormones cannot be regulated.

Next post: Part Two – Are Hormone Implants Safe?… The Politics

And a note from Chef Courtney Contos

25 Feb


Such a wonderful time on Friday!  Happy to see you all and more than happy to be selling the book.

Please help spread the word that I have it. It is also on my online store at chefcontos.com. Hugs!  

Courtney Contos Founder/Owner Chef Contos kitchen & store

65 Falls Road Shelburne, Vermont 05482 – 802.497.3942 



25 Feb

Sounds rather dramatic, doesn’t it? Like launching a boat only without the bottle of champagne smashed across the bow. Or hurling books randomly out a window.

We did have some drinks though.

I'm happy

I’m happy

The launch – organized by publisher Chelsea Green – took place this past Friday evening at the wonderful culinary store of Chef Courtney Contos. Some of you will know her from my first DVD set “The Gourmet Butcher”… Courtney co-presented the course, showing how to turn some of my table-ready cuts into delectable gourmet dishes. Here she is with my co-author Karen Coshof.

Karen's on the left; Courtney's on the right.

Karen’s on the left; Courtney’s on the right.

Despite the totally horrible weather (teeming rain on icy roads), about forty people showed up to party.  We ate some delicious thingies from Sugarsnap Catering (the Gorgonzola-stuffed dates were voted “favorite”), and caught up on the news from each other.

Yummy yummy

Yummy yummy

All in all, a delightful event. With speeches!

The wonderful Jenn Colby of UVM's pasture program, with Royal Larocque in the background.

I’m happy


The wonderful Jenn Colby of UVM's pasture program. That's Royal Larocque in the background; he owns and runs one of Vermont's best small slaughter facilities.

The wonderful Jenn Colby of UVM’s pasture program. That’s Royal Larocque in the background; he owns and runs one of Vermont’s best small slaughter facilities.



Sam Fuller of NOFA Vermont

Sam Fuller of NOFA Vermont


My son Chris

My son Chris


The Livestock Conservancy

17 Feb

Those of you who’ve bought my book will notice that a quite a few photos in the animal breed sections were taken by Jeannette Beranger of the Livestock Conservancy. Super shots of cows, pigs, sheep and chickens you’ve never heard of before.  Like these…

White Park

White Park

Ossabaw hog

Ossabaw hog

Dorset Horn

Dorset Horn

Buff Cochin

Buff Cochin



Jeannette really helped us find these rare or heritage breed images, so I thought you’d like to know more about the organization she’s with. It’s interesting…and important.

The Livestock Conservancy was formed in the 1970s, when people began to realize that traditional agricultural livestock breeds were rapidly disappearing as meat production became more industrialized. And I’m proud to say that the organization began in my home state of Vermont when (quoting from the org’s website), “a handful of concerned citizens gathered at the Vermont Department of Agriculture to sign incorporate papers for the American Minor Breeds Conservancy (the original name of The Livestock Conservancy).” 

Now based in North Carolina, the Livestock Conservancy’s focus is on making sure that our agricultural future is secure by saving endangered breeds from extinction, building up their populations and promoting them to the public.

Why? ‘Cause much of the reason why these breeds were kept viable by farmers for so long is that each brings something special to the table. Things like especially delectable meat, or superb milk, or extraordinary fertility, or – like the Florida Cracker cow – the ability to prosper in challenging environments. Many of these breeds were early contributors to the gene pool of commercial meat animals – endowing them with qualities that make our food taste better, or adding genetic traits for increased fertility or soundness or… 

As some of you will know, genetic diversity is increasingly endangered through the practices of large-scale agricultural production. If we lose diversity, then we place ourselves at greater risk. This – as most of you know – is not only important in the case of meat animals, but also the plant world, which continues to give us treatments for many diseases. Look up “yew” and the cancer drug “taxol” and you’ll get the picture. Or “willow” and “aspirin”. 

Back to the Livestock Conservancy. Their website is fascinating, with pictures of many animal breeds you won’t have heard of. The list includes goats, donkeys, horses, cattle, chickens, sheep, rabbits, ducks, geese and turkeys – a page for each breed, with photos!

Why not support them by becoming a member?