Prior to 2006, I had been a voracious consumer of beef. It was the way I was raised in the United States… steak, steak, steak! I remember as a kid my go-to birthday dinner was filet mignon. It was probably around 2008 when I first had the idea to get some cows. We didn’t have a farm or a way to accomplish these goals, but in the back of my mind, I always envisioned us raising cattle for beef. Yet, after living in Bulgaria for a few years, my tastes adjusted to what was available and fresh pork… I slowly acclimated to life without beef and the desire to raise cattle wanned, until COVID-19.
In addition to our quarantine garden, we wanted to add large animals to the mix for both profit and pleasure. We have access to the land, more than 500 decacres (50ha/123 acre), but we needed to move beyond the theoretical knowledge that we gained from books towards some more hands-on experience.
Back in September 2017, Angel and I took a master class with famed pasture farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm. It was organized by Philip Haramandjiev from Chiflik Livadi, in Sandanski. Salatin explained in detail his methods for raising cows on grass; he calls them “Salad Bar Beef”. After the lectures, we had a field trip to Haramandjiev’s farm, Chiflik Livadi in Damianitza to see these principles in action.
To further our understanding of Salatin and his principals, we made a special trip to the farm of many faces in Swoope, Virginia to see his set up, when we were in the US in the summer of 2018.
Early into the Coronavirus lockdown, Angel and I were strategizing for the year ahead. He suggested that we get some animals to run on the land, using the pasture-raised methods that we had studied. I made a few phone calls and inquiries about trying to acquire some cattle for beef, my first call was to Philip. After an informative conversation, we tossed around the idea of “contract grazing”, where we would take some of his animals and feed them off our lands. The first step was to visit his farm and work with the animals for 3 days.
I was very excited about this opportunity, but also apprehensive. It was the first official day after the State of Emergency in Bulgaria… I hadn’t been anywhere or with anyone for two months…We arrived in the morning just as they were getting ready to move the cows to fresh pasture. After exchanging pleasantries, we jumped right in and helped to coil the wire for the electric fencing… This was what we needed to figure out.
We quickly adjusted to the rhythm of the farm. Angel was interested in learning how to run the fencing from a technical standpoint. I was interested in how large the pastures should be for daily intake. How many “cow days” the land could offer, which is a tricky concept to read from a book, but it makes much more sense on the ground.
Our three days were very beneficial and upon returning to Kyustendil, we begin the next stages in our path to pasture-raised beef, the bureaucratic nonsense, and registering our farm for animals. Beef is in our future and I am looking forward to enjoying a steak raised by our own hands.